Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mortification at the Cathedral

I tried to blog in the confessional today.

What I mean by that is I tried to tell the priest what I told my readers in Feeding the Hungry I, my post from this morning.  "The works of my Hungry I are works of the flesh as St. Paul calls them," I said.  "I have been sowing to the flesh and not to the spirit," I said, echoing Galatians 6:8. 

"Well, what can you find in the desires of your Hungry I that can be redeemed?" he suddenly asked. 

I felt like saying, "Um ... these are things that need to be mortified, not redeemed," but I couldn't quite get that out. 

For one thing, there is a basic truth that no desire is wholly bad, and perhaps this priest meant that (as the Westians say) "A man who knocks on the door of a whore house is looking for God," so I should just skip the whore house and go straight to God. 

But the answer to that was given by Jacques Maritain.

Here we stand before the crucial problem of the education of the human being. Certain educators confuse person and individual; in order to grant personality the development and the freedom of expansion to which it aspires, they refuse all asceticism, they want man to yield fruit without being pruned. They think that the happiness of man consists in that joyous smile which is seen, in the advertisements, on the faces of boys and girls relishing a good cigarette or a glass of Coca-Cola. Instead of fulfilling himself, man disperses and disassociates himself. 

Maritain speaks of the distinction between flesh and spirit, without using those terms.

If the development of the human being follows the direction of material individuality, he will be carried in the direction of the “hateful ego,” whose law is to snatch, to absorb for oneself. In this case, personality as such will tend to adulterate, to dissolve. If, on the contrary, the development follows the direction of spiritual personality, then it will be in the direction of the generous self of saints and heroes ...

In other words, the Hungry I is the hateful ego, a phrase Maritain coins from Pascal and Pascal's
attitude toward the ego.  Maritain speaks of the dual nature of man, which St. Paul calls flesh vs. spirit or the Old Adam vs. the New Self, baptized and saved by Christ.

Lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,23and ... be renewed in the spirit of your mind,24and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  (Eph. 4:22-24)

... Paul writes.

For Maritain the split is between Individuality (the flesh) and Personality (the spirit); we are both spirit and flesh, body and soul, limited by matter and form (flesh) and capable of understanding and freedom (spirit).

Thus, Maritain maintains, the flesh itself is not evil, but the fruits of a life devoted to the flesh are evil - the acts of a man giving himself over to "snatching and absorbing", to the works of the flesh ...

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[a] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  (Gal. 5:19-21)

But we live in a world where you don't hear - even in the confessional much less the pulpit - any talk of asceticism, self-denial, mortification; you don't hear of the cross.


So I stayed for Mass. 

It was a cathedral in a large city.  My confessor was the celebrant.  It turns out he holds a position of some authority in the diocese, ranking high in the chancery.

He was about as flamboyantly gay as a priest can be. 

The homily was typical, A Plentitude of Platitudes and a Paucity of Particulars - but at least it was short - which I was grateful for - but when the priest stopped talking he introduced a layman in a suit who made a pitch for money for the diocese, finishing the forgettable homily with an insipid commercial that gave me nauseating flashbacks to Catholic Schools Week.  The guy in the suit got this far ...

My daughter went to Catholic Schools for 12 years and she received a wonderful education.  She was taught diversity and tolerance and respect for everyone.

... and I got up and walked out.  It's really bad form to curse and swear in the pews at Mass.

I was tempted to leave, but my car was blocked in.

So I waited til the pitch was over and returned to my pew.  The celebrant, to give him credit, did not ad-lib his way through the liturgy, but at the end he grew effusive about Mother's Day and invited us all to come to a concert next week in which women will be performing music honoring women.

"I ought to put together a concert by men honoring men," I thought.  "I wonder if he'd promote that."


As the other cars left and I was no longer hemmed in, I drove away thinking, "Why can't we simply be Christian?  Why can't we be a witness to the world?  Why do we keep selling out?"

And so, dear readers, there's a reason I was not advised to mortify all those works of the flesh - the desires of my Hungry I that the Apostle tells us will keep us out of heaven; the reason is we worship the flesh at the altar of Indulgence - even in our cathedrals.


Tom Leith said...

Now imagine hearing this before you know better...

Oh, this seems providential: the CAPTCHA word is "bambazed". I wish I could say I'm clean bambazed at your experience, but I'm not.

jvc said...

When I read or experience stories like this, it convinces me that we have a minimum of 25 years left before we reach bottom for the Church in America. Maybe another 50 years.

jvc said...

Certainly, the bankruptcy of every Jesuit university in America will have to play a part