Charles Lewis says, despite all the concerns, he sees signs of hope in the young seminarians and deacons. Photo by Michael Swan

Opinion: Don’t despair, there are real signs of hope

  • December 15, 2016

We all look for signs of hope. Many Catholics cling to anything that points away from secular smugness to a world in which the name “Christ” is not used as an expletive.

Any Catholic who has even a modicum of concern about what is coming down the cultural pike must at times feel shaken. We are surrounded by euthanasia, pornography, caustic irony and anti-religious hostility. Many of our friends and family find faith childish or a form of brainwashing, at best a hobby to be tolerated.

To even discuss abortion and the possibilities for alternatives is to set off sirens that send the politically correct into spasms of horror.

Meantime, we watch our beautiful English language being changed to fit any whim of social engineering — from assigning new pronouns to every new group of a dozen people who demand it, to eliminating “mother” and “father” from Ontario birth certificates.

We have become obsessed with the worst kind of celebrity — built on buckets of money and plastic surgery. Many parents now send their children to the best and most expensive schools, less so for education but for the contacts they will make that will smooth the way for advancement in later years.

I have had moments when I think we are sinking so low as a society that I worry there is no bouncing back.

Yet in the midst of all this I have found real hope. There are reasons to take heart. The future is bright.

Over the past few years I have been auditing theology courses at St. Augustine’s Seminary’s University of Toronto campus. The continued exploration of Catholicism — through such courses as ethics, the Trinity and fundamentals of theology — has given me a renewed sense of the strength of the foundations of our faith.

In an ethics class recently we talked about how the culture spirals up and down. Our professor, the brilliant Patricia Murphy, said no matter the society’s vicissitudes we are not prisoners of our culture. That no matter where we are, the Truth of Jesus Christ remains. It has been here for 2,000 years and nothing has broken it yet — and nor will it ever break. It is not possible to shatter the Truth. So be assured.

I have also found assurance among the seminarians who are my classmates. I have never met a group so consistently thoughtful, well mannered and decent in all my years. I am honoured to learn among them.

A few years ago I was waiting in the student lounge for my first class to begin. It was clear I was not just another student — I no longer look 20 let alone 40 or 50. Each of these young men came over and introduced themselves, all wanting to know a bit about me. In an age when people are nervous looking at each other I was completely taken aback and delighted.

They are too mature for eye rolling. Their insights into our faith are beautiful in their honesty; they are also willing to air their own occasional confusion with humility. This may seem like a small thing but in my own experience, in the “real world,” expressing ignorance aloud is often a sign of weakness.

For me, the pinnacle of this experience came on a recent Sunday at St. Frances de Sales in Ajax, Ont., when two young men, two brothers, were ordained as deacons in the parish in which they grew up.

I had met one brother nearly 10 years ago when he was discerning the priesthood. We had kept in touch and in a way it was like watching a son strive toward his goal. When the ceremony came to an end, and the applause came, I felt a wave of joy.

I thought a few hundred might attend but it seemed closer to 600. There was our archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins, the parish priests of St. Frances de Sales, and about 60 more priests in attendance. Many in attendance were ordinary parishioners. Many of us were from Toronto and elsewhere. There were also scores of seminarians, there to pray for their friends and espy their own futures, God willing.

The reception was like a giant reunion. It was as if everyone knew each other or knew someone who knew someone you knew. It was glorious — and all because two fine young men were declaring they would serve God.

This is what I call hope.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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