"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Real "Matrix"

Get this from The Washington Times: "An edgy poster showing a somber Catholic priest in full black cassock and sunglasses posed like "The Matrix" star Keanu Reeves is proving so popular that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has snapped up 5,000 of them." Those copies are arriving in Cologne for World Youth Day, which starts tomorrow. I hear the scoffing, of course: another feeble marketing gimmick to arouse interest in a life with long hours, no sex, and commitment to preaching unfashionable doctrines. But something is stirring; incredibly enough, it's been gaining momentum since the clerical sex-abuse scandal exploded in 2002.

The article also notes what nobody denies: "The Rev. Edward Burns, executive director of the USCCB's secretariat for vocations and priestly formation, said 544 men were ordained by U.S. dioceses in 2004, compared with 449 men ordained in 2003. " Judging from the rate of seminary applications, the uptick is almost certain to continue. That doesn't just reflect the increase in what used to be called "late" vocations; it runs across all eligible age groups. Many of the younger men are motivated by the ideal of heroism imbibed from movie icons such as Neo of "The Matrix" and Gandalf, leader of the forces of good in The Lord of the Ring trilogy. (Those of us who were reading Tolkien decades ago apparently didn't get it well enough.) Think about it: these guys actually see the priesthood as a hero's life of fighting for good against evil. No stuffed shirts looking for sinecures, they. And they're right: if one loves Jesus Christ at all, then one takes his mission and his doctrine seriously enough to embrace heroism as what's required to dedicate one's life to him. In a world where the contrast between good and evil is ever starker, the seminary and ordination stats are starting to reflect such renewed motivation.

For Catholics of my generation, the baby boom, this is nothing short of amazing. Most of us were too caught up in the sexual revolution even to consider, much less handle, the idea of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. Our parents hardly discouraged us as they muttered bitterly about the bad old days of no birth control and no divorce. Well, a generation of birth control, divorce, materialism, and assorted other ills has produced a backlash among Gen-X and even younger men. They find nothing inspiring in the ethos of secular hedonism. The best of the recent epic and adventure movies are clearly speaking a different message to their hearts. Some actually want to give themselves as gifts to The Mighty and Eternal One. And the gifts are falling right into the laps of the often-hapless bishops.

"Where sin abounds, grace abounds still more."
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