He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fair Questions: Does the Catholic Church push people away?

The answer to this question is a fairly straightforward, "Yes."

The Catholic Church certainly has pushed me away.  It pushed me away in so many ways that in the end I realized that I needed to embrace it fully.  The more interesting question might be, "How and why does the Catholic Church push people away?"

The Catholic Church pushed me away by the same means that Buddhism pushed me away.  It called me to a radical life of self-denial, of liberating myself from my attachments to my daily pleasures.  I did not want to give up my pleasures; I believed that they were what helped me to cope with life and without them it would be unbearable.  My childish ego so tightly bound to pleasure-seeking was something I protected with all my will and with all my pride; I put up the strongest walls to ensure that I could gently coddle myself with my video games and my fantasy novels, working and serving others only as much as was convenient for me.

I know from experience that to the person who has never left the egocentric mentalities of their childhood behind, the Catholic Church is viscerally and powerfully repulsive.  Everything about her is an affront to the ego, a beautiful and terrible blade to cut the cords binding us to our egos, a fortress to separate us from the immediate fulfillment of our transient desires.  The greater our attachments to the ego, the more she repels us away from her because the Church and the ego cannot both exist fully in us; to live life in the Church is to be in a routine and unavoidable process of cutting the cords that bind us to our egotistical whims.

The Church invites us to destroy our attachments to our ego in the process of radical loving service to others; she calls us to the self-denial we so fear because we have a reductive definition of life, believing that to be fully alive is to merely experience the small heights of fleshly pleasure.  The Church invites us to be truly alive, to be masters of the ego rather than slaves to the ego, to reach heights of radical love far beyond what mere fleshly pleasures could ever offer us.

No part of our clinging to the ego is left untouched by her; every part of the Church is a lever which pries our fingers from our attachments to our self-indulgence.  The beauty of her architecture lifts our eyes to something greater and more beautiful than our own pleasures, the result of hours of hard labor we so often strive to avoid or put off.  The structures and modes of her prescribed prayers grate harshly on our desire to pray according to our own pleasures, free to pray as we like in the spirit of immediate gratification.  The formality of her liturgy cuts deeply against the grain of our desire for relationships to be informal and casual, to have relationships without all the discipline required by formal courtesy so that they might be more pleasurable and less difficult.

The requirements of her Sacrament of Confession and weekly penances call us to admit that we are at fault for our own weaknesses and can do better, that we are not currently perfect just as we are, asking us to reject the cultural messages that whisper seductively to us, "You need not change."

The traditions of her fasts and Holy Days of Obligation call us to offer our resources and time as a sacrifice of love for God and for our fellow human beings, to exist in solidarity with those who do not have the time and resources given to us, to reject the cultural messages that proclaim boldly, "You should keep your gifts for yourself!  Your time is for you!"

The weight of her moral requirements call us far beyond normal moral standards expected by our society today, asking us to not have sex unless it is in the context of a marriage for life and not artificially preventing new life from developing out of the marital relationship.  She calls her priests to celibacy and complete continence, conquering the libido so that they can more effectively serve the community.  She calls all of us to chastity, to be masters of our own sexual desires, to fully and completely reject the overwhelming mantra of the culture, "Sexual pleasure is the highest good!  Be its willing slave and buy our products!"

In all these and many other ways, the Church pushes us away; we have a choice between submission to the ego and the sacrifice of love by which we embrace the Church and let her transform us, gradually helping us to transcend our lives of slavery to pleasure by climbing the ladder she offers to us as a way to reach lives of perfect freedom in loving service to others.

By User:Julian Mendez - User:Julian Mendez, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2547972

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