The spires that towered over our neighborhood were a comfort to me, a reminder that there was something inspirational and strong beyond the daily struggles. I liked the simplicity of metal crosses against the city skyline and I defined their message: there is something transcendent, something that at its depth unites rather than divides. The very height summoned the reality of depth.
Those thoughts, I learned, shape my soul. But for others, perceptions of those symbols are entirely different. Spires are cursed by hypocrisy, discrimination and prejudice. The concept of depth is trapped; stereotypes and ignorance thwart curiosity. Real discussion or exchange about the symbol, the community or faith are virtually impossible. And so the symbols that comforted one generation fall into anonymity for the next; the voices are unexamined, the wealth unknown, and the labels heavy burdens preventing movement or growth.
As a Catholic, as a believer, I am conscious of both the wonder of belief and the uniqueness of that experience in the contemporary world. For me, mindfulness practices and the proliferation of community groups, online contacts and the endless scrolling through sites speaks of the human need for connection. But for me, too, the flying buttresses of medieval cathedrals carry the same message: humans need both place and purpose. We are evolving new ways of being and becoming. But we are still, inevitably and purposefully, fully human. Technology changes and perspectives evolve, but humans remain who we are: searching for meaning, hoping for more, believing in better.
Place and purpose in the world is ours to define, of course. We can seek sources of wisdom, change directions, scramble for action, and bemoan circumstance. We can judge one another, deny one viewpoint to choose another, and immerse ourselves in rigorous debate over issues and perspectives. We grapple with moral choices and the complexities of the universe we are born into. We do it as so many have before us: we are living out humanity in the only ways we know how. But we are doing it in essentially the same ways those who have gone before us; they too grappled with issues and problems, divergences and truths. Our tools may be different; our institutions less powerful, but the human journey remains. Human beings are seekers. One generation’s findings cannot satisfy the next. Each life is born to that task; this generation, our generation, is no different.
To be connected to something greater than self is both gift and responsibility. Whether it is a network of Instagram users or a potpourri of acquaintances and friends, presence and nurturing are necessary to sustaining the bonds. And so it is with the life that I lead and have chosen. The sustenance is both public and private. There is communal celebration of the Mass, a weekly opening to learning more about self and one another and others. And there is the quiet of personal prayer: grace before meals, gratitude prayer in the morning, moments of examining conscience and a final review at the end of the day. Always, the hope to become a better person, one who can live the Gospel message, someone who can follow Francis’ admonition, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words. ” The spires remain; the foundations are multi-faceted.