|North Quad at Notre Dame|
My name is Nicholas. I'm a married father of two in my late twenties, and I live nearby [the] University. My wife and I are active in our parish, and we both strive to bring the Gospel to others by following St. John Paul II's call for the "New Evangelization". We were able to visit the campus this past weekend for the Easter egg hunt that was taking place. My kids had a blast, and we enjoyed seeing the beautiful campus. After the hunt, we realized we were pretty close to the campus chapel, and as my wife and I are trying to foster a great friendship between our children and our Lord Jesus, we decided to go inside to say a few prayers, and allow the kids to bless themselves with the Holy Water. You have a beautiful worship space, and seeing our Lord covered with the purple veil was a great reminder to me that the holiest week of the year is literally just around the corner. I was happy to spend some time in prayer there. So Father, I write this letter to you as a concerned Catholic parent, and as a Catholic Christian who is concerned for the souls of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Allow me to explain.
First, as a concerned parent, I noticed the icons on the wall outside the church proper, across from the bathrooms. I was holding my son at the time, and just as I point out the images of our Lord and the saints at our parish, we went down the line of icons together. I pointed out St. Therese and St. Peter Claver, put had to stop in my tracks when we came upon an icon of "Holy Ghandi". I admit, Father, I was taken aback. Almost immediately I felt concern for my children, but then for the second group I mentioned above; I felt concerned for the student laity as well, since the placement of Ghandi and Thomas Merton next to recognized saints, actual citizens of heaven, was very confusing. For someone not formed well in the faith, such images with their respective captions can lead to the universalism and syncretism they point to. As you are someone who also works with young people, I don't think it needs to be said that many people of my generation (and the generation before) have not been well catechized, which was part of the reason why St. John Paul called for the New Evangelization in the first place. I cannot begin to tell you how many dear friends and cousins of mine have become lapsed Catholics or have completely abandoned any faith in Christ's Church, let alone a belief in God Himself. Virtually all of my friends I grew up with (Catholic and non-Catholic Christian alike) have embraced indifferentism thanks in large part to the increasingly secular culture we are now a part of. It saddens me that they no longer receive our risen Lord in the Eucharist and have rejected the Church that He founded. However, I strive to be a witness to the Gospel in action (and word, if necessary) around them, and to pray incessantly for them and others of my generation, that they will return to Christ and His Church.
But for those that are still hanging in there, and are still clinging to the Faith in various degrees, the messages given by these "icons" are contradictory to what our Catholic faith teaches. A student may look at this series of images mixing canonized saints and others and think, "Oh, these people must be in heaven because they have halos around them, and they're right next to this great saint!" These images, and their respective blurbs, were created by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. I'm curious as to why his heterodox ideas are able to be plastered on the walls in a building where is made present. In his blurb under the Ghandi painting, it reads "Icons are images of the Kingdom, windows into Heaven. In this icon, Gandhi..."
There is a saying popular among my generation right now. It's "Don't judge". I've always been taught to never judge the state of someone's soul, that is left to God alone. Br. Robert has not followed along and has made a judgement on Ghandi's eternal destination. It basically says "If you're a good Hindu, you'll make it to heaven." This is the universalism that has so rampant among millennials. How could Ghandi be proclaiming the Kingdom of God, as Br. Robert suggests, when he denied Jesus' divinity? Furthermore, Jesus didn't give us ideals. He gave us commandments. So to reduce those commandments to ideals is a gross misunderstanding of the radical message of the Gospel. To say Christ merely gave us ideals is bad rhetoric, and I don't understand how this can be given space in a building housing a Catholic chapel. As Fr. Addison H.Hart noted: "Lentz... [has] adapted the Eastern iconographic style to serve [his] own religious sociopolitical agenda. As such, though technically impressive, their icons do not serve as vehicles of the tradition, but as propaganda and individual expression."
That propaganda continues in Thomas Merton's "icon", where out of Merton's vast work, only one out of context quote is mentioned in Br. Robert's blurb, mentioning how wrong it is to have an "obsession with doctrinal formulas" and "ritual exactitude", as if doctrine and ritual were bad things. As Br. Robert mentions Byzantine Christians in that blurb ,I'd like to see him tell that to St. John Chrysostom, the one responsible for the Divine Liturgy that bears his name in the Byzantine Rite. He was very committed to right doctrine, spilling much ink over orthodox Christology in his various homilies and letters. Was he obsessing over doctrine? No, he was evangelizing. What's more, syncretism is blatantly depicted in Merton's image as he sits in the Lotus position, with Br. Robert claiming that "Buddhist and Christian symbolism [is] combined in this icon, to express the way Merton reconciled the two spiritual traditions in his life." It can be argued that Merton died as an orthodox Catholic Christian, despite some of his problematic writings in the 1960's and 1970's, and to suggest that these two traditions can be reconciled is ridiculous. Jesus said that He is the Truth; not several contradictory truths. Again, this is Br. Robert's agenda coming through, and is not the voice of the authentic Catholic Christian tradition.
|Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati|
In closing, Father, I'd like to point out that there are so many other great saints that should be imitated by [the] University's students. Newly beatified and canonized saints and blesseds, who we do know objectively are experiencing the beatific vision, like Bl. Chiara Luce Badano, Bl. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, have truly brought about the kingdom of God. And as all three of these saints died in their 20's, I have grown to have a great devotion for each of them since they are so close to my own age. Great icons and images of these young, saintly men and women can befound here. It's my hope that actual saints can grace the halls of your chapel and school so that those saints, who were true mirrors of Christ, can motivate young Catholics to be the same. These saints brought about the kingdom of God not only by caring for the physical well being and social justice of various peoples, but by also caring for their peers' souls. Did Ghandi really care for the souls of people and hope for all people to be united with our Lord Jesus in Paradise? St. John de La Salle's feast day was just yesterday, and after recently reading his "Ten Articles of Faith That a Christian Is Obliged to Believe and to Know", it's become apparent to me that there are many other canonized saints not pictured in the chapel building who have lived this faith in exemplary fashion, and some that are pictured that did not live this faith. I do hope the students in your spiritual care can learn more about them instead of the syncretistic ideas put forth by the icons that are currently on the walls. I also sincerely hope icons can be displayed that are a true window into heaven, and a source of abundant grace for all.
I apologize for the length of this letter, but I felt moved to reach out to you. As I mentioned, I've seen so many millennials who have become confused about their faith, and have abandoned it or have become indifferent. With the Church, I pray that no soul be lost, especially those of my beloved friends and families that no longer have a relationship with Jesus. If you could, please keep me and my family in your prayers, as well as my friends and family that have left their Catholic faith or have become indifferent to it. Thank you for your time. Have a blessed Easter!
Sincerely, and yours in Christ,