Blog # 380 The Great Amen
I remember years ago when I was Pastor of one of our Glenmary Missions out in Oklahoma, there was a beauty contest. Twenty-six girls from the local high school vied for the title of Beauty Queen.
Here are their names: Jill, Jamie, Emily, Brandi, Kristan, Darissa, Kelly, Mandy, Mandi, Lorrie, Nikki, Misty, Ayesha, Sharbee, Samritha, Wendy, Ami, Jena, Kristan, Melissa, Jeanna, Leann, Krystal, Renee, Jennifer, and Wendy.
In my immediate family there were only boys. Here are our names: John James, Andrew Paul, Thomas George, William Francis, Edward Joseph, and Charles Matthew. The difference in the lists of names is not only in the fact one is a list of males and the other a list of females. A significant difference lies in the fact one of the lists is made up totally of the names of Saints, and the other is not. The difference is rooted in significant cultural and religious changes that have been occurring in our world and nation during the past Century or more.
No such changes come about with the pressing of a button or overnight. In the case of my generation almost all of the kids in the neighborhood, girls and boys, Catholics and Protestants, had the name of a Saint. In most cases the names were also the names of the father or mother, uncles and aunts, or cousins in the family. There was a combination of the secular and the sacred. I don't know what degree of awareness there was in the average person's experience of the fact he or she was named after a particularly holy person so that he or she might be inspired by that person's example and follow suit. In the Catholic Church we had the regulation that everyone was to be given a Saint's name on the occasion of Baptism. But even for those not members of the Catholic Church the likelihood of actually having the name of a Saint was very strong in that almost everyone's parents, uncles and aunts, and cousins, friends and neighbors all had the name of a Saint.
Whether or not the fact we had the name of a Saint had a significant effect upon the holiness of our lives would be hard to tell. I imagine in my own generation the practice was to some extent just something taken for granted, handed down, secure for whatever or perhaps for no reason, unquestioned from age to age. In other words the custom may already have become something different than it had been in the past.
From a comparison of the two lists given above it is easily and clearly seen the practice of giving a 'saint's name to our children is far less than a universal custom today.
This is just one example of the general secularization of our current American culture. If we wish and seek support or inspiration for our Christian life today we cannot look to the secular world around us. We would have a hard time discovering and growing in our love for God if all we relied upon for support was current experiences of TV, newspapers, magazines, junk mail, shopping malls, politics, and public education. Only in a vey strong religious culture would these realities be explicitly supportive of faith. They are not committed to faith or to the life beyond the grave. They deal directly and explicitly with earth, not Heaven. They do not pledge more and we should not expect more from them.
My observation, therefore, about them not being a source of support for my faith is not a complaint, just an observation. But it is a very important observation, and invites a response.
Here is the way I saw this illustrated for me one morning last winter. I shined my flashlight on a thermometer outside the office window at 5 o'clock. It was cold, below freezing. That was my observation. It related to my health and comfort. I was planning to go out for my regular morning walk. I had no inclination to pray the sun would come up and make it warm for me. I was fully aware of the sun's power to warm the earth, but also that it would not ordinarily do that in these circumstances and at this particular time in the morning. For me to hope or pray the secular culture around me would have no secularizing effect upon me or would go away merely by prayer, would hardly be a better response than the one above to the cold weather and the sun. God, like the sun ( God's sun!), has power to make things and people, warm, in the case of the sun, holy, in the case of people. But this power in both cases is not exercised willy-nilly, in contradiction to a plan and the truth about God's love.
I had other options for my response to the cold. I could have decided to go back to bed. That would be like deciding to read only prayer books rather than newspapers. I wanted the exercise so I looked for a different response. This was like desiring to remain current in my moment of history and facing the fact of the dominance of secularism in our American culture today. I could have cursed the cold. This would certainly be ineffective for changing it to warmth, and would be like failing to see and appreciate a definite though limited goodness in all of creation, in the secular order, in all but sin.
I decided to wear a different hat, put on a scarf, gloves, and an extra sweater. It worked out very well. I was warm even in the cold. Our response to secularism can be as simple and as effective. Keep making observations. Check the thermometer. Decide whether we want to go along or not, to be cold or not, to be faithful or not. Take measures to counterbalance the cold, the secular influences. Scarf, hat, gloves, an extra sweater. Prayer, reflection, study, send letters proclaiming the content of our faith to the local newspapers. Let Christmas keep happening in my life. Let Jesus be born in me each day, each time I choose the Father's will. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God's promises. As truth itself, Jesus today is a light shining in a dark place. Through faith and Baptism, united with Jesus, we are called and sent to be the same. His YES to the Father's will for Him, His great AMEN! is to be ours. "Be not afraid,"