Ben Sasse preemptively described his book on our adolescent culture as not an old man yelling at the kids on his lawn. And I’m about to do the same about this column. It’s going to sound at first like a conservative complaining about the culture, but it’s actually about hope. But first: Have you noticed that it’s near impossible to go anywhere without noise? I find — in Ubers, in restaurants, wherever there is any kind of wait or chance to think — it tends to be one of three refrains, see if they sound familiar:
I, I love you like a love song, baby. I, I love you like a love song baby. . . . And I keep hitting re-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat . . . only to break into another triplet of I, I love you like a love song baby.
Enough with the re-peat-peat-peat.
Then fast forward to Ed Sheeran’s “love song” of the day; I’m beginning to think there’s never a moment where it’s not playing somewhere:
I’m in love with the shape of you / We push and pull like a magnet do / Although my heart is falling too / I’m in love with your body
And finally, back to Selena Gomez, who issues a protest note:
I’m so sick of that same old love, that sh*t, it tears me up / I’m so sick of that same old love, my body’s had enough / Oh-oh-oh (that same old love) . . . / I’m so sick of that same old love, feels like I’ve blown apart.
Some “love song.”
I heard all three while running errands and such during the Independence Day weekend. I was in Orlando not for Disney World but for a national gathering of Catholic leaders organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A near-decade in the making, the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America involved listening, information sharing, and revival-like prayer. It was partly a getting-on-the-same-page with the urgency you hear coming from Pope Francis, where he seems to plead on a consistent basis that Christians take Christianity seriously. That means leading with love in unmistakable ways.
The convocation, as it was called, came almost a year after I stood on stage while 20,000 English-speaking pilgrims at an arena that was the biggest venue in Krakow stood and cheered an Iraqi archbishop as the hero that he is. His people are largely Christians who fled the so-called Islamic State and manage to have peace and joy despite utter uncertainty still, in many cases, about what their future may hold. Many hold careers. Their plight is especially pressing and stressful when it involves the future of their children, whom they cannot provide for as they could back home.
When I moderated a panel on media and culture in Orlando, the star of the show seemed to be a new book by an African cardinal on the vital need for silence.
The young people were there for World Youth Day, and most of Tauron Arena was filled with Americans, who were skipping the political conventions to testify to something greater. When I talked to them and some of the adults chaperoning, I didn’t hear the same kind of cynicism and anger and despair we hear about politics then and now. They seemed to know two important things: Politics isn’t everything, and we ought to stop fluctuating between acting as if it is and using it for entertainment. Political indifference, at the other extreme, is not an option either (though the temptation to this second vice has apparently diminished lately, with more people knowing the name of Neil Gorsuch than is usual for a recently appointed Supreme Court justice).
The Orlando gathering was described by at least one bishop as a World Youth Day for adults. He was no doubt commenting on, among other things, the beautiful music and depths of prayer. There was a sense there, as there tends to be at the every-other-year-or-so pilgrimage for Catholic youth, instituted by John Paul II, that the world needs us to get the foundations right: real faith and the Beatitudes. With a lot of focus on the joy of the Gospel and going out to the peripheries with it, as the pope is wont to say, it’s worth noting that most of the world thinks more about the Ten Commandments when they think about Christianity than they do about the Sermon on the Mount. That that’s something to work on was a clear theme of the gathering.
When I moderated a panel on media and culture in Orlando, the star of the show seemed to be a new book by an African cardinal on the vital need for silence. One of the days in Orlando coincided with the memorial of Saint Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, whom Pope Francis celebrated as a saint for the first time when he was in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2015. The pope’s words seemed to be in the background at the conference. He had talked about how we often find ourselves racing and drowning and worried. In an attempt to relax, we may end up overwhelming our senses with more noise or images, which can overstimulate us to the point of anesthetization.
So what’s an alternative? Real, self-giving, sacrificial love of the kind that is what Christianity is all about and why you might not mind Christians as your neighbors. In his homily, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, current president of the bishops’ conference, focused on the need for contemplation as a necessary means to such love. Try, rather than the same old love, the love that largely has never been tried fully, as G. K. Chesterton once described the faith. So worth a try.
I recently heard someone describe the U.S. as being in midlife-crisis mode. Maybe it’s something different, though. Maybe it’s the natural growing pains of a still-young country? In which case, a little wisdom might not hurt. Not so much stay off the lawn, but look up from the screens. Be silent and experience life together!