As I noted last week, I hope to use my regular column over the next four months in an unusual but useful way. On an occasional basis (not every week, but often), I’ll be turning over my space to young people and others experienced in youth and young adult ministry. With a synod of the world’s bishops focusing on young people scheduled for this October, hearing directly from the young and those engaged in guiding them can be a great resource.
Brother Bryan Kerns, O.S.A., 29, will be ordained to the priesthood on June 15. This week, I’m pleased to offer his reflections here:
A famous essay by Isaiah Berlin sorts people into two main groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes know a lot of little things. Hedgehogs know one big thing.
I’ve long fancied myself a fox. Getting an education at places like Villanova and the University of Chicago is supposed to make foxes out of us.
But as I approach my priestly ordination, I find myself wanting the life of a hedgehog. And the one big thing I want to know is silence. The silence of Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The deep silence of rest in Jesus Christ, the silence in each of us at the ground of our being: That silence is what we’re squandering in our lives and in our Church.
The world is drowning in noise – the young in particular. And the noise is not the worst problem; it’s a symptom of our failure to understand our nature. We use noise as an antidote to our restlessness, when what we really need is rest.
My spiritual father Augustine knew this. It’s the great insight at the beginning of his Confessions: “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Notice the use of the singular. Augustine sees restlessness as a universal feature of human life. And yet instead of pursuing our rest in the yoke of the Lord, in the silence that can nourish each one of us, we let in an immense amount of noise. This is why it’s the life of the hedgehog that I want to pursue as an Augustinian and a priest: In silence we can find our rest in God, in silence we ease our restlessness, in silence we quiet the noise that plagues our time.
Augustine wrote that when we say the times are burdensome or miserable, we forget that we are the times. If we want to change the times, we need to change human beings, starting with ourselves.
So how does this relate to Synod 2018? The questions the Synod Fathers ought to answer are along these lines: How can we encourage and persuade young Christians to steep themselves in silence in order to face the burdens that the world and adult experience will place before them? How can we remind our skeptical youth – many of whom in this country profess no religious belief and view our political and economic structures with distrust – that the Church can be a source of quiet strength through their sufferings and anxieties? How can we remind the ones who do profess belief in Jesus and who do try to live the Christian life that the Church will not surrender to the disturbing trends of our time? That the Church has the resources in her tradition and sacramental life to protect them against the evil in the world, so that we can all strive joyfully towards sanctity and the day of our redemption? That this is the Church’s central task, and that she’s an expert in it?
The answer is not another document, beautiful though its prose may be. The answer is not in pursuing respectability in the eyes of the world’s thought leaders, opinion formers, and taste makers with bemusing spectacles like the recent Met Fashion Gala.
The answer will be found in flesh and blood witnesses; the faithful witnesses who, with Christ, take up his yoke and burden; the witnesses, as Luke puts it, who radiate their faith, person by person, “to the ends of the earth.”
Our world, our Church, and especially our young people, need witnesses. Witnesses who prove irrefutably, through their words and actions, that Jesus Christ dwells with quiet fire in their hearts. That’s the one big thing this aspiring hedgehog seeks to share as a priest with the young, the frightened, the confused, and the weary: Rest in Jesus Christ, for his yoke is easy and his burden light. Everything else is noise.
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