All gifts through the Holy Spirit

We understand the Holy Spirit through what the Holy Spirit does objectively and subjectively in the life of the Church. We use the Holy Spirit to understand better the relationship between God, the Son, and God, the Father. Through a better knowledge of that relationship, we can be healed in the modern imagination because of the way that the Holy Spirit moves within each of us toward the Triune God; the Holy Spirit can be the fruit of our experience on Earth with God.

Objectively, the Spirit has very specific roles in Scripture that aid our understanding for what it means to the Church. The image of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost connects the ascent of Moses in the Old Testament. “Because he survived the heights, the cloud, and the solitary dialogue with God, he was able to bring men the Spirit in the form of a word that gave guidance.” This event that involved the reception of the law with Moses foreshadows the coming of the Word made Flesh in Jesus. Then, out of Jesus’ ascent to heaven to be united with God, trampling over death, he, too, gave the Spirit, first unveiled by Moses, to each one of us through his Love on the Cross. In short, the Holy Spirit is a gift that is the giver of all gifts within each of us.

In imaging the true essence of the Trinity, we find the Spirit and the subjective role of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus’ perfect display of selflessness for us, the Spirit calls each one of us to direct our actions away from ourselves and to God. In this way, we understand that the Spirit dwells in each one of us.

Another way of understanding the Holy Spirit is understanding where the Spirit is not present. These images help us heal the modern imagination because they specifically tell us what in society is of the Spirit, and what is not of the Spirit, so that we may let the Spirit guide us and perfect us for union with God. According the Paul’s letters to the Corinthians: “People want to outdo each other; their attention is more and more directed to outward appearances and external things, and they are gradually turning into a sect” (112). In opposition to sectarianism, Paul says that the gift of love is most important. The Holy Spirit is this source of love, a love that builds up, and supports us. However, “where things are torn down, bitterness and hostility grow, the Holy Spirit is not present. Knowledge without love is not from him.” We must constantly be reminded of Paul’s message in light of the pressures from society to draw inward and make our lives about ourselves; instead we focus on cultivating our Spirit within us to the union with God the Father and Son through the gift of sacrifice in Christ’s Love.

Sonship of Jesus Christ: A Model of Worship in Love

The Sonship of Jesus Christ necessitates the understanding of Jesus in his relationship to his Father, a relationship that is both fully human and fully divine and fundamentally rooted in prayer. Through our understanding of this relationship as part of the nature of a Triune God, we better understand the role our own Sonship in light of Christ’s and thus, we are provided with a model that can heal the modern imagination, transforming it from a focus on self to one of self-gift.

Jesus establishes and maintains his relationship with the Father through prayer. In Jesus’ prayer, “the Father becomes visible and Jesus makes himself know as the Son” (35).  The Father becomes visible through the Son to show his Love for the World, for us. In a very real way, Jesus was very concerned with pleasing his Father, and carrying out his Father’s will on Earth. Through his Sonship in relationship to his Father through prayer and constant communication, we understand what it means to “lead the whole of one’s life on the basis of the affirmation that ‘God is.’” God is truth, and the truth is in the Word made flesh. This is what we mean when we call “Jesus ‘consubstantial’ with the Father”.

Since man is made in the image of God and the glorification of God, we are called to live our lives as an act of worship to our Father, like Jesus did on the Cross. The Lord practiced the ultimate self-gift in acknowledging the power of God by freely abandoning his Body on the Cross so that his death may conquer death for all of us. Out of his death, we experience life by taking part in this worship, in this Love.

Furthermore, Jesus’ experienced growth on Earth as human under the guidance of his Father. Through his growth, we come to understand the meaning of being of a child of God. Even though Jesus physically became a man, he never trusted in his own powers without the Father or sought to separate himself from his God. In this way, he “preserves the innermost core of ‘being a child,’ the existence as son that Jesus exemplifies for us, that he enters with the Son into “being God” (73).

Christ thus provides a model for us because our salvation means ‘becoming the body of Christ.’ Through following the model of Jesus from childhood to his death, we are called to constantly receive ourselves and give of ourselves daily in worship. Like a child, we are nothing without our Father; in fact, we are made in his Image. By doing giving of ourselves fully, we, too, become a place where Word can dwell. We are called to love as Christ loved.

Revelation as Love

Balthasar explains Christian revelation as love. Balthasar emphatically and meticulously discusses this love as a phenomenon that trumps all human understanding: “The majesty of absolute love, which is the most fundamental phenomenon of revelation, is the source of any authority human mediators may possess” (56). The description of humanity as a mediator implies that absolute love is too divine for us to understand as humans alone so we must understand it through its signs (a mother’s love for her child and the Passion) enlightened by God’s love within us through grace. This enlightenment comes through the seed of God’s love planted within each one of us.

We understand Divine Love through with what personal love is not because we have a better grasp of human love. Given that we are sinners, we do not possess true love (61). We pledge love for eternity and we break our promise as friendships end, and people grow apart. The problem is that human love has to compete with self-interest and nonlove (64). Thus, acts of human love always contain a selfish element to them. In short, humans cannot know Eternal Love except through the sign that God has given us on the Cross. Divine Love is far more powerful and glorious than humanity can understand. 

Rather than wallow in our humanity, we have signs of Absolute Love that we seek to understand through God. For one, a mother’s love for her child becomes God’s love transcended. “After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response” (76). This phenomenon takes place as the child’s heart becomes active Love toward the mother in response to her love. This relationship parallels God’s love for us because we, too, must come to an understanding of God through grace and the image of Christ on the Cross.

In understanding Christ’s ultimate sacrifice out of love for humanity on the Cross, we understand that Christian revelation is not a set of knowledge and understandings that need to be taught. Rather, than understanding revelation as something that needs to be taught and learned, revelation reveals itself a story, or drama, of Love in the Passion. “The absolute radiantness of His teaching […] becomes intelligible only in terms of the fact that his points as a whole toward the Cross (84).” We must come to know that Jesus’ death manifests the power and wisdom of God, and these aspects function together to form absolute, divine love.

In order to better perceive this Love as something God’s has planted within us, Balthasar outlines three steps. First, we must understand the Church as “the Bride” when Christ is the “Bridegroom”. In a divine way, the Church has been manifested purely from Christ, and therefore, provides us with a spotless model for love. Second, Mary is the heart of the Church. Her response to God’s invitation to bear the Christ child is an absolute yes, and a model of our reception toward the awakening of God’s love within us. Finally, the Word of God must be understood as the “outpouring of divine love” through man. The Scriptures cannot be understood in isolation as man’s response to Christ’s revelation. Rather, it must be understood as God’s Spirit.

Alcohol, Sex, and Notre Dame

Believe it or not I actually used to think that the “partying” users of drugs and alcohol would have little to no existence at top academic schools like Notre Dame, especially considering its perceived moral and religious focus. In my high school naïveté, I reasoned from my experience that top high school performers in the classroom simply did engage in more than an occasional dabbling with alcohol. Never, I thought, would it dominate the majority of their ‘fun’ or ‘weekends.’ Since I reasoned that all Notre Dame students should be top performers, I didn’t expect much of a party scene that typifies mainstream college life. In retrospect, though, I don’t know what I expected, but I did expect behavior that would be more educated and informed.

 

What I came to discover was that Notre Dame differed a lot less socially from any other American university. Students at Notre Dame use alcohol use the same reasons as others. We use drinking as a way to relax after the seemingly endless “difficult” weeks. Also, we use drinking as a way to provide a temporary escape from our constructed world full of stressful relationships between friends, parents, and our romantic interests.

 

From early on, activities that involve drinking alcohol become, for many, the most convenient ways to meet new people. Freshman year, chances are there is a dorm party on any given weekend in one’s section or one’s floor in which you can make an appearance. Freshman are also responding to what society has told them about college – so attending a dorm party seems like something that has to be done at least once; in many ways, it is a rite of passage for the majority of Notre Dame students.

 

Being contained within the Notre Dame bubble also aids in reasoning the high presence of alcohol. Simply put, alcohol composes the social scene at Notre Dame. As students move on from dorm parties, they find upperclassmen who host house parties, and begin to venture out to bars where they can “let off some steam.” The physical displacement away from campus becomes important because for upperclassmen, being on-campus becomes synonymous with stress that accommodates the job search, the school grind, and the keeping pace with other activities. Going off campus then means that this intensity about everything associated with campus can be translated socially. Notre Dame students don’t like doing anything half-heartedly and we certainly maintain the reputation as a “Work Hard. Play Hard.” school.

 

Sex at Notre Dame usually stems for alcohol and serves an extension of the social scene for a minority of those who engage in the social scene. When aided by alcohol, sex becomes an attractive option for those who, without alcohol, may be less likely to participate. Both sex and alcohol unveil personal insecurities, the lack of meaningful and intimate relationships in life, and the inability of adolescents to relax and communicate with others without alcohol.

 

In accordance with Smith, Notre Dame students want to soak up the last of their “fun” years before the real world. We are highly confident that we can change our behavior pattern if life requires that we do so. Until that time, we feel the need to take advantage of the bliss of college life that is mostly centered around the firmly planted social scene.

 

Students at Notre Dame fall prey to the shortsightedness of their actions during the weekends, which often hurts their spiritual development. We think it’s possible to be a good-enough person during the week to engage in questionable actions in the name of camaraderie on the weekends. We do not want to engage in serious self-reflection and self-judgment required for the Christian experience that might obscure the otherwise positive image that we exude.

Cosmetics and Material and Spiritual Desires

Cosmetics and Material and Spiritual Desires

The ad above comes from one of those in-flight airline magazines (which are all pretty much aimed at females). This ad features a cosmetics entrepreneur who is advertising her own products. Her photo takes up ¾ of the top half of the page, and features the tagline “Be pretty. Be confident. Be who you are.”

This ad typifies ads in therapeutic individualist culture. Smith asserts “members [of this culture] are encouraged in various ways to ‘get in touch with their honest feelings’ and to ‘find’ their ‘true selves’” (173). Not surprisingly, Bobbi Brown uses this exact message in her ad in claiming that she is “dedicated to empowering women with the knowledge and products they need to look and feel their best.” However, interestingly, the ad contains no information about the product itself. The advertising is done in the surface image and appearance of Bobbi Brown. This ad capitalizes on women’s insecurities about body image and confidence.

For viewers of this ad who have never used this product, they have the opportunity for “new self-imagining.” In this way, they fall prey to the seduction of modern consumerism. The audience of this magazine likely already owns cosmetics that work perfectly well. However, this product sells by offering a different alternative in “an endlessly renewed series of objects to desire” (116). Women get to imagine themselves with clear skin, no wrinkles, and radiant eyes, and this repeated imagination illustrates the nature of consumer desire: “The inevitable failure of the commodity’s promised synthesis drives us back into the marketplace for endless, futile repetitions” (121).

Where does Christianity come into play? Some contemporary Christians might argue that God wants us to be the best versions of ourselves. And if Bobbi Brown’s cosmetics can help women feel better about themselves, initiating positive changes in other aspects of their lives, then what’s the problem?

In some ways, this argument has merit. God does want us to be the best versions of ourselves; however, through products like Bobbi Brown’s cosmetics, we fall victims to our desires in a way that endangers our hope. “Images of products we will never buy associated with flesh we will neither resemble nor touch nevertheless trains us to fix our desires there, beyond where we are (124).” And this disordered desire in the earthly realm certainly negatively influences our faith.

For one, we become attached to things of the Earthly world instead of using that time and energy to focus on God. Two, we are made for eventual union with God, and only the will for that union will truly satisfy our desires. Nothing earthly comes even close. Third, compared to the material quest for newer and better cosmetics, engaging in this spiritual quest seems boring.

As a whole, engagement in consumerism is ruining our hope for salvation. Miller writes that “since desire is sustained by being detached from particular objects, consumer anticipation wishes for everything and hopes for nothing “(132). In this way, we are taught to find joy in the very process of desire – which could be a good thing if that desire is translated toward God. However, in the material world, there is no end. We are training ourselves to “find pleasure in a world without hope” when Christianity is saying that God is our light, our truth, and our hope.

Smith and Vision’s CYM program

N.B. After reading these excerpts from Smith I have a deeper understanding of Vision’s CYM program for youth ministers. This program demonstrates a much-needed investment in the education and formation of adults when are educating, forming, and socializing the children of the future religiously and spiritually. The mission of Vision’s CYM program certainly adheres to Smith’s argument that a key way to get most youth more involved in and serious about their faith communities is to get their parents and adult role models more serious and involved about their faith communities.

Christian Smith’s Religious Imagination of Adolescents: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Smith treats the religious imagination of adolescents as one of moralistic, therapeutic deism that reflects the mainstream capitalist, consumer culture. This imagination has replaced, he says, a serious engagement and socialization with established religious faith traditions. He defines this belief system not as a watered down version of any particular faith tradition, but instead as a new parasitic religious faith that preys upon “the degenerating bodies of other, particularistic religious faiths” (67). Instead of adhering to doctrine that necessitates the need for faith and acknowledgement of the mystery of the divine, teenagers create their own belief system, aided by mass consumerism, that fills a functional need in their lives. Serving primarily to allow adolescents to be happy and feel good about themselves and to solve problems in their lives, adolescents’ relationship with God is a one-way street and a relationship that is convenient for us. We choose when we want God in our lives and when we do not. In this way, we fail to engage in a friendship with God, and thus, do not engage in the Christian experience; the life of faith and charity to which we are called.

Cultivating a means of serious, committed faith formation in the modern world is difficult. Smith acknowledges the power of cultural realities and structural impositions that shape adolescents’ lives. For one, adults give in to the stereotype that teenage years are ones of rebellion, and thus teenagers’ apathy remains unaided by adults who see it as a normal phase in adolescent life. Furthermore, serious conversation about religion and identity remains absent from modern familial and educational discourse. Ideas of pluralism and respect for all provide a façade over the very substance of what faith means. As a result, adults and children are now implicated in a world in which these conversations are difficult, infrequent, and, when they do occur, revealingly inarticulate.

I felt the challenges of religious education as a catechist during my freshman year at Notre Dame. I signed up for this ministry because I had enjoyed my high school youth ministry experience, and I was excited to pursue teaching as possible career path. Like Smith described, however, my partner and I often felt a tug-of-war when planning faith activities for high school kids; How do we balance what would be perceived to be boring and informational with an activity more fun and less substantive. More worrisome, during the times when we were prepared to teach Church teachings, I felt unprepared to do so; after reflection, though, I was not surprised. My high school youth group program consistent of scattered service events and a yearly retreat, lacking substance in Christian tradition. Rarely did I engage in Scripture and relate its teachings to my life in conversation with friends or family. Moreover, I attended a secular public high school so I received no preparation on that front. How was I supposed to be an authority when I felt unconfident myself?

My uncertainties as a catechist in the Little Flower youth group serve as a microcosm of society’s pressure on faith traditions. Religion feels pressure to “accommodate the transformed definitions of self, faith, and purpose to avoid becoming culturally outmoded” (179). This means that we are in danger of simplifying spirituality as something that involves subjective feeling and personal integration without the necessary self-discipline to be holy and obedient. Consequently, religious educators feel pressure to shift their activities away from the serious, and historically dry content towards surface-level fun in order to bring more kids into at least some dialogue with faith. This surface-level treatment of faith usually fails to address the sacrifice required to engage seriously with faith.

This shift is not reflected in many statistics. Although surveys regarding the belief in God and importance of God have remained stable since the 1950s and may remain so into the future, Smith argues that a more nuisanced investigation exposes the changing substance of what religion means to the modern American world. Secular ideals, with humans’ wants and desires in the driver’s seat, today mold our understanding of what it means to be religious.

In reflecting upon my own formation, I think about my Confirmation experience in eighth grade and then compare that experience to my role as a Confirmation team member during the 2011-2012 school year. I remember my religion teacher explaining that picking a Confirmation name meant looking through a book of saints and picking one that had the same interests as you or one that has been a name used within your family. While the choice of Luke then reflected my interest in becoming a doctor, I never looked into the Christian experience of Luke on Earth. Now as a changed my plans for my future, I feel uneasy about the lack of depth in my decision-making of my Confirmation name because the connection upon which my choice was made has largely been lost.

In comparing that experience with one in which I participated in the preparation process for Confirmation candidates during the 2011-2012 school year, I was amazed at the seriousness of their preparation for the sacrament in contrast to the routineness of my eighth grade class. When some of the candidates elected to refrain from going through with the sacrament at the time, I was inspired by their prayerful reflection and keen perceptivity about the readiness of their hearts. I could hardly imagine an eighth grader thoughtfully postponing his Confirmation.