Monday, June 14, 2010

The impatient generation

One of the banes of our present generation is the inability for many to wait patiently for things to happen, or, as the spiritual fathers put it, to ‘bear the burden’. In the realm of technology and things that are profit driven, there is an insatiable need for speed and prompt action. When that is the only or largest platform that we operate on and operate from, we can end up demanding this from God and from our faith as well. But, as we all know, God often has very very different ways of being present in our lives.

When God is slow in answering our needs, one of the most common things that many people do is to stop believing in God, to stop going to Church, to stop praying and to give up on anything related to faith. I have seen this happening so often with members of families who I minister to. Some of them are children of the parents who are still fervent Catholics. Some of them are the parents of children who are active in church. While the circumstances of each case varies and truly is different, the mind that is in operation is speaking often of one common thing – that God exists to serve my needs, and if he does not, then I shall remove him from my life.

But is that what God is? A divine servant whose main role in our lives is to do our bidding and be at our beck and call? What kind of God is that? Can that be called God? Isn’t it his will that we should be doing, rather than the reverse? Another of our greatest challenges as priests, formators and catechists (and this includes all parents) is to correctly form in the hearts and minds of our young charges that our purpose in this life is to do God’s will. How do we do that effectively and in a pastorally imaginative way becomes even more challenging when there are opposing forces in everyday life that seem to tell us that our life is about us; that we should use every means we have to find our own happiness; and that happiness can be bought, even albeit on credit?

One of the most difficult things to impart to not just teenagers but to all people is the virtue of patience. What we have in the Catholic Church to aid this in a very visual way is the presence of images. In paintings and statues, especially of Our Lady and the Crucifixion scenes, we hardly ever see images of immediate gratification. The sight of a corpus of Our Lord nailed to the Cross becomes a visible reminder for us to literally ‘hang in there’ in the pain, in the inability to get the solution, and in the slow unfolding of God’s divine plan. So too are images of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross. That she chose not to understand, but to stand under the mystery of life, is her ability to ‘bear the burden’ in her heart.

When a church denounces all images as unholy and removes all images of Our Lord from their crucifixes, all images of Our Lady who bears burdens patiently and willingly, leaving only a bear cross somewhere in a hall, it somehow prevents our physical eyes to gaze on anything that reminds us of our own lives. What may even exacerbate the inability to bear any crosses in our lives is when messages preached don’t speak anything about the virtues of transformative suffering but only of God’s blessings through prosperity and wealth. Perhaps, the greatest damage done is when people are anesthetized from realizing the need to bear one another’s burden in life.

While I am not a sucker for punishment, I do carefully look often at my own crosses in life, and see in them God’s soft whispering of how these can become my pathways towards him each day.

Those of you who do have burdens and struggles, take some time to gaze lovingly at the images in many of our Churches and from that, bring home with you a renewed purpose to continue standing under the cross, even though you may not understand it.


  1. Fr Luke, I like your refreshing way of using the images, statues, crucifixes in the church to help us reflect on the virtue of patience. Interestingly, you equate this virtue ( which implies passivity of waiting ) with "bearing the burden..." ( which would suggest an under- current of tension)- how can that be resolved so that faith is not compromised, or is that what some mystics called "embracing" the cross ? Tessa

  2. This whole theology of ‘redemptive suffering’ finds its basis in Col 1:24, where each of us, being members of the Body of Christ, can and do fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church, which is his Body.

    Our temptation is always to ‘resolve’ things and treat each person, plight, trial, episode and interlude in life as something that has to reach a tenable solution. I think it’s somewhat hardwired into our flawed and sinful human nature – to resist being in the ‘now’ of things. Rather, we should try to see each unfolding episode of life as something to be appreciated in itself, with all its complicated and sometimes perplexing contributory factors.

    Yes, that would be what “embracing” the cross means, and in itself, it is such a difficult thing to do without a visual aid. That’s why we should constantly gaze lovingly at the Crucifix and learn copiously from it.

    Fr Luke

  3. One of your homilies that stuck with me is your mentioning that even bus stops now have information on bus arrival times. It got me thinking whether more and on-time information will truly make us make better decisions. Have modern technology made us lost the ability to live in the mystery and to embrace the discomforts in life?
    Thank you once again for reminding us that our faith is about.

    By the way, does anyone know where to get a good reference book on Christian Renaissance Art? I saw it in a library once and I was intrigued.