The Big Picture
If there has been a theme running on this blog since the beginning, it's been Reality vs. Unreality.
By Unreality, I have meant that persistent human attempt to create and live in a fictional world that suits us, rather than in the real world that we find difficult and jarring.
The secular world, having abandoned not only the Catholic Faith but all of the common sense that we inherit as its patrimony - and especially having abandoned the notion that reality itself is anything other than what we make it (you might call this a Pragmatic Relativism) - now is so far gone that they insist, and expect all of us to swallow, the totalitarian notion that sex can be divorced from biology, that children and parents can be removed from the family, and that wealth can be arbitrarily assigned to money, money and debt being the fictions that sustain us, but that no longer have any tie to work or to the wealth work produces. The post-modern world is one huge fiction - spiritually, economically and domestically.
"God is dead," said Nietzsche. "Man is dead," echo the modernists. We have decided that not only was "God" a fiction to suit our fancy, but so also is "Man". Sorry - "human beings". We long ago agreed, at least implicitly, that "God" had no objective shape and that we could mold whatever idol we chose and call it "God"; we now believe that "human beings" are similar. We have no nature, no design, no function or purpose. Life is not about discovering our purpose and fulfilling it; life is now about pretending that we can have our way, whatever that way might be. Life has no meaning, other than whatever arbitrary meaning we assign to it, and therefore man can be molded at will to the whim of those who happen to be in power.
This is the big picture. This is how most people live and how our society operates.
The Details of the Big Picture: The Clergy and Affectation
The details of this big picture are just as disturbing, for the details play themselves out even within the Catholic Church (which is the only thing on earth capable of resisting this nonsense).
I have noted before that affectation and being gay go together. Not only in life, but also in show biz (this is common knowledge), and also (though we fail to see it) in Faith. When I say "being gay" I'm not talking about sodomy in particular, but "gayness" and everything that word connotes: artificiality, heightened sensitivity, a contrived and hyper-emotionalism, cattiness - in short, affectation. I quote here from my presentation on Chesterton and Drama ...
Chesterton says that when a man is really in love and really wants to win a woman, the last thing he would do is wear "a ribbon in his hair". Real life has a way of drawing us our of our affectations, of our gayness. Seriousness interrupts idle play-acting.The aesthetes were the decadents, the Oscar Wildes of their day. They were, as Chesterton says, “a race of men who affected to have a feminine sensibility.” These men would have palpitations if they saw the wrong color in a design, they would “run screaming down the street having caught sight of the linoleum in the front hall,” they would break into tears ... if the blind in the window were askew. It was, as Chesterton called it, “an artificial excitement. The women really felt; the men only imagined that it would be fun to feel like the women.” These aesthetes, these decadents, these sensitive men of Chesterton’s youth “carried fans and elaborately arranged their curls. One of the writers of the time painted his face. One of the painters of the time wore a ribbon in his hair.”
But look at our typical suburban Mass. Is anything about it "real", as a rule - or even particularly serious? Does anyone behave as if they're "in love" with God - or even with anything - or do most people simply put ribbons in their hair and prance around a bit? Does anything about the typical suburban Mass (apart from the presence of Christ on the altar) seem like Reality, or does it all seem weirdly Unreal? Does it seem like worship and sacrifice, or does it seem like a kind of narcissistic way of playing dress-up and make-believe? Ribbons in the hair and banners on the walls, rather than the Body of Christ before us and His Cross in our hearts? Is the music at St. Somewhere really about awe and reverence or is the music simply "gay"? Does the priest preach about the reality of God, the reality of His love, and the reality of the demands He makes upon us to stop sinning and repent by (say) giving up porn, fornication, adultery, supporting pro-choice candidates, supporting candidates who have contempt for the poor, supporting unjust wars, lying, cheating, drinking, over-consuming, devotion to material goods, etc.?
In 13 years as a Catholic I have heard at least a thousand homilies. I have heard maybe one or two homilies on any of the sins mentioned above. Rod Dreher says the same thing.
He goes further. He ties the Unreality of the practice of the Faith to the Sex Abuse Scandal.
Dreher writes (my emphasis) ...
If the church’s hierarchy cannot commit itself credibly to justice and mercy to the victims of its own clergy and bishops, I thought, do they really believe in the doctrines they teach?All this put the moral unseriousness of the American church in a certain light. As the scandal raged, one Ash Wednesday, I attended Mass at my comfortable suburban parish and heard the priest deliver a sermon describing Lent as a time when we should all come to love ourselves more.
[Pardon me while I puke.]
And now we know that, even after ten years of "reform", our bishops continue to put children at risk by covering up and enabling child abuse (while shifting the responsibility onto the laity, forcing them to attend "safe environment" seminars which teach procedures that the bishops themselves ignore). Now that we know this, can we really ask the question, "Do you guys actually believe what you teach?" - a question the answer to which is being shoved in our faces day in and day out? I mean, most of us have never dared to ask that question - even on the inside. Clericalism is insidious in that way.
Let's "get real", then. If a man can't comport himself with the basic standards of human decency - secular, Pagan, non-Christian human decency (telling the truth and protecting the innocent) - can we really keep telling ourselves that these men are Christian in any meaningful sense of the word, telling ourselves that they are worthy leaders in whose behavior we should place our trust? Obviously, they are baptized and therefore Christian, but does this mean their behavior is beyond reproach?
Note I said that we should not trust their behavior. The Catholic Church only teaches that the bishops in communion with the Pope can teach without error on matters of Faith and Morals. The Church does not claim that its bishops and priests and laity will be pure and holy (even though that's the whole point of faith). The Church merely teaches that our bishops will be free from error when teaching on very specific things. This they continue to do, when forced to by the Holy Spirit - much to the surprise and chagrin of everyone around them. This claim of infallibility I still believe, for there's no earthly reason why these scoundrels should continue to teach doctrines that they flaunt and apparently hold in contempt.
The Details of the Big Picture: The Laity and Contempt for Boundaries
But the problem in the Church is not just with the clergy.
We lay men and women are simply devoted to our own private Unrealities. Here are examples from people I know, with names changed to protect the guilty ...
- Louise gorges her self on food. She overlooks the Reality of the health problems that this overeating inevitably produces.
- Thomas crosses boundaries with women on the internet - emotionally and sometimes physically - ignoring the Reality that these boundaries represent and bemoaning the wake of suffering such heedlessness produces.
- Michael gorges himself on internet porn. He overlooks the Reality that this behavior is physically rewiring his brain and turning his entire capacity for love into a desire to use and abuse.
- David has been unemployed for almost two years. When his friends gently suggest that more schooling would help his resume, or that he should seek counseling and training on his interview skills, he tells them he doesn't like school and that his potential employers should simply recognize what a good guy he is without him having to work at it - ignoring the Reality of how the world operates.
- Monica sleeps around and flirts with married men, almost compulsively. One day she wakes up and realizes she hates herself, that the Reality of the dysfunctional family that she was raised in continues to operate upon her even as an adult, whether she chooses to admit this or not.
- Ken and Barbie keep running up their credit cards and now owe about three times their annual income to Capital One and Chase. The Reality of over-extension and the viciousness of usury slowly begins to wrap its fingers around their family's throat.
Little by little, in various ways, the mercy of God's Reality corrects our continuing attempts to make ourselves into gods and our worlds into houses-of-cards, bubbles of our false god's false creation - God's Reality corrects our persistent attempts to live without Him. This we call Judgment. It is his most merciful blessing.
But we keep resisting His judgment and rejecting His mercy.
We also keep playing make-believe. Unreality is our Ring of Power, our precious, and we don't want to let it go, for sacrifice is offensive to us, and after all, neither the Church nor the world demands it of us anymore. Indulgence is where it's at, right? God is love and that means He won't ask a damn thing of us that we don't want to give, right? There are Catholics today who tell us that if we follow our desires, even if those desires lead us through pornography and lust, we will thereby find God. Sin your way to salvation: indulge yourself to heart's content. That's the church we all believe in, isn't it? The Church of the Oprah? The Church of the Orgasm? I-Want-What-I-Want-When-I-Want-It.
So How Do We Fix This?
Our Church, then, is a shambles. Our world is a wreck.
But many good and loving people still surround us. We tie knots of sin in our lives, but the sin is entwined with grace - and there is a Way that it can be unwound.
1. Acknowledge the Reality of things: our own sins, the depravity of our bishops and priests, the failure of our Unreality to satisfy us. Quit making excuses and get real.
2. Penance, fasting, mortification, prayer. In short, sacrifice. Give up our favorite sins (we know what they are; if you don't, just ask the Holy Spirit to show you) and repent. In other words, take up the Cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23)
3. From here on out, do our best to recognize the Boundaries and honor them. Thus will God's grace be able to work upon us. When we fail, repent, Confess, seek forgiveness, start over. Take hold of God's grace like a lifeline and cooperate with it.
4. Look to Him as the source of all goodness and beauty and truth.
5. Realize that love is not "luv"; if we're really in love - with God or with others or with life - let's behave like serious lovers. Let's take the ribbons out of our hair, quit the silly prancing, and get real.
6. Know one of the big signs of Reality - pain. The bishops only get real when they are threatened with conviction or civil suit. Drug addicts only get real when the pain becomes unbearable and they hit rock bottom. We will only get real through suffering.
Our Lady of Victories, pray for us.