With my mind filled with ideas on the eventual ending of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the return to the holy Eucharist, I wrote last month about the image of a grand procession in which we invite others to join us as we return to the Eucharist. Last Sunday’s Eucharistic Corpus Christi procession — during which we honored the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ — from the Ohio River along Fifth Street to the Cathedral was a great symbol of the beginning of that procession back to the Holy Eucharist.
I encountered a new insight about a major stumbling block to this grand procession. That obstacle is the predominant need to control our world and the modern anger that arises when we cannot. I read an article by a friend, Timothy O’Malley, entitled “A New Model for Understanding the Dynamics of Catholic Disaffiliation.”
It was published in “Church Life Journal,” the journal of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.
In this publication, Dr. O’Malley draws heavily on a thesis described in a book by sociologist Hartmut Rosa entitled “The Uncontrollability of the World.” The thesis is that whereas in the past we might have accepted God’s plan in our lives as a pathway to follow in good times and in bad, the modern person is tempted simply to control all aspects of life and to become angry when that control doesn’t work.
Traffic jams, the Internet suddenly going down or our doctor not coming up with a cure fast enough are just some examples. Dr. O’Malley quotes one sentence from the Rosa thesis worth repeating: “Listening and responding constitute a different attitude from planning, doing, and calculating.”
Dr. O’Malley’s article clearly encourages the Church to continue to remove barriers to disaffiliation, such as becoming more transparent and being engaged in the life of the world. The author also puts his finger on what may be the main challenge that lies in the hearts of people as they pursue the modern penchant for “planning, doing, and calculating.” In essence, we need to help each other avoid reacting to what cannot be controlled and instead returning to the age-old spiritual processes of listening and responding.
God’s revelation reveals a world that is good, though marred by sin, and invites us to embrace His plan as the ultimate meaning in our life. As a people who like to fix things, we remain so riveted on the present and on how to do things that we are in danger of never asking the ultimate questions: Why am I alive and where am I going? What is the deeper meaning of life itself?
It is in this questioning that our minds make room for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who gives us a path and the grace to follow it.
Over the last four years, I have engaged with some fine people in a faith and science dialogue. In our meetings, our conversations seem to shift between two poles. On the one hand, a number of participants ask how our faith can be better informed by scientific advancements.
This is indeed a noble question to ask, and I have gained greatly from these conversations. In my mind, an even more important and far-reaching question is how can the scientific method of controlling the universe, our environment and our lives be informed by our faith?
To relate this discussion to Rosa’s thesis, I ask this question: Is “planning, doing and calculating” sufficient for us to live a robust life and to seek the truth? As we embrace genuine progress brought about by scientific discovery, is not a primary task found in our efforts to listen and to respond? Through the ages, it is God, our creator, who calls and who sent his only begotten Son to show us the way, the truth and the life.
I still embrace a vision of the large procession figuratively returning to the holy Eucharist. It includes not only those who for safety’s sake relied on live streaming for the past year or so. It also includes the person who, through the temptation of “planning, doing, and calculating,” finds that her efforts to control the world to the last detail brings about frustration and anger.
It is this modern person who we pray will hear the call to respond to the invitation to see God’s plan rather than always reacting to the uncontrollable. God’s plan is found in grateful, generous and ultimate service to others as together we journey on our pilgrimage to our heavenly home. Let the procession begin!