Sunday, September 23, 2012

Woke Up in America: A Mini Exegesis

It's a little known fact (ie. a hugely known fact) that I am a big fan of Matt Maher. I love what the guy does - his Catholicity really shines through a lot of his music; it's beautiful. But it's also a little known fact (ie. a hugely known fact) that there's actually one Matt Maher song I don't like: Woke Up in America. I even tweeted about it as part of my friends' posting lyrics for a "Matt-Maher-is-performing-in-Vancouver" countdown.

Well, this is awkward. (Matt and I had a good laugh after the concert)

Maybe it's because Woke Up in America is a departure from Matt's usually fare, in that it isn't a praise song. Maybe it's because I'm Canadian and so don't really identify with the American Patriotism. Maybe I just found the arrangement a tad boring (ie. country). But a part of me now identifies with the chorus, especially since one morning about a month ago I actually did wake up in America:

I woke up in America for the Love of God
I woke up in America for something greater than myself
More than fireworks and fanfare
More than star-spangled banners
You're still beautiful America

I've been studying at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC for the past month, in the hopes that in two years' time I will have a Master's in Theological Studies (MTS). And the program is intense. Theological Anthropology, Fundamental Moral Theology, Theology of Mary, Christology, and Faith & American Culture are the courses I'm taking right now. But it doesn't matter which class it is - everyone's brain is always fried after each class. There's so much information flying around about grace, nature, ontology, grace, nature (seriously, look it up) etc., that it is very tempting to take the whole program to be one big mind game; one big two year long opportunity to simply delve into the books and rattle off as much data as possible in the hopes that you can do something like this:
Charitably, of course.
But that of course, would be missing the whole point (true conversion is never about the mind anyways). Yes, there is something to be said about learning more about the Catholic faith in an academic context. You can't love what you can't know, and as Pope Benedict XVI says, "every process of coming to know something includes in one form or another a process of assimilation, a sort of inner unification of the knower with the known" (Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1). We want to learn in order to be interiorly unified with God, with Love Himself. And that's the point, right there. To be in relationship, not through heady intellectual arguments, but through a relationship of the heart. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by Him" (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).

"I woke up in America for the Love of God." Knowledge can't be seen as an end for me, or anyone studying theology. It's correct to say that studying Truth is good for it's own sake, but only because Truth is a person, a person who desperately wants to be in relationship with us. Knowing things about the Truth isn't the same as knowing the Truth. I got on a plane and flew to DC because in the end, I want to be able to love God more, not because I want to be able to rattle off all the different sections of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae. Everything is for nought if it isn't done for Love (1 Corinthians 13).

This then, is the "something greater than myself": God. Being, Existence, That Which Is. God is the greatest of all things, transcending anything our feeble minds could possibly conceive. At the institute surely, but also everywhere else, we need to remind ourselves of the reality of God - that He goes beyond the material culture, the patriotism of our countries, beyond "fireworks and fanfare [and] star-spangled banners." And for all the things that are wrong with it, our world is still beautiful, because God is the end in which it finds its being.

My faith is being challenged here, especially since I realize that the more I study and know, the more I realize how much I don't know. It's a beautiful thing. In the end though, grace really is an ocean in which we are all called to sink (thanks, John Mark McMillan), allowing the Love of God to envelop us so we can intimately love Him. So I'll keep on waking up here.


  1. Jere, that was beautiful! crazy are the turns our life gives, and even crazier are the gifts we receive if those turns are a response to God's Call.

    1. Jer, since I met you, you've inspired me to learn more about my faith and dig deeper to find answers to all my questions. Knowing you is a blessing :)