“It Is Now Only Dawn”

Pope John XXIII said, in his opening address to the bishops and cardinals convened in Rome at the start of the second Vatican council, “The council now beginning rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light.  It is now only dawn.  And already at this first announcement of the rising day, how much sweetness fills our heart.”  My parents were young Catholics in the years that followed Vatican II, heady years in which anything seemed possible and in which, too often, old and good devotions were thrown out in favor of modernizing the Church.  I grew up in milieu of the “spirit of Vatican II”, one in which I was certain that God loved me but not terribly sure of much else.  With little doctrinal formation, I entered my young adult years confused and, not until my university studies did I encounter the riches of Catholic teaching.

Because of my childhood experience of “post-Vatican II” Catholicism, I resented what I thought was the council, namely a demysticizing, desacralizing, and deconstructing ruckus.  Only in recent years have I encountered the actual documents of the council, documents that proclaim the beauty and freedom of life lived in Christ.  The Second Vatican Council issued an invitation to the lay faithful that is only beginning to be answered.  Gaudium Et Spes, as well as Lumen Gentium, are filled with wonderful statements about the universal call to holiness and the lovely duty of the laity to evangelize the world, statements that, the more fully they are answered, will truly bring about the “springtime of the Church” that our beloved John Paul II so often heralded.

This call to the laity has been on my mind often lately, as Devin and I talk and dream about a monastic neighborhood.  We so much want to offer our lives in service to Christ and wonder just what part we will play in salvation history.  We see the many lay initiatives springing up among young Catholics, ministries as far reaching as the fashion industry, Hollywood’s bright lights, the football field, and so forth.  And, we become excited.  Because, we want to be part of this massive movement of re-evangelizing the West, and we wonder if we might be part of a “neighborhood” apostolate that helps soothe the terrible loneliness wearying human hearts.

A young Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1970, “We are living at a tremendous turning point in the evolution of mankind, at a turning point compared with which the transition from Middle Ages to modern times seems as nothing…the city of man is beginning to strike terror into our hearts.” (Faith in the Future; pgs. 80, 85)  If this is so, and I believe that he saw clearly, then only God knows where the turning point will take us.  It seems to me that one can choose to see cause for bleak despair or great hope in our age; as for me and my family, we look with great wonder at the beauty of the rising day.

Where Can You Live, II

Okay, so in my most recent post, I listed what I see as the three alternatives to living in suburbia, namely life in the country, life in a small town, and life in a traditional neighborhood in a city.  Now, I’d like to expound a little upon the positives and negatives of each of those three choices.

I.  Life in the Country

By this, I mean living on a country lane within walking distance from the nearest town or village, like those modeled in lots of novels–“Anne of Green Gables”, “Little Town on the Prairie”, “Heidi”, etc.  I imagine that, in this sort of environment, one would know their neighbors fairly well and would depend upon them out of mutual need.  In this model, town is near enough to offer the benefits of civic life and the amenities of modern life, such as a church community, good health care, library, and so forth.

There are numerous positives to this sort of living arrangement, such as enjoyment of the gratuitous beauty found in the outdoors, no need to commute to work, assuming that one works as a farmer or from a home office, the capacity to raise much of one’s own food, a certain level of insulation from societal pollutants, and, well, let’s be honest, everybody loves a good autumnal harvest festival.  There are also negative aspects of country living, namely, distance from the benefits of big cities (state-of-the-art hospitals, airports, etc), dangers of inclement weather, insofar as country roads are often not serviced as promptly after a snowstorm, as well as the potential for nasty neighbors, like confinement poultry farms or pig lagoons.

PEI, anyone?

II.  Life in a Small Town

I grew up in a town small enough to be traversed on foot in half-hour.  It was delightful as a child to feel like I could, and that it was safe enough to, get around town.  My siblings and I walked most places, to the pool or the park, to the library and the ball fields and to school.  This is the sort of town I envision when I list “small town” as one of my ideal living arrangements.  I have already offered many of the potential blessings I see; to the above list, I would add–nearly everyone knows each other, the crime rate is low, the beauty of the countryside is just a few blocks outside of town, and the pace of life is slower.  There are certainly negative aspects of living in a small town, among them are those well-documented by Jane Austen, namely, gossip-y neighbors, stores that don’t carry the latest fashions, distance from big city hospitals and theaters, and fewer educational opportunities than those offered in big cities.

III.  Life in a Traditional Neighborhood in a Big City

These neighborhoods are usually downtown in big cities, surrounding what was the original Main Street.  They afford many benefits, namely walking distance from the grocery store, library, hospital, and so forth, as well as easy access to public transportation, and a selection of beautiful homes built during an era in which houses were well-built.  The negatives to this living arrangement, however, seem to be rather plentiful; most often, downtown neighborhoods are poor or prone to violent crime, as well as polluted, run-down, or expensive.  These negatives are not always present; my brother lives in Manhattan and, while his neighborhood is expensive, it is not dangerous nor run-down. However, this living arrangement seems to me the most burdensome.

Would any of our readers like to expand any of my lists?