Letters to a Young Catholic (2004)

I finished my Easter reading, Letters to a Young Catholic, today and was struck by the travel journal aspect of the book. It’s arranged around various sites from around the world. The most compelling chapters, for me, visited the scavi under St. Peter’s, the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Chartes Cathedral in Chartes, and the Churchyard at St. Stanislaw Kostka in Warsaw. I hope to someday see the scavi and Chartres for myself; I’ve been to Holy Sepulcher. And the churchyard in Warsaw, though I’ll likely never visit, causes me to reflect on vocation—the one thing, according to Weigel, that we can do ourselves that no one else can do.

Being letters, these chapters try to convey wisdom, and the final page neatly summed it all up:

[W]hy deciding on your ‘vocation’…is so important a part of becoming an adult Catholic; why stuff counts; why the real world is the world of transcendent truth and love; why ‘putting on’ the sacramental imagination is part of becoming the fully human being you want to be (240).

I had noted the notions of “grittiness,” stuff counting, and sacramental vs. gnostic imagination as the three things that stuck out to me. Grittiness says what it conveys—Catholicism trains us to get our hands dirty in the vineyard of the Lord. Stuff counts, which is to say that the earth and the way we treat it counts; other life counts; and most of all other humans count. We must take care of all of them.

Most compellingly though, I thought the notion of sacrament vs. gnosis was interesting. According to Weigel, sacramental imagination is “the core Catholic conviction that God saves and sanctifies the world through the materials of the world” (86). Conversely, the gnostic imagination suggests “stuff doesn’t count; the material world is a distraction…; what counts is the gnosis, the arcane knowledge, that lifts the elect, the elite, out of the grubbiness of the quotidian.” Consequently, “Gnosticism can’t handle the Incarnation” (87). The sacramental imagination sees human history as the story of salvation.

Thus the romance of orthodoxy—getting the story of salvation history straight as His-story—is the romance of the world. And the adventure of orthodoxy is the greatest of human adventures. It’s not an add-on, a kind of spiritual frequent flyer upgrade. It’s the real deal, the thing itself. That’s what the sacramental imagination teaches us (99).

I hope to be able to continuously grow deeper in my ability to view the world through a sacramental lens.

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