In a world of change that defines and defies generations, agency as a person has opened up new stages for individuals, given life to ideas and thoughts that would have dwelt quietly in marble notebooks and handwritten journals just decades ago. But now, curtains drawn back and spotlights aglow, new venues abound. Influencers yeild power; youtubers win fame. The compulsion to share words and message exists as it always has in the human story. To be heard is to be recognized, to be known and perhaps to be understood or provide deeper understanding. Personal integrity and collective good seek voice as well as consistency.
At the root of all this lies the esential nature of choice: agency. More than ever, what we do and how we do it matters. There are competing forces at work: self-gratification, noble ideals, murky realities, visible and implicit bias, even contradictory interpretations. There are perceived truths, subjective stories and blinding judgements ciruclating in dialogue. How to choose? How to act? What to believe? What to dismiss? Is it possible to explore or investigate, to genuinely dialogue and learn to contextualize experiences? Does communication dare us to choose for the good for self and others? Is doing the right thing a possibility?
In the tide of the pandemic and all that 2020 has brought, it is tempting to believe that this is the most unique of turning points, that human beings have not grappled with such questions or controversies before. That would belie a deeper reality: our challneges are showcased in 21st century dressing, but every generation before this has struggled with so much. That is where the Matthew 16 Gospel comes in: it is about choice, about what we do and how we do it and the agency we exercise in making those decisions. The Gospel invites deliberate choice, not simply drifting with the tide. The Gospel demands commitment in choice and advises that the complexity of life presents the pain of choosing. Matthew 12 shows Jesus inviting the apostles to make a choice. In that ancient parable lies a simple truth about humanity: choice belongs to each of us. Owning it makes a difference.
The second reading from Romans 12:2 carries it even further: “Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and mature.” “Renewing our minds” occurs in each generation of history: mistakes are made, and adaptations are necessary, but the process was as essential then as it is now. Fear has no place in either the choice or the process. For a Catholic, living out the idea of discernment implies a deep and personal connection with God and an acknowledgment of the divine. What we believe comes alive in every ineraction, every decsions, every moment. We are free to choose. We can trust that mistakes will be made, and we can trust that forgiveness is possible. It is literally all about choice.
Catholicism has suffered insitutional scandals, financial failures and deep divisions. The collective and personal failures of the clergy have become reasons for choices and decsions to reject the very concept of religion. And yet, there is that persistent whisper that calls us beyond the brokenness of humanity to the something more. The choices, the exploration, the discernment, all that belongs to this moment. What are the messages, the stories we will share during this time? What will be given life? How will we define our purpose, our identity? How will agency be exercised? Influencers or influenced? Or simply the quiet voices away from the fray sustaining possibilities?