Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Catholics aren't Klingons

Maybe you've heard this, in a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode. Maybe not. Not everybody's a "Star Trek" Fan.
"Counselor Troi: I know Klingons like to be alone on their birthdays. You probably want to meditate or hit yourself with a pain stick or something."
("Star Trek: The Next Generation," Parallels (1993), quoted on IMDB)
I watched "...Next Generation" when it was airing: and liked some aspects of the 2nd Trek series. Including that line.

Catholics aren't Klingons: Quite

"You probably want to meditate or hit yourself with a pain stick or something" was funny, in context. It's also pretty close to the way quite a few Americans view Catholics. My opinion.

That's an informed opinion. I was born into a nice, mainstream-Protestant family. We lived in a part of the country where many folks were terribly, terribly Christian (just ask them). Quite a number of these Christians believed with a holy(?) passion that those Satanic Catholics over there were anything but.

Needles to say, I got interested in Catholics and Catholicism. Think about it: what teenage boy isn't fascinated, at least a little, by something big and bad?

Then, after digging into the last several thousand years of humanity's story, I converted to the 'Whore of Babylon.' (These days, it's "Queen of Whores - tomato, tomahto.) But my conversion is another topic.

Growing up outside Catholicism, and converting well into my adulthood, gives me a perspective that cradle Catholics don't have.

Let's face it: to outsiders, we look weird. Strange. Alien.

Sort of like Star Trek's Klingons.

I don't mean the bumpy foreheads of the "Star Trek" movies and later series: I mean inside, where it counts.

"Star Trek's" Klingons are pagans, by the way: quite a bit like my Norse and Celtic forebears. A bit more civilized, though. Klingons didn't, as I recall, conduct 'human' sacrifice. My ancestors did. Well into historical times.

Catholics worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Three Persons, One God. Pagans we're not. (We aren't polytheists, by the way - but I don't know how the Trinity works)

And, we're real.

(Father Dowling isn't: Which is yet again another topic.)

Catholics: Strange People With a Thing For Pain?

Quite a few folks, in America at least, if they think about those Catholics at all, are likely see us as strange people with a thing for pain and suffering. Or dupes of warped men. Or people working for some sort of international corporation. (I wish I was kidding about that. Which is yet another topic. (February 4, 2010, for starters)

The idea that Catholicism is all about pain and suffering is, to me, very understandable. The Desert Fathers - 17 centuries back, was it? - left a lasting impression. Then there are all those 'lives of the saints' books from the 19th and early-20th centuries: full of brave little saints dying horribly, with brave little smiles on their cherubic faces.

Some people find those books spiritually uplifting. Me? Not so much: although I've learned to appreciate that sort of spirituality. Another topic.

Martyrdom is a sort of fast-track to sainthood: but not all saints are martyrs. ("Saints: That's so Medieval" (February 14, 2010))

Then there are people who punish themselves - severely, sometimes - because they think that's what God wants them to do. Yes: sometimes we need to suffer. The way I see it, if I need to suffer, I can count on God to supply that spiritual medicine.

Besides, the point of suffering is more about penance than about feeling pain. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1434-1439, for starters) And penance involves a whole lot. Like praying, fasting, almsgiving, and reading the Bible.

By the way: particularly because of some medical conditions I've been blessed with, I needed to look up Catholic teaching about using our brains when it comes to health care:
Catholics: We say that we must trust God (215); and we go to doctors anyway? No wonder some folks think we're hypocrites.

Catholics and Crucifixes

Then there are those crucifixes.

There's a joke about a boy who was giving his parents and teachers trouble, so his folks sent him to a Catholic school. Coming home after the first day, he went straight to the kitchen table, opened his books and did his homework. All of it. A week later, it still was the same story. His parents asked him why he was studying so hard. The boy replied, "you said they were disciplined there? They've got one guy nailed to the wall!"

A Catholic crucifix can be a little - unsettling - to someone who's not used to them. Particularly if the Corpus is life-size, with realistic coloring.

I'd say "lifelike," but that's a 3D representation of a dead body: a man who's been tortured to death. And, my Lord.

Which is why there are several small sculptures of a horribly-dead man on the walls of my home: and another, smaller, one hanging around my neck.

Klingon decor, anyone?

Acting Like Jesus Matters

Then, there's the sort of thing Garrison Keillor probably had in mind when he invented the "Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Catholic Church" for Lake Wobegon.

We put a bit more emphasis, compared to some branches of Christianity, on acting like we give a rip about what Jesus said and did. Although individual Catholics may have - interesting - views, Robert Burns' "Holy Willie's Prayer" (1785) describes a distinctly non-Catholic approach to holiness.

Despite what you may have been told, by the way, Catholics do not believe that we can work our way into Heaven.

On the other hand, we do think that we're supposed to act like we take Jesus seriously. There's a pretty good discussion of faith and works in this article: "Introduction to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy," insidecatholic.com (April 27, 2010) (A tip of the hat to newadvent, on Twitter, for the heads-up on that article.)

Works of mercy are things we do. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447)

Let's put it this way: I'd just as soon not try explaining to my Lord why I said I followed him - while refusing to follow his orders.

Why do I Take Jesus Seriously?

Quite a few people have said that they're God. Jesus is one of them. What sets him apart is that, a few days after he'd been executed: he got up; traveled around; and had a working lunch with his followers. Then there was the time - after he'd been crucified, died, and was buried - that my Lord gave the eleven disciples their marching orders. (Matthew 28:16-20)

Worked for them: works for me.

Klingons Meditate: So do Catholics

Again: "Star Trek's" Klingons are fictional. Catholics aren't.

Still, there are points of similarity:
  • Believing there's more to life than having a good time
  • Taking duty seriously
  • Meditating
I know: The "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Klingons mostly meditated off-screen - and their culture was modeled on non-Western cultures.

Well, cultures other than the contemporary Western one.
Christianity is a Really, like, Western Religion, isn't It?
No: and Jesus isn't an American.

Christianity "looks" Western because Europe (eventually) embraced Christianity: and European countries have been fairly prominent players in global affairs for the last few centuries. But my faith started out in lands at the east end of the Mediterranean: in Asia. For that matter, I've heard Christianity described as an "oriental mystery cult." There's something to that. Again, sort of.1

Somewhere between five hundred and a thousand years from now, I suspect that 'everybody' may 'know' that Christianity is an African religion: but that's definitely another topic.

Catholicism is a universal faith. We've got a solid core, but the trimmings tend to reflect what folks in an area were doing before they heard of my Lord.

For example, at Our Lady of the Angels church, down the street from my house, we drag a tree inside each year, for Christmas. I wouldn't necessarily expect Catholics in Sri Lanka (we're there) or Cebu (we're there, too) to have this custom. It may not be a particularly good fit with their cultures.

Then there's liturgical dance. It's forbidden in Catholic churches: in the West. Other parts of the world, it's encouraged. Why? Dance means different things in different cultures. (January 10, 2010)

Wrenching myself back to the topic:
Catholics Meditate: How Weird is That?
I've heard that meditation is bad, foreign, Satanic: downright un-American. Granted, that was back in the sixties and seventies. Quite a few things were changing then: fast. Some folks take change better than others.

I'll grant that meditation probably isn't the first thing you think of, when you hear the word "American." We're a peppy - sometimes jittery - lot, and anything that involves sitting still and 'doing nothing' doesn't really appeal to many of us.

I'm an American, by the way: and on the whole I like the culture(s) I was born and raised in.

I'm also a Catholic, so I need to pay attention to what the Church says. Like this:
"The Lord leads all persons by paths and in ways pleasing to him, and each believer responds according to his heart's resolve and the personal expressions of his prayer. However, Christian Tradition has retained three major expressions of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. They have one basic trait in common: composure of heart. This vigilance in keeping the Word and dwelling in the presence of God makes these three expressions intense times in the life of prayer."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2699)
After that, there's quite a bit about
Here's how the paragraphs on meditation start:
"Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history - the page on which the 'today' of God is written."
(Catechism, 2705)
There's more, of course, about meditation. In Catholicism, it seems like there's always more.

I'll wrap this post up with another quote about meditation, Catholic style:
"There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower.5 But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus."
(Catechism, 2707)
Related posts:

1 Oriental?! Christianity?!! Before someone has a stroke, let's look at what some words mean:
  • Oriental:
    • "denoting or characteristic of countries of Asia" (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Asia:
    • lands "...east of the Suez Canal, east of the Ural Mountains and south of the Caucasus Mountains (or the Kuma-Manych Depression)... and the Caspian and Black Seas... bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean and on the north by the Arctic Ocean"
      List of countries
    (Wikipedia, Asia)
I know: "Asia" is a word in a Western language. People living in Asia see themselves as members of distinct cultures: Sort of like Italians think they're not quite identical to Germans or the Irish. "Oriental" is in that enormous list of words that are "offensive." Well, this isn't a perfect world. Moving on.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and (after some time in Egypt) grew up in Nazareth. He was executed in Jerusalem. All those places, except for (most of) Egypt, are in that Wikipedia list of "Asian" countries. And "Oriental is "denoting or characteristic of countries of Asia."

I don't see that it's so crazy to think that Christianity started out in Asia. The Church making its headquarters in Rome made sense, at the time: For the first few centuries, Rome was sort of like New York City, Washington, London, and Paris for lands around the Mediterranean. Now, not so much: but after about 2,000 years you have to expect a little change.

"Mystery cult?" Well, I don't feel all that good about the word "cult:" but I can see the point. Again with a definition:
  • Greco-Roman mysteries
    • "Mystery religions, sacred Mysteries or simply Mysteries, were religious cults of the Greco-Roman world, participation in which was reserved to initiates...."
    (Wikipedia, Greco-Roman mysteries)
Okay: I can see the connection, sort of.

Christians generally practice baptism. For Catholics, it's a sacrament. (Catechism, 1213-1274) The Eucharist is something reserved for baptized Catholics - with some qualifiers.

So, yeah: Catholicism is a mystery religion. Sort of.

As for being secretive about what we believe, or what's involved? We're ordered to tell about who (and whose) we are, what we do, and why we do it. Take the Eucharist, for example. (Catechism, 1322-1419)


Anonymous said...

The following might offend - so I am sorry, I am only voicing myself... First of all - the command that Jesus gave his disciples could be - a piece of parchment they found while searching his place after his execution - he was smart, he left behind a message... or he told them, when he knew he would be executed, to go on a march after his execution - get the point? And Christianity isn't originally African - I think it was associated w/ Africa because of the Legend of Prester John - it was Middle Eastern. Israel. Land of the Jews.. The Bible is originally written in Aramaic, by people who called himself followers and wrote moralic stories exaggerated through years of copying the bible by hand... And Jesus was killed because his believes and teachings did not go with Hebrew standards... He was, by birth, a Jew. The first Communist, even - a perfect one, at that - his message that we are all born equal and that we all share common needs, was not hard to understand - unlike it was for Russians and Chinese - they took the matter wrongly... And the thing w/ him healing - we all know he was smart, he was a philosopher, he was probably experimental as a child - so he could have healed w/ herbs - that time, not many knew that, if he covered wounds with green mush, it was not magic, but experience... Call me atheist - I believe in an Entity - or maybe an entity split in different virtues - But I do not believe in God as man explains him... I believe, there is a mind, that made a spark, and in the power of that spark, died, giving his mind into Eternity, Infinity, Time, Space, Matter, Nature, and Life... and then, Math did the rest... Fate, as others call it... Yes, you might have realized - I'm realistic - but I do not seek to offend you - I am voicing my 5 cents, and we all have Freedom of Speech.

By the way, have you ever heard about yummy-cebu.com? I hear they just started a new contest called Mama's day out!

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Bravely said.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Everybody else,

Maybe I should clarify something: I expressed the (unsupported) speculation that somewhere in the last half of the next millennium, some folks would "know" that Christianity is Africa - just as some now "know" that it's Western.

I believe I see my error: I wrote "...Somewhere between five hundred and a thousand years from now...." - without specifying which direction in time I had in mind. I intended to indicate that Africa might, in a time which has not yet occurred, be so actively involved in Christian work that "the African priest" would be as common as "the Irish priest" was in times which have already happened.

The speculation isn't as random as it may appear: Africa has enormous natural resources; and African nations have started a very difficult process of organizing themselves - while catching up on several centuries of technical development.

And, quite a number of African citizens have a vibrant Christian faith. The parish I'm in has a working relationship with one in Kenya.

Just as the Irish caught fire more than a thousand years ago, and were evangelizing the world - I think there's a chance that at least some parts of Africa may be doing the same. "Not long from now" - by my standards.

Brigid said...

There are jokes I could make, but won't: "grew u in Nazareth"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Yeah: Thanks, BTW: and it's fixed.

"Grew u???" What in the world is "u?" Alternate spelling for yew trees?

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.