Saturday, November 28, 2015

On Being "Old-School"

It’s an obvious fact of life that we Christians live in “the world”. That is, we live in the world as opposed to our true home, eternity in Heaven with God. And so as we live in the world, there are a myriad of different people, ideas and ideologies, cultures and moral codes. Or, as modern secularists (or even some ill-educated Christians, unfortunately) might put it, “there are many different ‘truths’ to be had.” We as Catholic Christians know better than that, of course. We know that truth cannot be subjective. By the very definition of the word “truth”, the act of calling any one truth subjective is a contradiction of epic proportions. A truth, especially THE Truth, is indeed objective. So if truth is objective, then the number of years, centuries, millennia, etc. that go by should have no bearing whatsoever on that truth. That makes sense right? So why is it that so often I constantly have to hear friends, co-workers and others tell me that such-and-such person is too “old school” in his thinking? That the bishops in the Catholic Church are behind the times? As if simply the passage of time itself is what determines if something is true or not? If I’m getting tired of it, then I know many of you are too.

What Is Truth? Christ Before Pilate- Nikolai Ge
Now of course, I’m not talking about every instance of the phrase “old school”. My favorite baseball and basketball teams sometimes wear old school, throwback jerseys. Or some video game or TV show I used to enjoy that makes a comeback in our nostalgic culture can employ a positive connotation for the old school saying. 

What I object to, and find grating, is how ideas such as chastity, temperance, sacrifice, prudence and the like can be dismissed out of hand by so many by negatively referring to these things as “old school”. As if by speaking those two words, the definitions and meaning behind those ideas and virtues become null and void, are not open for discussion, and are to be looked upon as archaic; as things that modern men and women would never dream of doing.

This happens to me often at work, where for instance I hear how a co-worker’s daughter is going out with a boy whose family is “old school” in that they don’t want the two cohabitating before marriage. Or when I was in high school, I had one of my good friends tell me that since I preferred to wait until marriage to have sex, I shouldn’t get my hopes up for finding a girl with similar values. They just don’t do that anymore, he said. “Anymore” implying that, perhaps, at one time people found it moral to abstain from sex before marriage, but such a thing just doesn’t happen anymore… that truth has changed!

Let’s keep in mind that human perception on things can change. For example, in the Classical era, right up until the 16th century, geocentrism (the belief that the sun and stars orbited the Earth) was considered to be true. However, once science evolved, and our instruments to chart the stars became better, it was obvious that heliocentrism (the Earth orbits the sun) was true. While the passage of time led to the knowing of this truth, it was greater scrutiny into the validity of these two theories that made the actual, objective truth come to light. Can the same be said of the metaphysical, such as the moral virtues of prudence and temperance? Has there really been greater scrutiny? Where has the theological truth that temperance should be used when deciding to abstain from sexual relations before marriage, for instance, been proven wrong? Nowhere, I submit. All we have seen since the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s are broken homes and families, fatherless children, and an increase in promiscuity, which has led to sex (and men and women also) being objectified as a recreational activity and a mere plaything to be molded to the whims of each person, therefore degrading the beauty of the marital act and degrading the inherent dignity of the man and woman themselves as human persons.

So how do we as Catholic Christians respond to the charge that we are “old school”? First, I’d say we should embrace it. If someone uses the phrase in a negative connotation, know that it must mean you are living such a good witness for Christ and His Church, that people have taken notice. While they are mocking you or others, they’ve also taken notice that you’re “weirdness” doesn’t conform to the ever-changing standards of “the world”. Look what the authors of the New Testament have to say on the matter. Truly prophetic words applicable to our times. St. Peter says this in his second letter, emphasis mine:
“Note this first of all: in the last days, mocking, sneering men who are ruled by their passions will arrive on the scene. They will ask: “Where is that promised coming of his? Our forefathers have been laid to rest, but everything stays just as it was when the world was created. 
“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 
“Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” (2 Pt. 3-4, 8-9, 14-15)
St. Peter Preaching- Masolino da Panicale
Obviously, many people doubt that Christ will come again, leading them to be “ruled by their passions”, instead of listening to the Truth that is inscribed on their consciences. So why should they have to listen to the truths that have been formally declared by the Catholic Church. That pope guy… he’s just an old fogey, right?! In a way, many men and women have become like St. Thomas the Apostle once was… doubting. St. Jude also offers this to us in his epistle:
“I feel obliged to write and encourage you to fight hard for the faith delivered once for all to the saints. Certain individuals have recently wormed their way into your midst, godless types, long ago destined for the condemnation I shall describe. They pervert the gracious gift of our God to sexual excess and deny Jesus Christ, our only master and Lord. 
“I wish to remind you of certain things, even though you may already be very well aware of them. The Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones. 
“Remember, beloved, all of you, the prophetic words of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how they kept telling you, “In the last days there will be impostors living by their godless passions.” These sensualists, devoid of the Spirit, are causing divisions among you. 
“But you, beloved, grow strong in your holy faith through prayer in the Holy Spirit. Persevere in God’s love, and welcome the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ which leads to life eternal. Correct those who are confused; the others you must rescue, snatching them from the fire... There is One who can protect you from a fall and make you stand unblemished and exultant in the presence of his glory. Glory be to this only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Jude 1: 3-8, 17-25)
St. Jude is exhorting us to stick with the truth set forth by Christ and His Church. Already, we see in recent years some Christians telling us that the way people have been interpreting the books of the Bible for centuries is wrong. These people are causing major divisions amongst us Christians, as St. Jude warns us. We even see division in the Catholic Church itself at times, with modernism trying to creep in wherever it can. But we know that the teachings the Catholic Church has passed down from apostolic times is correct; those truths on sexual morality, respecting life in all its stages, the divinity of Christ and so on cannot be changed. Otherwise, if they could be changed, then Christ himself was a liar when He told us that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church! Fortunately, we know that since Christ is the Truth, the Way, and the Life… He cannot lie.

Finally, let’s look at the words of St. Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop and Church father who lived in the third century, from his sermon on man’s mortality:
“Our obligation is to do God’s will, and not our own. We must remember this if the prayer that our Lord commanded us to say daily is to have any meaning on our lips. How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when he calls us from this world! Instead we struggle and resist like self-willed slaves and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity. And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we would rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ? The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you? 
“…We ought never to forget, beloved, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it. What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life! 
“There, is the glorious band of apostles, there the exultant assembly of prophets, there the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and in death. There in triumph are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of continence. There the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands of justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord’s command, they turned their earthly patrimony into heavenly treasure.”
St. Cyprian- Meister von Me├čkirch
Don’t we want to be in that “glorious band” of apostles, martyrs and virgins? Isn’t that what we aim for? Then we can’t stop pursuing, and living the Truth! Sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the truth in a number of different situations and manners does no good for us, and surely won’t lead us to be counted among that “glorious band”. Being "old school" will make us pretty unpopular with the world, no doubt; but so be it. This is where we must reject the world, and if it means being “old school”, then count me in. It may be irritating and taxing to endure at times, but we know what’s at stake, and we know what awaits us if we hold steadfast to the truth. This is when I have to remind myself to offer up these little persecutions, because let’s face it, we aren’t being massacred like Christians are in the Middle East right now. But that doesn’t mean we won’t suffer a bloodless martyrdom; a white martyrdom, as it were.

Look at what St. Cyprian said, “The world hates Christians.” Why do they hate Christians? Because they hate Christ and His teachings. You could say that some love a Christ of their own imaginations; a “buddy Christ” who they can take out for a beer, and not worry about being condemned for sins by a Christ that is true and real. A Christ that is both a Just Judge and a Merciful Savior. That Christ, a Judge and Savior, doesn’t appeal to the world. Why? Because Christ can’t offer anything to anyone who is so stuck in their own earthly pleasures that they’d rather follow their own whims than the One who was true God and true man. So if for denying the world and its pleasures (and instead you whole-heartedly follow Christ) you get mocked and chided for abstaining from sex, not supporting abortion or euthanasia, refraining from contraceptives, actually going to a house of worship to be with God on a Sunday, standing up against the redefinition of marriage, trusting in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, or for even just believing in God… just remember you’re in good company with the saints. They were old school too. The truth is worth standing up for. 

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