Kathryn Lopez: When to check out of the discourse

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Will Smith smacked Chris Rock at the Oscars — you could live in a cave and still know about this, and be subject to the blizzard of opinions about it. This incident exposed the depths of my phone addiction as I clicked on link after link to articles that had just about zero impact on anyone’s life. The media frenzy was a bit like a siren warning us all to step away from our screens.

And it’s a timely alarm. We’re about to enter some of the holiest days of the year. Holy Week, Easter, Passover, and Ramadan overlap a bit each spring. Not everyone reading this is Christian, but I suspect, unless you have a deep hostility toward the religion — possibly encouraged by Christians behaving badly — you probably wouldn’t mind having Christian neighbors who take their faith seriously.

Right now, I don’t think the world is overwhelmed with Christians living for their faith. But the final days of Lent are an opportunity for us to do better — to remember what it is Christians are called to. The Gospels are radical, and show us the possibilities of self-sacrificial love. Christ’s message is life-giving. It forgets the self out of love for the other. It is based in service and in reflection.

Father Donald Haggerty is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York currently assigned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He’s the author of many beautiful books on prayer, his latest being “Saint John of the Cross: Master of Contemplation.” Written during the coronavirus shutdown, it was a labor of love and gratitude. Haggerty became familiar with St. John of the Cross in seminary, and the spiritual master has been a guide to him ever since.

Haggerty contends that exposure to the saint’s writings “can change our lives permanently.” He writes that “The soul itself becomes more contemplative as we give ourselves more fully to God, just as it becomes more wise, more charitable, more humble.”

Frankly, clicking on every tempting link on our phones sounds like the complete opposite of this, with the opposite effect. It’s good to know what is going on in the world, but we should beware when it distracts us from the bigger picture.

In the introduction to his new book, Father Haggerty relays a story of a Carmelite sister who once told St. John of the Cross that whenever she passed the pond in the monastery garden where she lived, she noticed the frogs on the edge of the pond would leap in to hide from her as they heard her approach. Haggerty writes: The saint “replied that these frogs were going to the place where they were most secure.

“They preserved themselves by plunging into the depths of the water. He advised her to do likewise. She, too, should flee from creatures and descend into the depths where God is hiding, and where she could conceal her life in him.”

Now, of course, most of us do not live in monasteries, nor are we called to be hermits, as tempting as it may be some days. But we need to fight for quiet. If we claim to be religious, we must commit to spending time with God alone. That is how we come to love like God. That is how we come to know what love truly is. And at this time of a return to somewhat “normal,” consider what is good and what is poisonous about that concept. Don’t seek false securities and conscience-numbing habits. Let your life be changed by a little silence with God every day in a new way.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and an author. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.