Bishop Robert Barron and non-Catholic apologist William Lane Craig recently sat down with an audience to talk about apologetics, evangelization and the secular culture’s latest effort to eliminate faith from the culture. The event was recorded and provides an extremely valuable opportunity to hear the thoughts and advice of two of the most gifted and effective minds in Christianity today. I could write about dozens of points made during the event, but I think one of these is of particular value to Christian men.
At one point, Bishop Barron and Dr. Craig were asked for the advice they would give to Christians living in the increasing secular culture of the United States. One of Dr. Craig’s points focused on the “superficiality and banality of American culture”. He said our culture, “is so focused on celebrities, sports and entertainment and so forth. I would encourage you as a Christian to go beyond that and to think deeply about the important issues of life.”
Bishop Barron expanded on Dr. Craig’s point by recalling St. Augustine’s famous quote, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Bishop Barron’s point was that a lot of us can be thrown off the course of our mission in life because we get restless and try to find comfort, pleasure and purpose in the things of the world. Before we realize it, we are no longer on course in our mission. In fact, we are further from the only thing (the only person) who can give rest.
As Catholic men, we need to think deeply about the important issues of life, such as our mission as husbands, fathers, brothers, etc… If, due to restlessness, we reach out to the world and become distracted by sports, entertainment, electronics, celebrities, alcohol, pornography, etc…, we have reached for things that will take us even further from our mission as Catholic men.
I cannot find rest in any of these worldly things. God helps me realize this by creating me to be restless when I’m not on mission. While some of these things can provide brief periods of mindless distraction which masks my restlessness, they can also destroy my life, both here and in the eternal.
Since Augustine, other thinkers, writers and saints have returned to the fact that we can only find our true peace through God. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the cross wrote that we must become detached from the cares of the world if we hope to have a relationship with God. Blaise Paschal wrote that we have a God shaped void in our heart and contemporary writers such as Daniel Mattson, Matt Fradd and thousands of others have given evidence to this fact with their conversions.
Satan is the master of diversion and through our culture he is trying to train our children to think that their mission is to find pleasure and escape through technology, emotional pleasure and the avoidance of difficult realities. Our culture also teaches that men are selfish, bungling, immature, etc… Our mission is to resist these lies in our own walk of discipleship and to model authentic discipleship to those around us, especially our children.
On the other hand, we must avoid the misperception that an authentic relationship with God brings absolute peace. We know this is not the case. If the saints have experienced restlessness and periods without peace in their lives, so will we. Therefore, there must be more to the words of St. Augustine and Blaise Paschal than meets the eye.
The “more” is detachment from the things of the world. Fairly early in our discipleship, we learn that God is a personal God with whom we can have a strong and abiding relationship through the sacraments, prayer and in the way we experience Him in our life. These are the “tools” He has given to help us identify our mission and find our rest in Him. If we remain attached to things of the world, we will never find peace in our mission. Through detachment nuisances stop bothering us. What once was a source of shame or embarrassment loses its sting. Necessary tasks we once avoided because they were difficult or unpleasant, we can now accomplish without significant complaint.
Look at the lives of those around you. Look at your own life. Identify the things which distract you from your mission. Identify the things and the people who throw you off course. Take all of this to God through the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist. Take these things to Mass with you. Speak to God about these things during your quiet time of prayer. In all of this, ask God what He recommends for you, ask Him for more help in your mission. In doing this, you are actually taking your troubles to the one and only person who can lead you to still waters and restore your soul (Psalm 23).
Be prepared for an inconvenient answer. Maybe you derive great pleasure in following sports, hunting or fishing. Maybe you spend hours each weekend restoring classic cars or coaching your kids in various leagues. Maybe you are a hardcore fanatic about exercise and drive yourself to your physical and mental limits for hours each day. You may not want to cut back on any of these things, but in doing so, you may find that you have more time for your mission and you may find more peace or strength to overcome your struggles when they show up.
Being a man in today’s culture means that we must always be checking our course, to make sure we have not drifted off the course set by God, toward God. Restlessness is a sign that we are off course. Our interests, hobbies and other distractions may mask our restlessness, but only God brings peace.