Every city has its hip area with trendy shops offering locally made trinkets, markets for vendors of organically grown produce, and faux-French cafes. Accountants and stockbrokers who wear power suits Monday to Friday may transform on Saturday into hipsters in faded jeans, t-shirts, bandannas around their heads or floppy straw hats to saunter around trendy areas of the city.
It is harmless fun being seen as a part of the ‘scene’. I get caught up in the pretense myself. Although it’s hard to look trendy in an electric wheelchair, I still enjoy sipping a mocha latte at a sidewalk café and watching an assortment of hipsters strolling down the street.
But I occasionally find myself wondering if I’m watching a small outward expression (one of many) that is indicative of the age in which we live. Superficiality of image becomes everything, where taste and manners without deep-rooted substance stunts spiritual progress of the human soul.
While sipping my Americano espresso recently, I read an essay by Matthew Schmitz in First Things magazine entitled “Between the Hipsters and Hasids”. He wrote about a trendy area of Brooklyn where he lives and the superficial culture of its hipsters.
Fashionable shops that play on themes of tradition, vintage and heritage to market cheese, fresh produce and beer. They want themes but not substance. Schmitz wrote: “Respect for the way monks brewed their ale (ora et labora) is not matched by a similar appreciation for the prayer that structured their lives.”
He continued: “A desire to emulate grandmother’s knitting, pickling, and needlework does not extend to the habit she felt to be the most important: daily Bible reading.” He then delivered a stinging and succinct observation: “Hipsters are ambivalent reactionaries who love every aspect of tradition ? except its authority.”
Near the end of his essay, Matthew Schmitz wrote with stunning clarity that our generation loves an endless parade of “things that excite our desire without demanding our love.” The milk in my Americano turned sour. He’s right.
This is the state of many fashionable people of 21st Century in North America. Successive generations have rejected absolute truth for relative truth. People seek pleasure, titillation and entertainment.
Christianity calls us to something different. Catholicism demands our complete love for Christ and loyalty to Him. We are called to desire things eternal not things temporal or superficial that require little cultivation of the interior life.
Christ and His Church draw people ever nearer to eternal truths revealed to us in the Scriptures and sacred traditions of the Catholic Church. It is when we immerse ourselves totally in these teachings and surrender more and more deeply to Christ that we begin to understand the purpose and meaning of our existence: To love God with our whole being and love others as we love ourselves and to spend eternity with a God who is the very essence of love.
From my Catholic faith I have come to understand my own suffering throughout thirty-three years of chronic illness in broader contexts than my reality. Pope John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloros extensively addresses my questions about the Why of Suffering. Pope Benedict XVI speaks to me about hope in his book The Yes of Jesus Christ. He tells the reader who suffers from illness or handicaps that God wants us to give Him a “down-payment of trust.”
The Pope tells the reader that God is saying to us: “I know you don’t understand me yet. But trust me: believe me when I tell you I am good and dare to live on the basis of this trust. Then you will discover that behind your suffering, behind the difficulties of your life, a love is hiding.”
This trust will serve as a vehicle of transcendence beyond my physical circumstances and suffering. The superficiality and cynicism of the world does not understand this. Trust involves vulnerability and self-denial of inner control. It is the antithesis of our age.
The desire to wrap myself in attractive diversions of life is harmless until it leads to constantly frittering away precious time on the trivial and superficial at the expense of using my trials and pain to cultivate an interior life in Christ. Saint Clement of Alexandria (150-215) said, “Bearing the Cross means to separate our souls from the delights and pleasures of this world.”
Never sacrifice the permanent for the immediate or trivial, the eternal for the temporal. Never prefer delights of the palate to the Bread of Heaven. Never desire the finest earthly wine over wine changed to the Blood of Christ.