Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Faith is not an Opinion

I am Christian, and that is not an opinion, that is a truth. I did not decide to be Christian. I did not opt to believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah any more than Peter did in his confession. I did not assemble a reading list, join a discussion group, draft an outline, or throw darts. The truth of my faith, that I am Christian, was presented to me as an incontrovertible truth, perhaps the only thing in this or any world worthy of the title "truth."

Nothing was more apparent to me growing up than that there is a God. And so I asked questions. My reasonable, agnostic parents handled my questions pretty well, as I recall. If you want to get the measure of a person's heart, ask them who God is. They may not necessarily say they believe, but a lot can be inferred from a person's manner! But as I said, I believed in God because that is what you do with God, you believe in him. In asking about God, it was obvious that first He must exist in order that I should inquire who He is. One does not "work out" whether God exists. You inquire within, and when your heart says, Yes, and you have been formed in a certain way, then you allow that Yes, and you take it into your life.

In my twenties, as I became a man, I believed that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior of mankind. I did so because, being formed in a certain way, I had no choice but to admit that which is true. It was as if I was gazing into a vast pool of objects, every conceivable thing of this world, even ideas and concepts having assumed physical form, and from that vast array a pearling light emerged and chased away everything and lodged in my heart, and the name of that pearl was the Holy Spirit and it spoke from within me the words "Jesus Christ."

I recall my conversion of heart in this manner, as an illustration of an event in this world, to communicate the fact of that occurrence. I want to make apparent my lack of choice. I want to make clear that I did not form an opinion. The choices would come later but the moment of conversion was not chosen.

I also want to make clear that what occurred to me - dressed up in the metaphorical language above - is what happened to Peter, to Paul, to Thomas, to all the Apostles, and to every Christian since the beginning of time. This is what makes me a Christian. This is what what makes all of us Christians.

I am aware, of course, that I live in a time when the right to express one's opinion is highly valued, as it should be. As it must be. And because the right to express opinions is so highly valued, then the fact of having an opinion too is highly valued, as it should be - up to a point. I am not in the business of reading souls, but from what I see about me, the ideal state for many people (one used to say "Americans," but the tendency has become virtually pandemic), is one where they can choose (and possess) whatever they want. People expect to be able to choose (and obtain) their schooling, career, spouse, car, laws, taxes, guns, gender, children, and friends, all to be categorized under a lifestyle, chosen freely. Some people even choose a religion. They might agree with their parents' choice of religion, or they might look around and choose another based on what it has to offer them. Of course, people expect to be able to change their mind with respect to their choices, including their religion. And maybe all this choosing is a good thing. Maybe it helps people to eventually "choose" God - or to be open to that which lies beyond mere choice. I think this happens. I think a lot of people get tired of listening to themselves decide what they should choose and one day ask themselves, What else is there? And in that question, that person has prayed a prayer with only one answer. And they will hear and perceive that answer if they are willing to listen and watch closely.

My role, as a Christian, is to say what Christianity is. To say what it is and to live what it is. My role, as a Christian, is to serve others, not to think I am better then they are. If I do this, dutifully, with care, love and humility, I will inherit eternal life. This, too, is not an opinion. If it were an opinion it would not be true.

Let's think about that statement.

An opinion is a statement based on personal preferences which take into account a set of facts, experiences, and impressions to form a position that can be rendered in written and oral form. Opinions are valuable property. Much of what we do and a good deal of who we are is represented by opinion. We take opinions seriously, and we should, because one's opinion can form the basis for one's actions. So, for example, we follow closely the opinions of  politicians and support those whose opinions match closest our own opinions.

So, opinions are important, and from some perspectives almost everything is subject to opinion. Math and science, most people would assert, are not subject to opinion, though we have learned that this is not strictly speaking true, for the conclusions one forms from empirical data is in fact informed by personal or cultural preconceptions. Opinion is, in a sense, the means by which an intelligent being negotiates its society and the world in which it lives. One recognizes, assembles, and chooses. One opines, therefore one functions.

And so religion may seem susceptible to opinion, and perhaps it is, at least up to a point. One can imagine the Jews of Jesus' time, wandering about,worried about the Romans, etc., hearing this man and liking what he had to say, feeling that here was someone who cared about them, as individuals. This is the humanist approach to Jesus. The Jews liked Jesus, on the basis of personal opinion, up to the point where he said or did something that did not conform to their their opinions. Whether it was his proclamation of the fulfillment of Scripture in his coming, or that one would have to eat of his flesh in order to have life, at certain points the Jews fell away. They did not like what they heard. They disagreed with it. And, acting on their change of opinion, they walked away from Him.

And so it makes perfect sense to live by one's opinions. Up to a point. But I am not Christian owing to opinion, and I do not have opinions with regard to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

To form an opinion with respect to the Catholic Church, or its teaching, would be to form an opinion with respect to the body of Christ. I believe, by faith, in the body of Christ, made present in the Mass, and I do not allow myself the error of forming opinions regarding Christ or his Church. As the teachings of the Church filter down to and through society and are negotiated, I have opinions. I have opinions regarding how one or another teaching can best be addressed or carried out, in the present time, with what available resources, etc. I have opinions regarding means, not substance. Even then, I am mindful of whatever means are proscribed by the Church. I defer to those means, and I have never regretted doing so. Doing so, I have learned that means and substance are closely connected, even identical in certain cases. I have become accustomed to avoiding separation whenever possible. I have made myself more consistent, more reliable, in my personal life, by modeling my behavior on that of the Catholic Church.

In doing this, I have also made myself more free, more certain, and more available to the lives of those around me, including especially the most vulnerable and my family. How could I do less? Certain in my faith and in the Church that has been tasked with proclaiming my faith, I am free from doubt. My heart is certain, therefore my opinions are commensurably certain. I am sure of myself. I do not hold back.My faith and my Church insist that I not hold back, but that I go forth and proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. I am told this - all Catholics are told this - at the conclusion of every Mass. This proclamation does not admit opinions, nor should it.

I wonder at times whether my blog and website title, OpenCatholic, isn't somewhat misleading. I can see how someone might believe that "OpenCatholic" hints at some kind of project of "opening" the Church to new thoughts and ideas, which is not to my purpose at all. But then, I should not worry how someone might misread "OpenCatholic" if the content is consistent with my intended purpose. The OpenCatholic project, when viewed from within the Church, is a platform for Charity in word and deed, a call to be open to others regarding the faith (proclaiming the Gospel) while being open to the lives, beliefs, and journeys of those outside the Catholic faith; or, in short, listening, that all may be saved. Viewed from outside the Church, OpenCatholic seeks to draw persons to within it by virtue of the life of the Catholic faith as described and carried out in word and deed, that they too might proclaim the good news.

The point of OpenCatholic is to bear witness to the truth that I come to you as a Christian, bearing good news, not so that you may form a good opinion of me but so that you might accompany me in accomplishing the work of the Lord. OpenCatholic is therefore a vehicle for a means to a very particular end; one which I endeavor to shape and guide in accordance with the substance, with the teachings of the Church and the life of Jesus Christ, may God have mercy on me, that I may do His will.

I am Christian, and that is not an opinion, that is a fact. I did not decide to be Christian, and I did not decide that your life, that every human life is worthy of love, that all are worthy of salvation. That is not an opinion, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that it is an opinion, that it is subject to revision or amendment or compromise. If you are curious why Catholics hold the opinions they do then take note that opinions and opinion-making have nothing to do with what we believe in our minds and in our hearts, and in what comprises our lives, and in what encompasses our souls. We do not have a choice in believing what we do, only in how to carry out Christ's mission on earth through the teachings of His church. To that end, we ask for your prayers.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Compromise or Kingship?

A world where Christ is King, where God reigns, all that is good derived from Him. How would we live in such a world, except by giving thanks while striving every day to do what is good? Yet this is the world we live in. Christ has conquered death and promises eternal life to those who follow Him. All we need to do is to turn away from the false goods of this world and toward Him.

It seems simple, and I suppose it is. And yet we pay homage to the false goods of this world which are not of God. We are distracted by duties, errands, and obligations. We problem-solve. Every profession offers a jargon which we fall into, allowing our days to be described within the boundaries of job and family. When frustrated, we do not seek truths, but causes. Causes are naturally associated with the very thing that frustrates us, sharing the same language. We see poverty and blame the 1%. We see violence and blame the man with the gun.

We like to point and click. Point and click. That is good. That is bad. Click click click. All day long. Does this sound like thinking to you, does it sound like heaven?

One can be naturally right and yet ultimately false in betraying the source of all that is good. We claim political victories for ourselves, yet what have we done? We have carried out the mandate of mercy. We should give thanks. In the name of power we rewrite the rules, and everyone agrees, because nothing goes down easier than compromise. A point of faith is converted to a personal decision, allowing one to embrace choices contrary to doctrine, even while faith itself is God-given. It's a funny inversion of first principles. I wonder if such people believe that gravity is a personal decision?

We live in a world ruled by Christ the King, yet we aid and abet our worst adversary in turning from His laws. It is not that we fall short of perfection - there is no shame in that - but we rush toward it, gleefully throwing off the trappings of heaven for the tattered threads of Personal Goals. We no longer travel. We fulfill a Bucket List. We no longer yearn, or dream, we wait and see.

I do not see a civilization that assumes too much, but one that believes too little. We are too ready to give up: on the unborn, the elderly, the sick, the poor, ourselves. We should agree never to give up, ever, on anyone. We should celebrate, today and every day, what God has won for us. Eternal life, freedom from all pain and suffering. We need earn it, and to do that, we need only admit with our lips what we know in our hearts.

That Christ is King.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Words for Mortality

Opportune. How would I know to be worried about what I do if the risk of dying were not involved? I could go on and on making mistakes, biding my time to change my ways, or not. "Immortality" (alive and incapable of death) would be an ocean with no shore - worse yet, land without an ocean to gaze out on, wondering what lies beyond the foreseeable horizon.

Skeptical. I am in life but I do not see life. I am alive but cannot qualify or quantify death except by faith. Faith provides me with everything I need to know - but not everything knowable - so life is skeptical of death, and perhaps death is skeptical of life. What is the value of this fleeting thing, this temporary state, a way station for a quantity of minerals, tissues, salts, and water? But faith is not skeptical of mortality. Faith knows exactly the depths breadth, and quality of death, for what was death before He came into the world to redeem Life? Death was known only in its partial, natural state. Death was a false prophet of an end it was not death's to claim. Now we have the full measure of death and of mortality, as much by what does not belong to death as what does.

Musical. As one's fingers strum a guitar, or as starling sing to the dusk, we move in and around our mortality, taking risks great or small and those being only the ones we are aware of. As a child I would wonder, if I am delayed at something even 5 seconds might that not decide my fate; where otherwise I would not be hit by a car, or some such mortal event? How little I understood the serious nature of one's life, that it is not one's own to do with as one wishes, but God's gift, to live out in heartfelt service. What after all is music, but the truth in one's ears?

Cubed. Approach mortality lightly or with serious intent and it is the same on all sides. You might upend it, by a tremendous effort, but you will tire and let go, and down it will clatter, presenting exactly the same aspect as before. So you will call in friends to help you sustain your efforts at unbalancing mortality, but after a remarkably brief interlude, you will be staring at each other over the tedium and strain of that collective effort and lose sight of mortality altogether. Look out, lest it crush your foot when it falls!

Saucy. I mean it moves its hips about and looks you straight in the eye as if it knows what it wants, and perhaps it does. Maybe this is all it wants, my life. Is that all you want? You can have it, if you know what to do with it, you'll have to show me first. No? No ideas? More winking and strutting about? Poor mortality, poor death, without a future to believe in.

Resolute. Mortality means business, and business is good. And good is the word I use to describe a thing, and being mortal, my passing judgment on whether a thing is good or not relies on standards not of my making, you can be sure of that, otherwise I am, like mortality, saying one thing but believing another. For death is no more true than is life, only less so, for we cannot die again once dead. But eternal life is ours for the asking.