Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Models of the Catholic Church: Lightning Rod

The Catholic Church is a lightning rod. The polarized ire of all is drawn to her like static electricity from above to the metal spikes that form her back. I follow Abuse Tracker assiduously. I study the Orthodox as they blast away at her failings and infidelities to the ancient faith. I take in the schismatic traditionalists and the evangelicals who point out her deviations from Tradition and Scripture, respectively. I feel the (well-deserved) contempt from secular society of the Church's desperate, disingenuous and contradictory attempts to preach life despite the necrosis that infects her. I can only guess at the magnitude of God's wrath for her sins.

I just cling to the possibility that as lightning rod, she remains the only sure ark of salvation, however filthy, for me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"We're sinners, but God loves us anyway." (III)

An altar server has a moment of inattentiveness during liturgy and makes an important distinction about repentance:
The point I want to make is this. If repentance is seen primarily as an event, causally related to other events we might call sins, then what happened to me in my thoughts at the altar last night was a simple intellectual tussle with a temptation to doubt. From a forensic point of view I was not doing anything wrong in performing my ministry at the altar. Nor is it a spiritual crime to have a moment of doubt (if that is what it was), provided one immediately makes an act of religious assent to the truth of faith under question.

Thinking of sin and repentance as discrete moments, means that nothing terribly interesting happened to me at all last night. I've had confessors who would have told me this. "Don't beat yourself up." "Where's the sin in that?" In one sense they'd be right. Yet in another....well they'd have missed the very force at work in me that is sending me to hell, that is in fact making life hellish for me at this very moment by killing all sense of God's presence. The very force that sends God away, hiding in the bread.

Anaisthesis, like many of the passions cannot be reduced to events. You don't "commit" insensitivity. It takes root in you and grows. It's fed by a thousand, a hundred thousand little acts and omissions. A sarcastic word here, an angry silence there, hypocritical gestures, a mind open to theories of charity while despising people in need of it. Insensitivity metastasizes until you stand at an altar one day and, by God's mercy, realize that you have no idea what you're touching.

This is a spiritual cancer. And like any such disease it cannot just be wished or legislated away; it can only be treated, cut out or at least shrunk by powerful, and sometimes painful, medicines.

This is a spiritual cancer, and it's widespread. How else can people not see God in the poor, the unborn, the aged, the unlovely? We live in an age full of righteous anger fuelled by theories and ideologies, philosophies and policies. But it's all talk and no action, because the talk deadens and does not enliven. This is spiritual cancer, and treating the symptoms--abortion, pollution, violence, prejudice, whatever--will not make the cancer go away. We need to repent more deeply than that if we are ever to see God in the other, God in the ordinary, God in the bread.

Repentance is not worthy of the name unless it really gets to the heart of the disease. Repentance is nothing unless it touches every part of life, not just the sinful events, but above all the diseased motivations, the darkened sight, the hardened heart.

This is not a "east vs west" issue. It's basic Christianity. But I do think that the Eastern Churches have been able to preserve in their liturgical and spiritual praxis a clear reminder of this most basic of all Christ's words, "repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). Repent and believe that He is here in the ordinary, that He washes us in water, strengthens us in oil, feeds us in bread, comforts us in wine. That He is the face that asks for help in hunger, prison, sickness, pain and grief. Repent and believe; repent so that you can believe, and trust what you believe. Repent so that you can come to life inside, raised up from the tomb of your deadened, anesthetized, numbed heart.

The forensic attitude to sin and repentance can get in the way of this deep, fundamental notion of sin and repentance not as different moments in life, but as different modes of life. Repentance is nothing if it is not a way of being, a lifestyle choice at its most urgent. It is not something you endure for a time so that you can get on with the business of changing the world, ending abortion or social inequity or environmental degradation or whatever the agenda must be. Repentance isn't the thing you do before you move on, it is how you move at all, its your motive force.
~Anastasis Dialogue
I've been searching for words to describe my discomfort with the popular adage: "We're just imperfect sinners, but God loves us anyway," besides the easy superficial point that it's not Biblical or Patristic and more Protestant than Catholic. This post above gets me closer. Climacus' chapter on "anaisthesis" is particularly damning of how our erroneous theological certitudes and presumptuousness with God deadens us.

The lesson of my failures is not that I'm imperfect and God loves me regardless, which is so obvious and redundant even a secularist like Obama believes that. It's what our failures and flaws tell us about who we really are before the Father who seeks perfect righteousness in us precisely because He seeks the real us, not who we think we are (personality tests, idiosyncracies, quirks, pet peeves, etc.), but Christ in us, and not just some objective, static “presence” but His living, active, flesh-transforming Spirit. Any god that "accepts me for who I am" on my own terms is not worth my time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"We're sinners, but God loves us anyway." (II)

"Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasure more than of God: Having an appearance indeed of godliness but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid.
- 2 Tim 3:2-5 (Douay)
"Godliness" is the Douay/KJV translation for eusebeia or pietas which is not about moral uprightness so much as outward (liturgical, ritual) piety and reverence. I'd include the mantric use of "We're sinners but God loves us anyway" as a modern form of godliness.

Now the typical, ideologically conservative Catholic thinks St. Paul is just talking about oleaginous liberal Catholics like Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry who make public displays of affection for their faith only to eat babies for breakfast. But the Fathers would not read it like that for fear of tempting God and recklessly spitting on huge chunks of Scripture by that exegetical method.

What I love about Patristic exegesis is the relentless impulse to find ways of applying every jot and tittle of Scripture to inner ascetic warfare, not to find ways of excusing oneself or of applying it only to others or enemies. They did not mince words to make contrived, self-serving distinctions, which is one of the hallmarks of a legalistic mind. There's an assumption in the Fathers that where the Scriptures come down hard on people, it applies first and above all to me/us. It has opened up entirely new (but actually very ancient) ways of understanding passages that never really made sense to me before. The Fathers read Scripture as if Christ were standing right in front of them, looking them straight in eyes, not as if they're in some courtroom citing affidavits to a jury to win arguments.

This is why we spurn the spirit of repentance when we satisfy ourselves with theologically problematic slogans like "we'll always be imperfect sinners but God loves us anyway." We conveniently lump our sins into a big generic abstract category, capital S sin. We're more concerned THAT we sin and concerned for our external status as imperfect sinners than we are about WHAT our sins do to us in our heart, soul, and mind. We're more interested in the appearance of godliness than the power of godliness to restore the plastered-over, white-washed, disfigured icons that we've made out of ourselves. When we do that we don't have to face our actual sins and the particular ways it corrupts, enslaves, and emasculates us, the particular ways the devil uses our laxity to tighten the screws on our spiritual coffins.

"We're sinners but God loves us anyway."

Our Lenten practice should lead us to humility, not pride in our religion. The Gospel today teaches us not only to be humble, but to be aware that we are sinners. It is necessary for us to be aware of our own sinfulness in order to acquire humility. God's mercy is there to forgive us and raise us up.

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. - James 4.8-10, RSV

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.- 1 Peter 5.5b-6, RSV"
~A Byzantine Christian in a Postmodern World
I often hear Catholics and Protestants boldly profess in the face of some recurring sin that "We're all sinners but God loves us anyway" or "No one is perfect." I'm perplexed as to why these theologically-dubious, Scripturally-questionable formulas are the go-to responses among Western Christians to the problem of sin. It seems we admit our sinfulness only to cut short the progression towards repentance and conversion by which we continually die to our sins in order to be raised in humility.

Where Christ, the Apostles, and the Fathers would have us mourn and weep in response to our sins, we instead, almost instinctively, teleport to a juridic forum in our minds: "God loves us anyway despite our sins", which does nothing for me unless I believed that guilt for my sins is my main problem. Repentance in the West seems to mainly serve the instrumental purpose of expunging guilt or of having a horrible penal sentence vacated by the clemency of the divine Judge. Guilt is the byproduct of a forensic, juridical system because only a God who needs to prosecute and punish us for our sins would need the concept and experience of guilt. Never mind that such a God is an anthropomorphic deity that the West has constructed out of too little Biblical and Patristic authority and too much pagan mythology.

If God's love primarily removes guilt, then the quotes from SS James & Peter are absurd. For the ancient faith, God's love IS the Cross; it bids us to cleanse the Temple of our hearts, minds, and bodies so that the Holy Spirit can dwell in us; it crucifies our sins in us so that we can bear in our bodies the dying and rising of Christ. It's bodily and personal, not just psychological (guilty conscience).

Related are those who admit to being sinners and then in the next breath take pride in being a prickly a-hole to the enemies of their confession (I suppose because "God loves them anyway"). Raise the possibility that they are flirting with delusion and spiritual self-sabotage, and they immediately get hotly defensive spewing legal distinctions and bastardized Thomistic slogans about how "God does not destroy our personalities but builds on them." So the problem here is that it ain't sin unless we think it's bad or on some confessional-approved formulary. But if our personalities are corrupted by sin, so our personalities must be crucified as well, which is why modern Catholics who rely so much on personality tests and adore their own pet idiosyncracies again hedge on true repentance. As entertaining as it may be, having a curmudgeonly, sarcastic personality is not the personality of Christ and we are not to attach any great value to it. Now we don't need to perform some form of personality lobotomy and we can laugh about our sinful quirks but it's just dishonest to defend or take pride in them one moment and then in the next gush about what sinners we are.

To say with my lips I am a sinner and then insist in my heart that "God accept me for who I am" in all my un-Christlike imperfections makes me a liar or a fool. Do we grasp that our sins, flaws, imperfections, etc. are unnatural and parasitic on our true nature which is Christ? Or are we conceding the hyper-Augustinian belief that "to sin is human" as if we were created to sin by nature, as if God wanted us that way? When people anchor their identity in "who I am" they're usually making themselves in their own idealized self-image. What the Tradition clearly labels as sins to us aren't really "sins" but personality quirks; my pet peeves are not thinly-disguised excuses for my anger and vanity; they make me Me. So we come to Christ showing off our fashions designed by the Ego label.

But we cannot join the wedding banquet wearing our own garments; we have to put on the host's special guest garments. Hence, St. Paul will declare that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In dying Christ's death, we put on Christ. We shouldn't take the clothing analogy too literally, for St. Paul is not merely referring to a cosmetic wardrobe change. When we put on Christ, he believes we are literally being made into Christ (cf., "The clothes make the man").

When St. Peter commends us to "clothe ourselves with humility," he's obviously not talking about a moralistic pose we can simply will onto us or pick out of a garment rack but a real change so that we feel, think, and act with humility. There is no real choice in the matter, just as there is no real choice between life and death. Humility isn't just a holy-roller option to be be exercised only after one has been saved or justified. For Peter, being clothed with humility is an essential witness to who God is: the One who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. We do not witness to a God who "loves us anyway" by simply ignoring our sins like he would a guilty verdict. Witness here is also not just a post-justification event; it is a critical dimension to every step in the Way of the Cross. We witness not to just to those who haven't yet received the Gospel but to ourselves, which is repentance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

This is your carnal brain on Scripture

The "carnal mind" thinks of Scripture as a bucket of self-justifying citations. It parses and niggles over words to prove itself right against the opponents of its confession, even when that's not its conscious intent. Even when it is piously contemplating a passage, as in lectio divina, it can't help but hound and hunt red meat for the Master, the religious ego. "Oh, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee isn't about me; it's about x, y, and z and see how I am neither x, y, nor z." The carnal mind praises Scripture when it serves its purposes. "Oh, see how Luther wanted to kick James' Epistle out of the canon but we Catholics defend St. James and his pro-works theology."

A "spiritual body" parses and niggles over words to prove itself condemned, dead, unworthy, the chief of sinners. It relentlessly prosecutes and indicts itself in order to purify and heal itself so that the Spirit of Christ may make an abode. It expands on the literal prima facie meaning of Scripture to make itself fit under the yoke of Christ. It thinks of Scripture as a bucket of nails for its own crucifixion with Christ.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Flight into Activism

Intrigued by Macrina Walker's intensive study of Fr. Gabriel Bunge's Earth Vessels, I took up its Google Books edition. His introductory comments made me want to jot down some thoughts.
This book is concerned with giving a genuinely Christian answer to the spiritual search of many believers. And a "practical" one, at that: that is, it should point out a "way" -- rooted in Scripture and the original tradition -- that enables a Christian to "practice" his faith in a manner that is in keeping with the contents of the faith.

For there is a very simple answer to the perplexing question, why the faith of an increasing number of Christians is "evaporating" despite all efforts to enliven it -- an answer that perhaps does not contain the entire truth about the causes of the crisis, but which nonetheless indicates a way out. The faith "evaporates" when it is no longer practiced -- in a way that accords with its essence. "Praxis" here does not mean the various forms of "social action" that perenially have been the obvious expression of Christian agape. However indispensable this "outreach" is, it becomes merely external, or (as a flight into activism) even a subtle form of acedia, of boredom, whenever there is no longer any corresponding "reach within". Pp. 10-11
His emphases strike very close to home. There are few things more beleaguering to me about conservative Christians these days than the attitude that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with modern Christianity; that our version of Christianity is the only Christianity we must be loyal to; that all we need to do is more of the same, except more "faithfully," "passionately," "boldly," etc. All our failures are just failures of will, nerve, or zeal; no possibility that we've become churches founded on a heap of delusions and distortions. Fr. Bunge addresses those who see the writing on the wall, the cracks in the foundation that too many seem to believe are merely cosmetic and even praiseworthy.

Fr. Gabriel recognizes that "practice" involves more than activism. I would extend that include more than just the social justice variety he names, but every form of religious behavior that is self-consciously grounded in moral or intellectual activity labeled by institutional authority as blameless and objectively efficacious. Take Eucharistic Adoration for example. Conservative Catholics view it as an intrinsic, unassailable good because it's what conservative Catholics defend against the heretical anti-eucharistic theology of Protestants, lib-Caths, and other supposed anti-Catholics. Many will argue that the Church's woes are due to the flailing "practice" of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Usually some wordy theological justification is given that only convinces those who never needed any convincing to begin with. Then the solution is given: obviously to more effectively and emphatically promote EA, Holy Hours, etc. Before long, we find EA groupies easily annoyed, disturbed, even outraged over the failure of Catholics to jump on the EA bandwagon. There is no room here for digging a little deeper, for a careful, sober examination of the practice of EA in the ancient tradition or in the Eastern churches who do not have a single lick of anti-eucharistic theology in them. "No, EA is OUR thing. If you want to question EA, go join some anti-Catholic Church." Okeee.

This in my experience has been the natural pattern of activism. Activity X gets a pro forma justification by argumentum ad verecundiam, no real internal movement within the individual required, further ratification by collective action then must follow, ideally to the level of collective frenzy. Voila, activity X has become activism. By Western standards, Catholic and Protestant, this is how "the Spirit moves." This is the essential pattern of JPII's "new ecclesial movements." If you question movement X, you will be treated like the Arch-Partypooper.

Friday, December 31, 2010

To those who still think the battle is between objective and subjective truth

...nothing else than the personal mystical experience of the individual Christian constitutes the cornerstone of Tradition: Tradition cannot be truly Orthodox if it is not founded upon a personal encounter with God; those who try to oppose a formal and rationalized “tradition” (held by the majority in the church) to an inspired “mysticism” (of individual enthusiasts) fall into error without understanding the very essence of Tradition. The true mystic is not the one who considers his own personal experience superior to the Tradition of the church, but he whose experience is in agreement with the experience of the church.
~Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, "The Patristic Heritage and Modernity"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A runny thought on theological speculation

There's a lurid wanderlust in the spiritual speech of many Western Christians, roots of which go way back. Imagination, speculation, and sentimentality are the basic hallmarks of this non-ascetical approach to theological reflection. Some find grand allegorical meaning in the mysteries of astronomy and calendrical science; others in musicology, paleoanthropology, linguistics, mathematics or any intricate body of knowledge. What unifies them all is a spirit or mind that finds some solace or satisfaction in special, secret knowledge that is not accessible to the common man. Without a prior fragmentation of Catholic truth, such speculation would be close to impossible. But the Catholica has been shattered and become a buffet. We're now at liberty to pick our favorite pieces of the Truth and fetishize them, always licensed and sometimes emboldened by the enforcement structure of the institutional Church to rebut any criticism with an indignant "Well, it's true." It's not the same spirit as the allegorical style of the Fathers.

From Opuscula Theologica
Yesterday was mid-winter, the shortest day of the year. From now on the days will become brighter and longer, reminding us of the Light of the world, born in Bethlehem, and of the never ending day of His Second Coming.

“Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar (cf. Ex. 14:20). The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge (cf. Isa. 9:6). Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new (cf. I Cor. 5:17). The letter gives way; the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away; the Truth comes in upon them. Melchisedec is concluded (cf. Heb. 7:3). He that was without Mother becomes without Father (without Mother of His former state, without Father of His second). The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people (cf. Ps. 47:1), because to us a Child is born, and a Son given to us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with it the Cross is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father (cf. Isa. 9:6).”

- St. Gregory the Theologian
No carelessly inflected slogans/truisms here. All pure theologia, not academic, pedantic, or esoteric knowledge. St. Gregory's speculative imagery and allegory (eg, solstice) is grounded directly in the spirit and mind of Christ, not just in "objective facts" about his existence or coming. May we attain to this spirit/mind of our Doctor Fathers. We effectively deny and spit on the (personal) Spirit of Truth when we speak with emotions, attitudes, or poses that diverge from Christ's very own. The eyes of the Sacred Victim turned on Peter (us), at his denial should convict us more and purge from us the filthy bile that spews from our bowels whenever we engage in theological banter. It's not what we profess that matters as much as how we profess it. It's not even what we believe so much as how we believe. Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life is directed at the HOW, not just the what.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Would you like that soul with honey or vinegar?

I was looking up what Googleland has to offer on involuntary sin because of a discussion I had with a good friend and stumbled on this wonderful, very Patristic-minded passage from Pope Benedict's Spe Salvi.
33. Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13). He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined[26]. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.

Advent wrath [sic]

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
~Matthew 3:7-10, from the Gospel reading for 2nd Sunday of Advent
Who are we to "flee from the wrath to come"? The Forerunner speaks of God's wrath not as something we're saved from, but as the very thing that will save those who repent. The Eastern church is right about this. The West views God's wrath mostly as vindictive, retributive punishment which we are saved FROM by some forensic transaction in which Christ's blood is merely the payment. This is why Catholics have so few concrete teachings or examples of a LIFE of repentance since we think of repentance as a transaction for the confession booth. Repentance as transaction renders John's call into little more than a pro forma hat tip or a weapon to be used on the Other (Jews, Muslims, non-believers, non-Catholics, everyone but ourselves). As Protestant and Catholic, I always felt repentance seemed superfluous to those who are already saved or absolved; if we're saved from divine wrath, what do we need to repent for?

But to the Eastern church, God's wrath is simply the hard edge of God's light, but it is not modeled after human, pagan wrath. God's wrath exposes, chastens, purifies, cleanses, cauterizes, heals, emancipates, even deifies. Like all of God's energies and operations, God's wrath is Good because it is of God who loves mankind, as the Eastern church prays over and over again. No epistemological voluntarism here: God's wrath is not good just because God says so, as if divine cruelty and bloodthirst are good by arbitrary definition. It's good because it's not cruel or bloodthirsty because God is not cruel or bloodthirsty. The only thing that makes divine wrath so hard and terrifying to us is sin in us. The West has made God's wrath into the problem we must solve or be saved from, when in actuality His wrath is the solution. Sin as that which alienates us from the divine life in us experiences God as wrath. So wrath is the enemy of sin. So if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then divine wrath is my friend.

Divine wrath calls us to repentance because that's the natural human response to it. Flight from divine wrath is flight from God right back into the arms of sin. A life of repentance unites us with the good wrath of God, separates us from the life of sin, liberates us from slavery to our passions, not to remove a juridical sentence hanging over us, but to prepare us for deification, to restore the image and likeness of God in us, to make us men in full again. To be Christian is to incline one's heart to the wrath of God like leaves incline towards the sun. How much more are we to anticipate the coming of the Sun of Righteousness? This is why ascesis is necessary in Advent. The West has lost all sense of ascetic preparation and anticipation for the Nativity because the modern Church has watered down John's call to repentance into a nice story befitting pastel-colored candle wreaths, sentimental dioramas, and cute kids dressing up as Joseph and Mary like it's Halloween.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Peepees

Fr. Tom Hopko has often spoken of the Peepees as a neat summary of the temptations of Christ in the wilderness that we must renounce if we are to follow Him: power, prestige, position, possession, and pleasure.

I see another set of adjectival Peepees lately infecting me and a lot of today's uber-Catholics: priggish, peevish, petulant, polemical, pedantic, pretentious, and pompous. These are not cute peccadilloes or personality flourishes that can be laughed off as the marks of a Chesterbellockian curmudgeon-saint. They just make us pathetic. Hey, there goes another peepee.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"I grew up Catholic, and I was going to church hungry and I would leave starving."

I used to respond to these sorts of sentiments with dismissive slogans and nerdy references like "crappy catechesis" or "Christ in the Eucharist is the True Bread from which we will no longer hunger" or "Americanization of Catholics" or "Robert Bellah's Sheilaism," etc. Now I realize how I had it all wrong. The more honest I am with myself, the more I have to agree that this line sadly but aptly describes my experience of the modern church ever since I converted.

Not that I deny or reject the content of any of these slogans or concepts. But I have come to realize they do not speak for themselves or stand alone apart from the human person. Christian truth is not a slogan or a proposition existing in some alternate Platonic realm of ideas or even in some "mind of God" separate from our reality. The truth that sets us free and truly heals us is found in this reality, in persons who are personally in Christ, in those who personally partake in Christ from within the heart. The truth comes from the inner being of a man, so it's just as much the vibe, energy, aura, subtext, and emotion we give off as it is in the content of the ideas or words we communicate. As the Fathers implied, the truth is enhypostatic.

So I disagree when I hear Catholicons quip, after they've privately and with self-congratulatory pomp thrashed the arguments and sentiments of non-Catholicons, "I'm being a bastard, but it's the truth..." It's as if St. Jerome and Chesterton at their most pugnacious have become the model of Catholic orthodoxy.

There really can be no separation between the ideas or words we profess and who we are as persons in Christ. If I am a cruel or arrogant man or speak in a cruel or arrogant manner, all the doctrinal orthodoxy I profess intellectually alone is rendered null and void. If the demons can know and speak the truth about Christ, then perhaps I should be more careful with my grip of the truth of Christ lest I join their ranks.

So when Christ says "I am the Truth," it means we abide in the truth only to the extent we are personally dying Christ's death in order to live Christ's life, not just ritually (often confused for sacramentally) but actually. If we act in an un-Christlike way, that's not just another forgivable offense or charming foible (moralistic attitude towards sin). We're not just being "who we are" with all our imperfections which God loves anyway because His Son paid the debt already (quasi-heretical Christology). To act in a un-Christlike way may be unavoidable in this valley of tears, but it is NOT human, or more precisely, it's not humanizing or masculating. When we do so, we're choosing to live outside of Christ. We're turning against our true nature which is Christ. We're inclining ourselves towards Death. I am betraying myself, for my identity does not begin with ME in some pre-graced state outside of Christ. My true identity IS Christ Himself and Christ in me. Yet we hear so much psychotherapeutic identity talk among Catholics, which is partly Rahner and the Jesuits' great achievement and which is why I almost always leave Mass starving these days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ex sese et non ex consensu Ecclesiae

For not from his Apostolic Confession does he glorify his Throne, but from his Apostolic Throne seeks to establish his dignity, and from his dignity, his Confession. The truth is the other way.

~Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, "to the Easterns," §11, 1848

Catholic polemics

From A Word From the Desert:
The man who cries out against evil men, who does not pray for them, will never know the grace of God.

St. Silouan the Athonite +1938
Catholics tend to moralize exhortations like this, as if he's saying God merely wants us to be more charitable ideally or by force of will, like our moms wanting us to eat our vegetables. Then the legalistic approach kicks in: God's justice may punish us for not being more charitable but God knows we're nothing but sinners (in this life) and has waved the magic wand of forgiveness from the Cross because He loves us, so we don't have to sweat charity too much (in this life), especially when "speaking the truth to power" (in this life) demands forceful protest against evildoers (like that "bastard Obama"). Sometimes we have the further gall to presume Purgatory voids out all negative spiritual consequence (in the afterlife) from our lack of charity (in this life) because what's the Great Laundry Room in the Sky for if not to clean up our little sins like not being charitable enough to enemies? Often this is accompanied by giggly joking about how "I'm so going to hell." (Catholic irreverence is more often than not a disguise for cognitive dissonance.) Usually it goes completely unnoticed that this attitude is patently un-Scriptural and un-Patristic and that it's all quite cloyingly blasphemous, not to mention sophomoric. I'm not even going to get into the "two-storey universe" this attitude implies.

But St. Silouan spoke his words quite literally and without any guile. We render ourselves incapable of receiving, knowing, experiencing, becoming, participating in God, if we, like the "godless anti-Christs" we criticize, cry out against evil but never pray in the heart for evildoers. Bearing hatred on the inside for anyone is to commit murder, literally in the Kingdom. Even worse, it is murder of our own very souls because it reinforces our slavery to hatred and its many vicious kinsmen.