I feel… restless and dissatisfied with myself. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my interior life, largely because I fear and distrust readers, in particular the Greatest Catholics of All Time, who have never missed an opportunity to inflict cruelty in the name of the Purity of Orthodoxy when I expose my heart.
But the thing is, you have to expose your heart if you are serious about the gospel:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis
So I’ve been thinking about how well–and even whether–I love. I think I do. I hope do, to some degree. I love, as all Normal people do, people who love me. I love my wife, my children, our grandchildren, various friends. But that is pretty low-hanging fruit.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6:32-33)
One time, a couple of years ago, I was out for a walk (my typical venue for prayer, and/or reading) and I was noodling this question of my attitude to people who lie to me, hurt me, slander me, and hate me. Suddenly (and fittingly enough, at a crossroad) it seemed to me that the Holy Spirit said clearly, and without an ounce of condemnation, but simply with loving clarity, “You don’t love them.” I have thought about that moment a lot.
I have also been given to see that my fear of those hateful people is something in which, strangely, we are linked: they hate because they are afraid. I felt, oddly, a strange empathy and pity for them. That’s not love, but it is, perhaps, a semina verbi: a “seed of the Word” in my soul that might germinate into love if I don’t screw everything up.
Another time, a confessor said something that I found helpful as I confessed (for the umpteenth time) my struggles with hatred and contempt for MAGA folk and their detestable antichrist religion. When I remarked that I could not lie to myself that they were not filthy liars, he said, “What they are is beloved children of the Father–who lie a lot.” (He also was strangely consoling when he said that confession of the same endlessly besetting sins is better than confessing new and different sins every week since that helps confessors pinpoint where the wounds are while a chaos of brand new mortal sins every week would reflect such interior chaos that it would be much harder to diagnose what is going on. I never thought of it that way.)
Any way, I found that observation about “beloved children of the Father who lie a lot” helpful because it really is true. God’s love for us does not depend on what we do.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
It reminded me of something a very important priest in my own formation used to say: that sin is the mask and Jesus is our true face, not vice versa. I have a terrible time holding on to that for myself and so, unsurprisingly, I don’t hold on to it for others either. It is deeply ingrained in my psycho-emotional hardware that I cannot be trusted to do the right thing. So why should I think others–especially those who chronically don’t do the right thing–are anything but sons of bitches and will never change?
Usually, if I mention this, anti-Christian polemicists leap into the fray to tell me this outlook is due to Christian doctrines like original sin screwing me up.
Thanks anyway, Dr. Freud. But the reality is that I was not raised in a Christian household and came by self-loathing long before I ever became a believer or a Catholic. Indeed, one of the most powerful forces for healing in my life has been the sacrament of confession. If I had known I could go (free of charge!) and unburden myself of all the guilt and shame and self-loathing I carried around as a teenager and then, at the end, not only be completely forgiven but walk out of the room with grace to do better in the future, I would have grabbed it with both hands. I am enormously grateful to God for it. The mercy of Christ is the sweetest thing I have ever tasted. If you’ve never experienced igt, you just don’t know what you are missing.
And one of the things that the priest I mentioned earlier told me was that one of the great satisfactions he felt as a priest was seeing people take off the mask of sin in the confessional and walk out wearing their true face: the face of Christ. Certainly in my own case (and with others I have known) the experience of the mercy of Christ has always felt like coming home and finding my true self, not burdensome or shameful.
I think of that and wonder how often I, by my lack of love, force people to wear the mask of their sins and block their own experience of homecoming. How often does my lack of forgiveness imprison people in their sins? I know there are times other people have done that to me: locking me into sin I repented and telling me I will never ever change. How often do I do it to others? A lot, I fear.
Another thing I have failed to do is feed people, I think. I was at Mass once and they had a string quartet (I think it was Christmas time). I don’t remember what they played, but the music was transporting. I felt fed by that Mass right down to my toes. I remember telling God I wanted to be able to do that for people: feed their souls. Make them know they had encountered God in all his love and mercy, I thought about Jesus’ triple command to Peter at the end of John: “Feed my sheep.” I think about the prayer of Zechariah in Luke’s gospel, in which he blesses his son John the Baptist at the beginning of his life:
You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:76-77)
I think those are God’s words to me too. I set out to do that, but I feel like I derail myself. I am horrified by the witness of MAGA antichrist religion and the lack of trust it inspires in those who do not share my faith and, more, by the victimization of the innocent that it inflicts. I feel a responsibility to speak against it since it is my fellow Catholics who so often do such harm. But in trying to provide a counter-witness, I find myself increasingly sucked into a sort of spiritual vortex in which I speak less and less of the goodness of the Lord Jesus, his love and his mercy and the forgiveness of sin and more and more of the badness of this horrendous counterfeit religion masquerading as the gospel.
The trouble with that is that, in the end, that does not feed people. Sure, people who have been hurt by this evil false gospel need to feel heard and seen and I think that telling them you do that can be a balm. But people need more than that too. You can’t build a life on protest against evil. You still need the food for the soul that only Jesus can give. And that is where I think I drop the ball.
So I’m pondering what to do instead or in addition.
Recently, I was at Mass and had a small moment of clarity: a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand. It was a typical morning Mass during a weekday with a bunch of people characteristically timid about singing. (Catholics are terrible singers as a rule, especially when there is no choir or anybody to direct us.) The lady who normally belted out the intro hymn and recessional was not there that day, so people were sort of mumbling their way through the recessional. As it happened, it was a song I knew pretty well. And soince people were mumbling along, I decided I would be the loud one so people would have a leader to follow. Sure enough as soon as there was one voice taking the lead, everybody else pitched in.
After it was over, this lady came up and thanked me and, for a moment, I though to myself, “That’s what I want to do: be the guy who helps people hear the music of God in the world and join in.” (No. I am not going to join the choir. I’m speaking metaphorically.)
Anyway, all that is to say that tomorrow, I hope to initiate a conversation in my comboxes (whether on the blog or Facebook/Twitter) on what things I might do to help feed my readers.
So: More tomorrow.