Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Catholic Bucket List!

The following comes from Our Sunday Visitor:

You can read the rest of the story at OSV but here is their Catholic Bucket list!

1. Go to Rome.

This is, I suppose, pretty obvious. We’re talking Eternal City. The City. The one they based Minas Tirith on in “The Lord of the Rings.” Older than New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., put together — not to mention London, Paris, Berlin and the concept of the nation-state — this is the place where the civilization called “Europe” looks to when they want to think about what civilized people were doing while the English, French and Germans were painting themselves blue and running around naked in the woods. Yes, while all that we think of as “modern Europe” was drunk on mead, living in mud huts and setting up rows of rocks as their greatest cultural achievements, Rome was already ancient.

Rome is, of course, where the pope lives and St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and much of the rest of the greatest of pagan and Christian civilization finds a natural home. It is a place that has endured plagues, seen sumptuous festivals both heathen and Catholic, been occupied by everybody from barbarian hordes to the Nazis, and doggedly remained the See of Peter even when the pope was goofing off in Avignon. Plus, you got your Italian food, your easy mileage to places like Assisi, Florence and the resting place of Padre Pio (as well as 50 bazillion other places chockablock with the memory — and bones — of 50 bazillion saints, including Peter and Paul).

2. The Great Cathedrals.

After the pagans of northern Europe were Christianized by the former pagans of southern Europe, they did what people in love do: gave extravagant gifts. The greatest extravagant gifts the northern Europeans gave God and their descendants were the great cathedrals. Words can really not do justice to them. Unlike my still-unrealized dream of visiting the Eternal City, I have actually had a chance to see a medieval cathedral in the form of Yorkminster in England. It is a stunning fulfillment of Christ’s words that the very stones would cry out “Hosanna.” That the whole thing was crafted into being over the course of centuries by human beings with no internal combustion engine is itself a miracle. That a whole civilization across Europe could create not one but many of these splendors in the form of Notre Dame, of the cathedrals at Cologne, Reims, Innsbruck, Salz-burg, Vienna and on and on is breathtaking. To walk through one is to feel yourself be changed by the experience.

3. Go on a pilgrimage.

There are two basic ways of doing this and some Catholics never get around to doing either, which is a shame. The first way is to go on a pilgrimage. This generally means taking a walk — a long one and, if you want the full Catholic meal deal, doing it in the company of a bunch of strangers who have nothing in common with you but the fact that they are also on pilgrimage. A recent portrayal of this is Emilio Estevez’s fine little film “The Way,” which concerns people on the famous Camino de Santiago that takes pilgrims from France to Spain and, more importantly, to an interior encounter with God.

The pilgrimage is actually older than Christianity, and its roots can be found in Old Testament religion as pilgrims went up from the towns of Israel to the great feasts of the Old Testament calendar celebrated in Jerusalem at the Temple. Psalms 120-134 are known as the “Songs of Ascent” because they were sung by pilgrims climbing up to Mount Zion from the lowlands of Israel.

Catholic culture adopted the pilgrimage first in paying visits to the Holy Land and the scenes of Jesus’ ministry, passion, death and resurrection and then to the graves of saints and martyrs such as St. Thomas Becket (whose pilgrimage was the setting for the most famous tale of pilgrims in history, the 14th-century “Canterbury Tales”). When the Holy Land became off limits due to Muslim conquest, this inspired inventive Catholics to create the second form of pilgrimage: the Stations of the Cross. If you can’t make it to Jerusalem due to airfare costs or Saracens, you can still walk with our Lord in the convenience and safety of your own sanctuary.

4. Seek out Catholic literature.

Speaking of the “Canterbury Tales,” there is a vast ocean of great Catholic literature every Catholic should at least take a dip in before they die (though deep-sea diving is perfectly fine to try, too). Most people can’t immerse themselves in all of it, but everybody can bite off and chew on some of it. The primary Catholic book is, of course, The Book: the Holy Bible. Don’t be afraid. It doesn’t bite. If you are not sure where to start, get yourself a handy Ignatius Study Bible, edited by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, and read deeply. Beyond this, the Church Fathers are a delight to read, particularly the eloquent and fascinating Augustine. Mike Aquilina has some great books out, such as “The Fathers of the Church” (OSV, $13.95), which give you a nice introduction to them.

5. See the Bard on stage.

Ha! I’m going to recommend Shakespeare anyway since he is not only the greatest dramatist but the greatest Catholic dramatist in this or any other language. Only I will recommend you see Shakespeare’s plays rather than read them (since that’s what he wrote them for, never envisioning the suffering legions of ninth-graders who would have to analyze “Hamlet”). Great productions abound and, since this a bucket list, I will go ahead and say that you need to hie thee to either the Globe in London or to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon (or to some great production in New York) and see it done live. Start with a comedy if you feel intimidated, then move on to a history such as “Henry V” or a tragedy like “King Lear.” If you can’t do the stage, there are some great film adaptations right there on Netflix.

6. Get to know G.K.

I would be remiss if I did not mention great novels, poetry, social criticism, theology, biography, literary criticism, history, philosophy and comic wit. Since I cannot give you a library of authors in this space, I will give you a man who was a library: G.K. Chesterton, perhaps the greatest genius writing in English in the 20th century. Hilariously funny, deeply sympathetic to the common man, a humble lover of God and neighbor, a colossal genius, and one of the deepest thinkers who ever lived, Chesterton wrote about everything and wrote brilliantly. Dive in anywhere, from his Father Brown mysteries to his “Orthodoxy” and “Everlasting Man” to his great poem “Lepanto” — and that is just the tip of the vast iceberg of his work. You can’t go wrong. There’s something hilarious, profound and beautiful on every page.

7. Classical Catholics.

I won’t kid you. I’m no expert in music. But since the point of this list is to point to some of the best there is, not to pretend that I am an expert in the best there is, then no list is complete without noting summits of Catholic music such as Palestrina. Now I am the exact wrong person to guide you through Palestrina, just as I am the exact wrong person to Sherpa guide you up Mount Everest. But even a hairless chimp like me can point to the summit and say, “That’s one big beautiful mountain right there!” Also on the bucket list is Mozart. And I will throw in J.S. Bach as an honorary Catholic for his St. Matthew Passion.

8. In beat with the Faith

In addition to the high-falutin’, there is also the vast quantity of great music created by Catholic culture at the grass roots, such as Cajun music or the wonderful stuff that wafts from the fiddle of Canada’s Natalie MacMaster, or even jazz (so much of it born in the Catholic milieu of New Orleans). Did you know that Dave Brubeck wrote a Mass? The greatest Christmas carol of all time — “Silent Night” — was written by a Catholic. And much of our heritage of folk songs and hymns come down to us from sundry Catholic cultures. Your No. 8 bucket list assignment: Go poke around and see how much Catholic culture has been the matrix for some of the world’s greatest popular music. You’ll be surprised. It’s at the back of everything from the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and “Eleanor Rigby” to the collected works of Bing Crosby. Not all of it is great, but even when it is outright depraved (as with Madonna and Lady Gaga), it is remarkable how inescapable the Catholic influence is. Even as he blasphemes, the devil cannot help but offer his homage to the Church. Every knee shall bow. You can do worse than reflect on the fact that the world cannot escape the Gospel, no matter how hard it tries.

9. Works of mercy

Where to start? Monasteries with whole buildings made from the bones of monks. The Hill of Tara, which is ground zero for the conversion of Ireland by St. Patrick. The Lord of the Rings. The Hound of Heaven. The Summa Theologiae. Dante’s Divine Comedy. Tuscany. The list can go on and on. But if St. Lawrence is to be believed, the real action in terms of the treasures of the Church is the poor, blind, disabled, hungry, sick, alien, orphan and widow. So an absolutely vital part of any Catholic bucket list is to find some way to be part of helping the least of these. This is particularly important since shortly after you kick the bucket there will be a brief interview at the Pearly Gates in which care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and homeless will figure prominently in the discussion. (We know this because Jesus gave us a cheat sheet for the exam known as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. He’s an “easy A” teacher and always gives us the correct answers ahead of time.) Therefore, I recommend a stint at a soup kitchen, a junket to an impoverished Third World nation to build wells, a trip to Mexico to help build an orphanage or one of the myriad other corporal and spiritual works of mercy with which the Catholic Church abounds.

10. Make peace with God.

It can be argued that the greatest thing about the Catholic faith is that it both teaches us how, and gives us the means, to die really well. Since you are going to kick the bucket, you may as well do it in style, prayed up, forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, anointed, full of the grace of viaticum, and at peace as you make the Great Change. Heaven is, after all, the ultimate pilgrimage destination!

No comments: