It's no mistake that the new year begins at night in the winter. Great new things often begin in similar obscurity. In the cold thawing soil of early spring where frost turns to dew, an unseen seed begins to germinate that will eventually become a large oak. Similarly, in a cold dark manger on the outskirts of a town within an outpost of the Roman Empire, on a silent night, a child was born who would bring new life to the world.
More often than not, when a beginning does happen, by the looks of it, it's hard to know that it is even happening.
The nascent activity of profound work occurs under the radar so the workers remain humble, practical, and undisturbed. That way their imperative mission, so fragile in its early stages, can continue. For this reason we can have hope that the buds of a new civilization, one that gathers all the wisdom from the old, is sprouting in the quiet enclaves of our society, in the almost forgotten valleys of Ohio, Appalachia, and California (and on a small blog with less than 100 views per post?).
New year, same mystery
I've thought a great deal about what a new beginning may mean for me. That led me to try and start the new year on better footing by getting up earlier, 6:30 a.m. to be exact. I know, it's not that impressive but it's a step in the right direction for me. What that direction should be exactly is still a mystery. We all seem to be in this conundrum in one way or another; we do not know exactly what our mission in life is but we know we must fulfill it before we die. I suppose the intrigue is in the mystery, then. We can only know the next step, and we will only understand our life's purpose by reflecting back on it at the end, not during the journey. Since I love discovery, I prefer it that way. Where is the excitement in knowing exactly where I'm going and how to get there?
So in my erratic life journey I have beacons that kind of lead the way; like stars that are actually light years apart but to the naked eye they converge.
It's been the new year for about a month now, in true Catholic reckoning, and in that month I've been preparing yet another rebirth for my life that has to happen now or never already. It's a good thing the Catholic new year starts about a month before the secular new year, because that gives us Catholics time to meditate and pray about what we should really focus on when the calendar year changes.
I still don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do with the next year, or with my life even, but it must all have something to do with the most prominent puzzle pieces---the aforementioned beacons. In recent years, I've felt like the whole picture I've been trying to put together my whole life has been wrong. Or perhaps it has just changed. Either way, my time at Franciscan University is still a piece of the puzzle. One would think, right? I mean, it is where I spent some of my most formative years. But the problem is that it never really fit into the rest of my life at the time. I had to pivot to make it fit in, and I always found it strange to try and explain my studies there to anyone not in the Catholic space. In fact, it has been hard to explain my vision even to people within my faith circles, because it jumps between many different disciplines, and that has been the struggle.
How do I explain to anyone the connections between my constellation of passions: writing, the Catholic faith, real estate, and rebuilding Western society? It all just seems like the random interests of someone who can't commit to one thing. But they are all connected, and I will use what I learned at Franciscan University to explain how.
Part of that college's success has to do with its geography. It's set like a city on a hill, tucked away from the rest of Steubenville almost like a monastery, within one of those almost forgotten Ohio valleys. I have fond memories of walking all the way to the top of the hill where the university sits. I recently took a trip there and surmounted that hill. Looking down over the Ohio River, that iron vein of American history and industry, I saw a sleeping giant that was waiting patiently for someone to wake it in its language, and partake in the dialogue of the centuries that our society has for the most part left on the shelf. Perhaps we forgot how to contribute to the ideas of the past. Perhaps we forgot the vision of the pre-Industrial West like a dream that quickly diminishes as we wake. Or maybe Enlightened Thinkers snapped us out of the dream and gave us no reason to return to it. But did we awake during the Enlightenment? Were we just dreaming during the 1500 years of Christendom?
Maybe we were. Maybe all the great saints and theologians of the past were just wishful thinkers, and maybe now we see religion for what it really is. Maybe it's just a projection of our hopes, maybe we cast meaning onto life because if we don't it will have no meaning. Maybe "If God didn't exist, we would have to create him", or maybe he doesn't exist, so we had to come up with something to give life meaning. As I looked over the stripped Ohio river valley from that hilltop, it seemed to say all that too: in the end, pragmatism wins. We just do what we have to, and we've learned in recent years that religion is "non-essential".
To rebuild is to resurrect
Within those thoughts of doubt, the answer I sought was hidden. We can't want something that doesn't exist. We desire purpose because it exists. God gives us purpose, and the Church gives us God. If a sense of eternal purpose is not essential, nothing is.
When I left that hilltop, about a half-year ago now, I heard something but didn't know how to interpret it. Thankfully, the banners I saw heading back down the hill said it for me, "Rebuild my Church". This has come to mean many things over the decades, the centuries. St. Francis of Assisi took it to mean he had to rebuild the small Portiuncula church, which makes sense because great things have small and humble beginning. My college took up that banner and took it to mean God wants us to rebuild his entire Church. But how? It's a mystical body that has assimilated so much into our society that it is hardly distinguishable from it.
So, let's focus on the "rebuild" part and take it literally. Let's rebuild our society. There is a clear connection between rebuilding and the Resurrection. Christians believe in resurrection because they believe Christ rose from the dead. We're different. When everyone else thinks something is lost, Christians are called to go and redeem it, whether it be a soul or a building. We don't just leave a place when it's no longer to our liking. The saints go to the slums, they go to the worst places of society and resurrect them. That's not just a sentiment or a particular mission. It's just what Christians do.
I believe we are now being called to rebuild our society by going back to the broken and abandoned parts, and presenting a vision that brings these places back to life. I'm talking about the long-lost houses, gas stations, factories, warehouses, malls, and all the buildings left to rot. I'm not talking about distressed property owners looking for a quick way out of ownership. I'm talking about the dead structures, because they have to be a tomb in order for something to rise from it.
St. Francis first built a Nativity scene 800 years ago because he wanted to see with his own eyes the real conditions of Jesus' austere birth. The Christian religion was born in a rundown, disregarded structure. It can be born again in every distressed structure we rebuild. Our civilization needs to be resurrected. It's not going to happen with a bunch of fireworks. It's going to happen with the scattered humble works of individuals who move with the Holy Spirit in mysterious ways. I don't know what part I need to play in this rebirth, but I will do each next task I hear God telling me to do---one by one---while hoping it will all come together in the end.
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