Go Against the Grain

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—What does it mean to be an analog Christian in a digital world?

A digital clock shows every minute separately, each abrupt and independent from the one before and the one after. An analog clock, however, displays time as an unbroken relationship, each minute depending on what came before and what comes after.

Analog Christians, therefore, are Christians who live in relationship.

Expanding on this analogy, Cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Canada, says the distinguishing mark of a digital world is the exaltation of autonomy.

Cardinal Collins gave the opening keynote address on “Discipleship in Our Present Age” at the St. John Bosco Conference for Evangelization and Catechesis, held July 16-19 at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He said autonomy—the embrace of complete individual independence and disdain of dependence—can “cause great evil. It causes great loneliness. It is something that is radically opposed to a life of discipleship lived in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Trinitarian love, he said, the generous love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is key to pushing back against the grain of a modern society where the most dreaded fear is losing independence.

“It all comes down to an encounter with the Lord,” Cardinal Collins said. “God is a ‘who,’ not an ‘it.’”

A member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Cardinal Collins has been very active in the pro-life movement in Canada and spoke at the 2018 National March for Life in Ottawa.

Referring to the Canadian Supreme Court case that legalized euthanasia, he acknowledged the fear of pain and the fear of not wanting to be a burden, but said ultimately, “We are disciples of the Lord. We all depend on one another.

“Depending on other people is not a bad thing. It’s a noble and a beautiful reality. We need to reach out and form people in discipleship so they’ll realize that our life is full, that it does not depend upon my ability to do what I used to do as a teenager.”

Cardinal Collins praised the example of the saints who lived out Trinitarian love.

“St. Thomas More is shown as a model of conscience, and he is, but his conscience isn’t ‘I want to do it this way.’ It was because he studied and reflected on the teaching of the Church. He saw what was right and he did it.”

He continued, “The idea that there’s a certain model for Christianity, somewhere out there, that no one can actually be expected to live, is simply wrong. Saints live out the Christian faith every day. The great challenges of Christian faith are the pathways to sanctity.”

Putting one’s will above God’s is a further example of autonomy, one that the cardinal likened to the philosophy of nominalism. Nominalism denies there is an order in the universe in regard to justice, truth, or existence.

“But there is a real order up there,” he said. “God says, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ and people think, ‘We could steal if God says we could steal,’ but that’s the will triumphant. The reason we don’t steal is because stealing, by the nature of things, is wrong. That’s why God says it’s wrong.”

The denial of divine order revealed through God’s love is another indicator of an autonomous society. Addressing the common misconception that a new pope would dramatically change the teachings of the Church, Cardinal Collins said, “It’s not your Church or my Church. It’s Christ’s Church. Insignificant things can change, but anything that comes from Christ can’t change.”

Collins’ words resonated with Elizabeth Bonutti, director of Religious Education at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Woodstock, Georgia. She said one of the biggest challenges she faces in her work is distractions.

“Everyone is so busy. They’re not recognizing what’s really important. They don’t see the need for God. If you think you’re enough, you can’t accept help because you’re supposed to be able to do it all yourself.”

Father Jay Mello, pastor of St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s parishes in Fall River, Massachusetts, said the cardinal’s words were a stark reminder that “we live in a world that is not open to the central message of the Gospel, which is conversion. We live in a world where people want the Church to change, to adapt to their way of life, to see everything they’re doing as OK, as opposed to conforming their life to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

As a starting point to reaching out, Cardinal Collins called to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story, he said, that even the most secular person accepts.

“We can build on that,” he said. “We see the hand of God. This leads us to hope, which bears fruit in love. But if we are to form people in discipleship, we need to begin with love, helping the victim at the side of the road, so they might be filled with hope and then ask ‘Why are you doing this?’

“People are attracted to people who are really showing love. It draws the scattered in if they see the gathered are living that way.”

Cardinal Collins continued, “We are called to proclaim a discipleship rooted in the love of the blessed Trinity. What does that look like physically? It is washing dirty feet. The love of the blessed Trinity is shown through washing dirty feet.”

Concluding his address, Collins reminded the attendees that “the most important thing is sanctity. Even the greatest teachers need to be rooted in prayer.”

Over 600 attendees traveled to Steubenville from 42 states, Canada, Ireland, and Nigeria for the Bosco Conference, where they chose from 109 different workshops to receive certification in catechesis.