Sunday, August 6, 2017

Of Origins and Purpose in Conclusions

It strikes me that one of the key points in a definition of religion, or what constitutes the religious, is the notion of perfect, non-personal origins. An origin is by definition a beginning, but origins also grant recourse. Origins are an anchor. As a Catholic I am confident that my origins are shared by all Christians that ever have been, are, and ever will be.

This is not a consolation, it is a truth, and a profoundly appealing and challenging one at that (I should point out that I am not much drawn to ideas that do not challenge me, personally). One does not turn to religion because reality is too much to bear. One turns to religion because reality - pragmatic, empirical, scientific - is insufficient. Reality fails to satisfy. Reality fails to answer. Reality is unaccountable. Reality - and this is no surprise - is largely under our control, or so we like to pretend.

There is no reason to trust reality, for there is no reason not to trust it. Reality has no voice, no face. Reality does not and cannot suffice to bear our trust, our hopes, our belief, but God does.

It is a difficult concept to bear in mind that reality proceeds from truth but is not truth in and of itself. If one is of a pragmatic frame of mind then religious belief may seem arcane, sentimental, and pathetic, and it will continue to appear that way unless or until (for we must hope) one realizes that religion is the only thing worthy of belief in the first place. An opinion, even one based on solid scientific evidence, is only that: an opinion. It is not a belief. As much as we are capable of belief we are drawn to the religious, we are compelled to seek God. One can of course believe in God, allow that reality proceeds from the truth of God, and thereby allow both frames of reference to work together, but this essay is not about science or how scientists should spend a part of their Sunday mornings.

In Christianity the non-personal origin has a perfect, personal face: that of Jesus Christ, for whom and through whom all things were made (John 1:3). We can stop here and render a fair account of Catholicism, for if you allow that Jesus Christ is the source and summit of life, as willed by God the Father, then everything falls into place, and Catholicism makes perfect sense, centered as it is on the Holy Eucharist.

Whatever our personalities or politics, the color of our skin, our mortal history, all that we are is focused and attuned the point of origin that is made real in the Holy Eucharist. Whether at Mass or Adoration, and in all the writings of the old and new testaments and in sacred writings and the lives of the saints since then, all our efforts are drawn from the person of Jesus Christ as source, and all are directed toward Christ as the summit.

This perfect, eternal, shared origin - that incredibly knows each of our names and cares that we be saved, which is almost more than one can bear with equanimity - is non-topical, unabridgeable, and inexhaustible. Once fixed in your heart, once realized as truth, you cannot "move on" from Jesus Christ. There is nowhere to go, except to consider and adore the Holy Trinity in its perfect completeness, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. One origin. One purpose.

Now all this may sound very serious (or silly, if you are devoted to a merely empirical basis for truth-gathering) and it is serious. We endeavor to adore God in a suitable manner; we hope to emulate Christ. But more than that, all this is a cause of terrific interior thanksgiving and joy. I think we have Catholics who are challenged to take their own religion seriously, and we have ones who do not appear to be enjoying it at all. More commonly, every Catholic experiences some part of favoring obedience over ecstasy and vice versa one time or another. One therefore has to be wary of entrenchment, of becoming devoted not to God but to one's feelings in the matter of religion.

This can be challenging, but the error is as old as Adam & Eve, in that pride allows one to turn one's eyes aside from God (the source, the Holy Eucharist) and toward one's interior desires. "If God (my religion) makes me feel or think a certain way" one says to oneself "then that must be right." Well, maybe not quite. One is not right except as one does His will. We know this too. So, we are all bound by our humanity to make mistakes, to be distracted and nervous, taken up with thoughts and feelings that veer wildly hither and yon, etc. And all that is a great source of thanksgiving and joy too, I think, for it is how we are made.

There is nothing better for the soul than the search for truth, the discoveries and failure all mixed together. It shows a willing heart, a "natural heart," and what more could a father ask of his child?

Our origin is fixed, our purpose clear. The future unfolds bit by bit. Regardless of the news of the day, the origin remains unaltered and unalterable, yet alive to our present desires in fulfilling our purpose. An academic view of origins, or religion, is bound to miss this point, that the text is not yet concluded, that its resolution has yet to occur. I like an origin that does not stop at merely being. I like an origin that calls each of us, our personal selves, to participate its perfect conclusion.