Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Those awful Catholics!


In a recent post about married priests, Simcha Fisher included a delightfully droll aside about some of the commentors that frequent Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s blog What Does the Prayer Really Say: “The commentors he attracts always make me want to hide in the catacombs, to get away from those awful Catholics.  Brrr.”


Since I show up there every now and again, I know what she means. They’re not just on Fr. Z’s blog … those awful Catholics are everywhere.


On this blog, I occasionally throw stones at crypto-Protestant organizations like Young Catholics for Choice and Rainbow Sash; there is a valid distinction between the merely unconventional and the heterodox. (Reject the authority of the Pope and bishops? Substitute your own interpretation of Scripture for the Church’s? Get in line, right behind Martin Luther and John Calvin—you’re a Protestant.)


But while I agree with traditionalists on many points, some of them have a tendency to be “more Catholic than thou” in their remarks. If you don’t attend traditional Latin Masses exclusively, if you don’t sneer at Vatican II, if you don’t home-school your kids, if you don’t have an open admiration for the Society of St. Pius X (a schismatic traditional sect), they tend to treat you as barely worthy of the Catholic moniker. Brrr.


Mark Shea comments on this indirectly while advising a graduate student in a Christology course on how to counteract the professor’s programmatic modernist approach: “… [T]he trick will be avoiding becoming a bitter Pharisee who turns Catholic faith into a particularly nasty and uninviting sort of Protestantism.”

… [Y]ou cannot build a life on protest, not even a protest against heresy.  If your Catholic faith is primarily a reaction against Those People Over There (whoever They are) then it is not about Jesus Christ, but about anger over some human hurt you have received (like the hurt of getting drivel from teachers who have betrayed their office and used it to subvert the gospel).  The Catholic faith … is about God breaking into this world with joy in order to save it.  It is hell, not the Faith, that is on the defensive.  That’s why “the gates of hell” (a defensive image from siege warfare) shall not prevail against the Church.  So the trick is to be joyful, not angry and bitter, in your work of subverting the dominant paradigm.

How true. In the same vein, to say what you’re against is not to define what you’re for. Spend all your time and energy in reacting, and you shouldn’t wonder if people pigeonhole you as a reactionary.


I’ve stressed the hard truths of the Faith, especially the eschatological—death, judgment, heaven and hell—because they make sense out of the “easier” aspects. There’s no rejoicing over forgiveness of sins without acknowledging as an objective fact that there is such a thing as sin, no reunion with God without a prior abandonment of Him.


Pride. Covetousness. Envy. Anger. Lust. Sloth. Gluttony.


Sin is debasing and degrading. Sin enslaves and destroys the psyche; it twists mind, heart and soul. It leads to injustices against others and against one’s self. The novelty, excitement and shock of it eventually wear off like cheap electroplating; one is left to wallow in despair, rage, isolation and filth, or to try to push back the boundaries further to recapture the original rush. Sin perverts thought and emotion, so that one only finds strength in destruction, amusement in the humiliating, desire in the spoliation of innocence.


True faith is a lifeline God throws to us. So long as we hold on to it, He helps to pull us out of the mire we’ve created for ourselves. We begin to find beauty in truth and pleasure in goodness again. We learn to show love by self-giving rather than self-assertion. We start to love other people, not for what they are or what they can do for us, but for the fact that they are. We begin to understand that submission to God’s Will is freeing in a way that no amount of libertinism or willfulness can be.


The true beauty of the Catholic faith is not in the ancient splendor of its rites, or the rolling richness of the Latin tongue, or in the profuse diversity of its devotions, or of the intellectual depths of its cultural and theological heritage. The true beauty lies in the breaking-in of God into our lives, the daily invitation to enter into a dialogue of love with Him, an ever-recurring invitation to a dance. It’s not just the hope of heaven after death, but the reign of the kingdom of heaven in our lives, a piercing shaft of the supernatural into the material that transforms even as it transcends.


We Catholics who spend our lives entangled in the ‘Net need to remember this. Every time we talk against something, we need to balance it by saying what we’re for. It’s not enough to point out the ugliness of sin; we must also paint an attractive picture of faith. Our complaint against the “Buddy Christ” of modernist Christian liberalism has been that it’s painted an unbalanced, misleading picture of the evangelium. We hardly serve the “Good News” better by serving a constant diet of monitories and diatribes.


Hell may or may not be hot. But heaven isn’t cold.