I was very gratified at the response to last week’s Aleteia post about taking the risk, as a Catholic, of losing friends. Thank you for your interest and for helping to disseminate the piece.
I was also moved to follow up, with the below piece which they chose not to post. So I’m putting it up here, as always groping to articulate that "In Christ there is no East or West" and that as soon as we start to equate loyalty to Christ with loyalty to our country we are on shaky ground: theologically, morally, spiritually.
I want to emphasize up front that I have been formed by the Office, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and daily Mass. Sometimes people will write to me and say, “I see you are the type that goes along with the Church but will very much welcome the ordination of women priests and the evolution of the sacrament of marriage,” and I’m like, “Actually, no, I wouldn’t welcome those things. I don’t think we need women priests; I think we need one person, man or woman, who actually follows Christ.”
Still, part of what prompted the piece was a Sunday homily I’d heard the week before. In it, the priest spoke first in Armageddon-like tones of the Iraqi extremists who were beheading children. Then he approvingly noted that we were bombing the heck out of them in order to “preserve our freedom.” Then in the intercessory prayers he led us in praying for world peace.
I was reminded of a recovering crack addict who said she used to smoke a pipe at four a.m., then, remembering she had to work the next day, lie down and pray, “God, please help me sleep.”
Peace is no deus ex machina that’s going to spontaneously materialize while on the one hand we’re supporting a government that is extremist in its own use of force, and on the other, we’re praying the Rosary.
I’m no theologian but isn’t it Catholicism 101 that the history of the world is the history of the coming, and now waiting for the Second Coming, of Christ? Isn’t it painfully obvious that our country is not built on Christ, but on some kind of vague prosperity, lust-to-dominate god that for over 300 years we have tried to bend to our will? Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that a house divided against itself cannot stand? Isn’t the question then not whether the United States will fall, but when?
If so, why do we waste so much time on mindless political-religious argument? The state has never been Christ’s realm. Given that I, too, am part of the system, my own question is how do I address the problem of suffering? How do I live out my faith to the smallest “hour” of my life? How do I continually develop my own conscience?
Lest this be mistaken for a “leftist” rant, I’ve had other, equally demoralizing experiences at monasteries, convents and retreat houses in which, in an effort to be welcoming and non-threatening, the folks have utterly de-sacramentalized the Mass. No holy water, no genuflection, no crossing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, no recognizable penitential rite, no Creed. At one such place we were invited to face first north, then east, south and west while waving our hands about and intoning some kind of Native American incantation, after which, the priest (or whoever it was) simply held out a big tray of bread morsels and we were invited to saunter up and grab one. They apparently considered this a "renewal" of the liturgy, for advanced sophisticated types who are not attached to the fusty formulas of the “institutional” Church.
If I were interested in Native American spirituality I would have gone to a sweat lodge. If I thought Communion were a mere symbol of togetherness, I would have become a Protestant. Never had I been so aware of the treasure, of the absolute need, of the Truth with a capital T of the liturgy. This was an alternate form of the crackhead prayer, the delusion again being that any of us has the faintest hope of getting along together for five minutes without 1) deeply, regularly pondering the Word of God, as set forth in the Gospels; and 2) regularly partaking of the Real Body and Real Blood of Christ.
The fact is that left to my own devices, I couldn’t care less about Native Americans or anyone else—which is why I so desperately need the Sacraments. I need to be reminded every day that the thing I want to do I don’t do, and the thing I don’t want to do, I do. I need to acknowledge that without supernatural help, I will remain forever conflicted, forever in bondage, forever isolated. I need to remember that Christ is both as close as my own heart and utterly unknowable. I need to eat his consecrated Flesh and drink his consecrated Blood. I need to see a naked body above the altar, nailed to the Cross.
Because here’s another teaching of Catholicism 101: actions have consequences. For people who claim to be grounded in the Gospels, we seem to have skipped over, “How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye” [Luke 6:42]. For people who claim to know about sin, we vastly underestimate the terrible power of our own. For people who claim to know the universe is a battleground of the light versus the darkness, we seem strangely ignorant of the virus-like nature of the violence we perpetrate on our own and on the rest of the world.
Surely as followers of Christ, for example, we cannot share the hubris of the culture-at-large in thinking that we can found a country on the annihilation of a culture and a race, then go on to drop atomic bombs, operate remote-control drones that pick people off, often civilians, from thousands of miles away, and keep prisoners in 24-hour lockup for years on end—to name just a few of our contemporary practices—with no moral or spiritual repercussions. As the Puritans well knew, God will not be mocked.
So if we want to be part of the New Evangelization, perhaps in conjunction with our prayers for peace we could call for a national examination of conscience. Instead of panicking about the infidels, perhaps we could look inward and thoughtfully explore the link between abortion and war. Perhaps we could observe that as followers of Christ our focus is not so much on how to be good citizens as on how to be good neighbors—which would naturally include the refusal to own a gun that would kill one of them.
The point of allowing myself to see the truth about the economic, political, and military systems under which I live, in other words, is not to point the finger at those systems and exonerate myself. On the contrary, it's to see, how I contribute to the darkness. It’s to live in the almost unimaginable scandal that the only way to address that darkness is by the purification of my own heart. It’s to ponder the satanic magnitude of the darkness in order to better understand that everything I do, think and say "registers." It’s to constantly examine my daily interactions with others; to weed out my resentments, my fear, my shame; to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, to ask uncomfortable questions, to consent not to know the answers; to risk censure; to to know I am often wrong, often straying, always weak.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” [John 14:27].
Peace, but not the peace of this world. As followers of Christ, in this world we are perpetually torn apart, driven, frantic, stricken, anxious, alone, anguished. On the move. Pilgrimaging, with nowhere to lay our heads.
Sometimes I think, along with Mary Magdalene, “They have taken my Lord and I know not where they have laid him.” But what do I know? I don’t have a corner on Christ, any more than you do.
And in the end, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In the end, I say thank you to that priest who said Sunday Mass, thank you to all the many monks and nuns who have sheltered and fed me, thank you to God for letting me exist. Thank you for this land and for its shorelines, mountains, deserts, prairies and plains that I love so much.
I pray for peace, and for the courage to be ever more conscious of what authentic peace entails.
I pray to lay down my life for the Church that has been to me Mother, Father, Friend, Family, Spouse.
|THESE ARE PIX I TOOK A FEW MONTHS AGO|
ON A DRIZZLY DAY
AT FULLER GARDENS IN RYE, NH.