Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WYD in Syd—Part 5

That's me in the black cap, obscured by a Sister of Mary, Mother of the Church, as I grant the Sisters permission to record my talk.

The crowd at my July 15 Juventutem-sponsored talk in the cavernous hall at St. Augustine's mostly consisted of Juventutem pilgrims in their 20s and 30s (including fellow New York native and "Recovering Choir Director" blogger Aristotle Esguerra, plus a few older folks. I would say "more mature" instead of "older," but lack of maturity is not what comes to mind when I think of the very well-catechized Juventutem young adults, who are joined by their shared affection for the traditional Latin Mass.

Also in attendance were several members of Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, whom I had had the pleasure of meeting several months ago when leaving Nationals Stadium after the papal Mass in D.C. Seeing them for a second time, now halfway around the world, was the first of many wonderful "God-incidences" I had in running into friends and acquaintances during World Youth Day week, which, as I have written, made the Communion of Saints feel gloriously small.

Hugh Henry, the instigator of my WYD trip, gave me a beautiful introduction that was very moving for me. I instantly felt I was among friends, which made me feel at home in sharing how, under the inspiration of G.K. Chesterton, I was led to Christian faith. (I have not yet shared the entire story online, but you can read a bit of it in an interview I did with Gilbert magazine's Dale Ahlquist when I had received Christian faith but was not yet Catholic.) The story stopped short of my decision to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, as I wanted to save something for those present who might attend my talk the following evening at the Sisters of Life's Love and Life Site.

To leave time for Q&A at the end of my 40-minute talk, I could not speak much about the subject of my book, The Thrill of the Chaste. As I was preparing my talk, I was trying to think of how I could encapsulate the chastity message in just five minutes. Then, two days before I was to speak, I received an Evite from my friend Jon and I had my inspiration.

Jon is a Jewish convert to Catholicism in his early 20s who was then preparing to move from the D.C. area to Manhattan for graduate studies. His girlfriend Meghan, also Catholic, was set to move as well, to attend the same university. The easiest way to describe them would be to say they are devout, but that doesn't begin to describe how they are a light to their friends, who include not only fellow Catholics but also many who are on the fringes of faith.

I read Jon's Evite to the crowd. Tears quickly formed in my eyes and I had to hold back sobs:



God willing, on the evening of July 16, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I will ask&
[here, he put Meghan's full name] to marry me. Assuming she says yes, I will then take her over to St. Charles Borromeo, as Fr. Richard Mullins has generously agreed to say Mass for us there. If it is at all possible, I would like for you to join us at Mass to pray for us, to pray for yourselves, and to pray that we all may live out the vocations God has in store for each one of us.

If you can make it: please arrive at the St. Charles chapel no later than 8:15pm. I will bring my then-fiancee (again, God willing!) by 8:30pm, with Mass starting promptly thereafter (no need to shout "Surprise!" or anything -- your presence will be a joyful surprise in itself). After Mass concludes, we will adjourn for ice cream and various other desserts. (N.B.: If the Holy Spirit reveals that you should make brownies or perhaps cupcakes, I would do as He says.)

If you cannot make it: please pray for us!

And in case it needs to be repeated: *PLEASE DO NOT BREATHE A WORD ABOUT THIS TO MEGHAN* (I have fifty people on this Evite, so I'm relying totally on Divine Providence that she won't hear about this ahead of time.)

I know this is last-minute, so please do not feel any pressure to attend. Regardless of whether or not you can come, please pray for us!

Hope to see you there,
I explained to the crowd how Jon and Meghan's relationship, and especially the planned Mass and party, expressed the truth and beauty of chastity—particularly the characteristics that all who pursue the virtue share, no matter what their state of life (unmarried, engaged, married, or celibate).

The couple, I noted, were each at a stage in life when people "in the world" would likely urge them not to get engaged, as they had yet to complete their education. Their readiness to take on the responsibilities of marriage stemmed from their having built a solid foundation for their love over time, through chaste courtship, as well as their shared devotion to God, through which I knew they were listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

What, I asked the crowd, do a couple typically do after the man proposes marriage—assuming it is even the man who does the proposing? Typically in our modern, Western society, they are already living together. Immediately following a proposal, they are likely to celebrate between themselves for the rest of the night—telling friends and family the next morning. The most secular couples are what Erich Fromm called a "nation of two"—fostering a self-centered form of love that fails to radiate outside the borders of the couple's bodies. There is little or no sharing of this love among community, while the eventual invitation to family to "share their joy" is done largely in the hope of gifts, not prayers.

Such couples do not typically rush to the nearest church before the night is even over, to share in the Eucharist with their friends and family, ask their prayers, and pray for them as well.

What Jon planned, I said, particularly with his request for prayers not only for him and Meghan, but for the vocations of all present, represents what we are all called to do through chastity: to live out our primary vocation—the vocation to love. He was inviting those dear to him and his beloved to share in what he hoped would be a prelude not only to his own wedding feast, but the wedding feast to which we are all called, the wedding of the Lamb.

I closed my talk asking all present to pray for the couple as Jon prepared to propose to Meghan the following evening—and begged them to keep Jon's secret. They did, I am happy to say—and I learned upon my return that Meghan said "yes."

The top two photos are by Aristotle Esguerra; the third was snapped by another friend with my camera. Continued tomorrow ...