Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Scandal of Coffee and Donuts

Canon Ueda (who has been giving Private Instruction to my actor Dave, a recent convert to the Catholic Faith) told Dave this morning that it was not enough to go to Sunday Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis, where Dave has been going.  He had to start going to Coffee and Donuts as well.


"We must not separate the sacramental life from the daily life," Canon Ueda said.

And I realized immediately that this is not only very profound, it's also a very simple way of saying what I have been trying to write about on this blog for a long time.  When we separate sacramental life from daily life, we are building an artificial wall between grace and nature, we are insulating ourselves, we are trying to turn God and His Church into something Unreal, something merely functional, that serves our own narrow needs and that locks out the rest of the world, as well as that disturbing Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Comforter (John 14:16), who brings something much more challenging and disturbing than mere suburban placid human comfort, which is what we think we prefer, but which is something that is ultimately poison for us.

In other words, even Coffee and Donuts can bring us to scandal, for even Coffee and Donuts can bring us out of our shell, out of our "comfort zones".


Those of us "inside the Roman beltway", those of us who are trying to be devout Catholics and who are geeky enough to read theology and talk philosophy and faith over beer or whiskey with like-minded friends, those of us who are more or less up to speed on church politics and who may even know personally some of the EWTN Rock Stars or some of the Catholic Answers Gurus who cause little old ladies to swoon, those of us who read papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations - in other words those of us who are to a certain extent insulated from the real world out there - can find it hard to imagine the impact all of this stuff has on the human heart of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve who walk about in this vale of tears, whether they consider themselves Catholics or atheists.

Because we get too insulated, you know.   And we tend to miss the target - or the heart of the target ... and the heart of the target is the heart.

For instance, my posts on Catholic Dating really rang a bell with many of you - but normal secularists, and even normal Catholics, think this whole subculture of dating without having sex is just weird.  And even those of us inside that little circle - the circle of devout Christians who are hoping to find a devout mate and relate to him or her in a chaste manner - even that little circle is outside the more insulated and much more bizarre and dysfunctional world of "Christian Courting".  The sickness of the Christian Courting subculture stands as a sign for us that even our own relatively sane attempts to find true love can become quite self-serving and kind of incestuous by comparison with the more normal folk about us who aren't so hung up as all that.  Normal folk may not be striving for holiness, but common sense is a gift from God and it's something we often lose sight of - for common sense is a virtue of the human heart.

Maybe this can explain the cluelessness of the bishops, who like Cardinal Pell, cause more anger, despondency and despair with one statement (comparing the Church to to a trucking firm and thereby renouncing responsibility for sexual abuse committed by priests) than a dozen headlines of atrocities in the evening news.  To be fair, I have read a few reports that put Pell's statement into more of a context, and the transcripts of his testimony are available here (I have not yet read them) - but it's been my impression that the bishops are so insulated from the real world and the concerns of real people that they take for granted a kind of grandeur and self-importance that they simply don't have, and in most cases simply don't deserve.  And they get really mad when you challenge that.

But the problem of being insulated from the real world and the real concerns of real people is not a problem of bishops and cardinals only.

Indeed, my son Colin keeps reminding me that, when it comes to Devout Catholics (as my friend Noah Lett once said), we're busy answering questions no one is asking.  His Catholic friends at college were not concerned about the kinds of theological issues or political issues that did not have an immediate bearing on the crises of their lives, as lived every day.  There was a disconnect; there was something Unreal about the issues we kept harping on.  As far as that goes, "gay marriage" is such a non-issue for the vast majority of normal people in America (of all ages and demographics) that they can't begin to imagine what the fuss it.  Does that mean that we should stop talking about the sanctity of marriage?  No, but it's been almost 500 years since Henry VIII got that divorce - and all those other divorces - and the sanctity of marriage has not been an issue in the real world, and not even (apparently) at the parish level in the Catholic Church, for a long time, all the while pretty much everybody has been simply "doing it".  And why not?  When Pope Francis suggests we not hit people over the head with abortion and "gay marriage" (as important as those issues are), he's simply saying what C. S. Lewis said many years ago: you can't start a dialogue with non-believers by telling them to give up fornication.  That's kind of a conversation killer right there.  And it's putting the cart before the horse; it's looking through the telescope from the wrong end.  The role of sex in a life devoted to true love is not readily apparent to people who have not struggled to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).  The wholeness of the Christian message - the core of which is that God is love and that our greatest calling is to love Him and to love one another - leads (eventually, and by God's grace) to a change of heart and hence a change of behavior.  But we insulated Catholics inside the Roman beltway forget that sin and virtue are both simply fruits of the heart.  For what comes out of the heart defiles a man (Mat. 15:18), and what comes out of the heart justifies a man - so to speak; technically good works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit; but my point is the same.  The point is we are seeking - through Baptism and through the sacramental life - a change of heart, for the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being, the core of our very existence.

But we devout Catholics - bloggers and others - often forget that.  What we miss is the very target, the very center.  What we miss is the heart - its concerns, its pains, its passions.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,  
To me the meanest flower that blows can give  
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

A cardinal sitting peacefully in the Vatican and communicating via webcam to a courtroom in Australia filled with many who have suffered gravely at the hands of predator priests - and also at the hands of bishops who have enabled and covered up and lied for predator priests - a man, even a good man, insulated in such a way, perhaps forgets the human heart, forgets the target of all his life's work, forgets the message of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (both pierced for our sake).

And so do we - even bloggers and daily Mass goers and EWTN junkies and men and women on the street.


But some of us don't.  Canon Ueda and other good priests don't.  They remember that the heart of the target is the heart of the man.

COURAGE is defined on the Online Etymology Dictionary in this way ...

courage (n.) 
c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor "heart" (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. 

To be DISCOURAGED is to lose heart.  To be ENCOURAGED is to gain strength of heart.

And both encouragement and discouragement can come from Coffee and Donuts.

Because communion with Christ must become communion with others.  And in that way cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaks to heart.

For without that, no evangelizaton - indeed no change of heart - can happen.


boinky said...

The problem? If you aren't involved in churchy things, especially if you are single, going to the coffee clatch means standing alone while everyone chats with friends around you.

Just like high school: The Heathers/jocks ignore the geeks/outsiders.

so according to that priest, just because I worked as a doc among the poor all week, it doesn't count. HELLO. This equates church cliques as the aim of the eucharist.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the reason we--Christians of all demonimations in general--are so insulated is, I believe, that rightly or wrongly we feel we're being "attacked" on all sides--so we're entrenching. This is nothing new--Christians have ALWAYS been attacked by the world. But now "leaders" of the churches are saying, for the first time, to keep to "your own clan" instead of reaching out, in order to create a "Christian culture." Well, what IS a Christian culture? Even Christians can't agree. I love the old Universal Monster movies, for example, but to some Christians I would be going to hell for watching them. A lot of 'Christian culture" seems a power play from certain circles to me.


Anonymous said...

@Boinky ... Heathers/jocks v.v. geeks/outsiders ... we called them heads and burnouts when I was growing up. Either way, I’m not sure that analogy applies here or is a fair assessment, but I think many new people can appreciate your frustration.

We have since moved out of the Parish, but when we went there, my family and I loved deSales and still know many families and folk there whom we’ve come to regard as our very dear friends, but in the beginning it did not always feel that way. What we’ve realized though is that, what seemed to be a clique was actually a group of tightly-knit friends who had become so over the course of time because of their growth together within the Parish machinations and settings, commonalities, and aspirations for themselves and their children ... combining and applying both sacramental life and daily life, as the blogger had mentioned.

Incidentally, they are generally the ones who are the grease that make the Parish hum (in other words, are the volunteers and go-to folk for things happening in the Parish).

Perhaps you can take a chance ... introduce yourself or become involved in even just one aspect of parish life there. Over time, you will indeed find that your talents and gifts align with others such that you begin to build long lasting alliances and friendships. For the part of seasoned Parishioners, they need to keep a keen eye out for new faces, step up their game, venture out of their own comfort zones, introduce themselves, and make the connection. It’s human nature to gravitate towards that which we know and are comfortable with, so really, it’s a two way street.

@Greg ... IMO, to be entrenched is to give in to the modernist culture prevalent within the Church and throughout western society. When we have very high ranking prelates in our Church causing scandal by their complacency, inaction, milquetoast leadership, and general bad example, we can feel abandoned and desirous to circle the wagons. All the more reason for us to frequent the Sacraments, pray, immerse ourselves in and apply our Catholic Faith as taught by the Saints and Fathers of the Church.


Anonymous said...

How can Thomas Umstattd Jr. think that dating is better than courtship? He has done neither. He sounds like those MRA who hear all these horror stories and toting these experiences as his own. I'm detecting a hint of misogamy from quite him and his supporters.