Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hope, Joy, and Working for a Better World

Every once in a while I realize that I've gotten a bit grim with my posts. Sometimes more than a bit.

When that happens, I figure it's time to stop, take a deep breath, and think about what's important, and what's not all that important:
Between posts about Tea Party zombies, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, and what I think about a call to "take ... out" people who don't agree (doesn't anybody remember what Henry II did?), I've been pretty grim lately.

Serious, anyway.

Panegyrics and Screeds1

One reaction would be for me to write one of those 'sweetness-and-light' things, dripping with pious platitudes - with all the sparkle and depth of a rain puddle. That's not gonna happen.

Or, I could decide that I haven't been grim enough: and head straight for the 'sour-faced saint' end of the spectrum. Not gonna do that, either.

I think we've got quite enough folks wringing their hands over the awfulness of it all, as it is. Besides, my heart wouldn't really be in writing another gloom-and-doom screed.

Good News: We Won!

(From Piero della Francesca, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I know too much: too much to be conventionally morbid about the status quo.

I know that we won. Almost 2,000 years ago. All of us. Everyone alive, everyone who has lived, or will live.

We're still stuck with an imperfect world: but we have hope.

The Golgotha Incident

What changed things was my Lord, and what He did at Golgotha. (1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 5:11; John 19:16-17; "SECOND STATION | Jesus takes up his cross," Way of the Cross 2011; "On Golgotha He United Heaven and Earth," Cardinal Vinko Puljic. Jubilee 2000 magazine (March 1997))

When Jesus died, he became "expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world." (1 John 2:2)

Everybody's got the option to accept Jesus, the Son of God, who was killed but didn't stay dead: or not.

But it's our choice. We can decide that we don't want to stay with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033-1037) On the whole, I'd rather not experience eternal separation from everything that makes existence worthwhile - but I've got that option. Daft as it is.

The Future Looks Pretty Good - - -

Another bit of good news: Although the timetable isn't at all clear, we've got the promise that this imperfect, fouled-up world we live in - ourselves included - won't stay this way. Not permanently. (Catechism, 1042-1050)

That's not 'pie in the sky bye and bye,' a way for oppressors to keep the Masses or whatever in line with a promise of a reward after a life of grinding submission to a wacko boss.2

- - - And We Have Work to Do

We've got a mandate to make society better. (Catechism, 1928-1942) It's a personal responsibility: 'the other guy,' or 'the government' isn't solely responsible.

We've all got duties: children, pupils, employees, subordinates, citizens, and those who administer or govern countries. Also parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, and "all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons." (Catechism, 2199)

Man, sometimes it seems like the Church doesn't want anybody to have fun. Which is another topic.3

"Make Society Better?!"

Quite a few folks, Catholics included, think the Catholic Church is conservative. And that Catholicism is pretty much the same as conservatism.

There's something to that. If you keep your frame of reference small enough, the Church conservative: because of what we're taught about pre- extra-, and non-marital sex. And abortion. Make that 'hide-bound, reactionary conservative.'

Take a tunnel-vision look at the Church from another angle, and the Church is liberal: because of what we're taught about the death penalty. And some social justice issues. Liberal? We're wild-eyed, flaming liberal.

Culture, History, Authority, and the Universal Church

The fact is that the Catholic Church isn't liberal, it isn't conservative. We're not 'on the side of' Democrats, Republicans, Whigs, Tories, Populares, or Optimates.4

That's because the Catholic Church isn't tied to some culture, or historical period. We're rooted in eternity, marching through time to a world that's better than anything we can manage on our own. And we're obliged to try bringing the present as close to that destination as we can.

We're Catholic, and have been passing along what we have for about two millennia now. As someone said, I think about approving of homosexual activity, 'we don't have the authority to change that: as soon as God changes His mind, we'll let you know. Which may not mean what you think it does.

Although we've got our share of soreheads among the 1,000,000,000 or so Catholics alive today, the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality isn't what you may have read in the papers. And that's yet another topic. Topics.5

Hope, Joy, and Lots of Work

Bottom line? As a practicing Catholic I have to
  • Keep track of events and issues so I can
    • Vote responsibly
    • Talk and write about what should be done
      • Or shouldn't
  • Learn about my faith to
    • Avoid doing wrong because
      • I thought something didn't matter
      • I confused cultural mores for natural law6
Basically, I'm obliged to take an active part in public life, as far as I'm able. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915)

That's a lot more work than
  • Being 'spiritual'
    • All by myself
  • Saying things like
    • "I take no interest in politics"
    • "What you believe is all that counts"7
    • "Religion is for weak-minded people"
Is following Catholic teachings really worth the effort? After all, depending on what line I took, I might get praise for being 'unworldly' or 'intelligent.' Taking a line through Mark 8:36 and Matthew 16:26, I'd be turning my back on an infinite ocean of hope and joy in exchange for a few decades of compliments. That's got 'bad idea' written all over it.

The down side of living forever is that there's a handful of self-destructive things I need to avoid for maybe a few more decades. The up side? I can hope for an eternity living in a way that makes sense. That, I think, is worth taking a little care in the short term.

Vaguely-related posts:

1 As it says on my Twitter profile (my screen name is Aluwir), I'm a recovering English teacher. That, and knowledge that you may not have English - American English, anyway - as your first language, is why I put so many links to online dictionaries in my blogs.

Besides, who says things like "screed and panegyric" these days?

Here's what panegyric and screed mean:
Panegyric (noun)
A formal expression of praise
(Princeton's WordNet)
Screed (noun)
Panegyric (adjective)
Formally expressing praise
(Princeton's WordNet)
Screed (noun)
A long monotonous harangue
A long piece of writing
A long monotonous harangue
An accurately leveled strip of material placed on a wall or floor as guide for the even application of plaster or concrete
(Princeton's WordNet)
2 "Pie in the sky" is "a promise of heaven, while continuing to suffer in this life." I think it's also an excellent case in point, for why faith without works is dead - or worse:
"...This is an American phrase and was coined by Joe Hill in 1911. Hill was a Swedish-born itinerant labourer who migrated to the USA in 1902. He was a leading light of the radical labour organisation The Industrial Workers of the World - known as the Wobblies, writing many radical songs for them. The phrase appeared first in Hill's The Preacher and the Slave, which parodied the Salvation Army hymn In the Sweet Bye and Bye. The song, which criticized the Army's theology and philosophy, specifically their concentration on the salvation of souls rather than the feeding of the hungry, was popular when first recorded and remained so for some years.
"Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

"The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
'Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum....
("Pie in the sky," The Phrase Finder)
3 The eternal state of my soul is a serious matter, and life isn't all fun and games. On the other hand, there isn't a Commandment that says "Thous Shalt Present a Sour Face Unto the World, Even as One Who Biteth Into a Bad Lemon." Let's remember that Jesus' first miracle involved getting drinks at a wedding party:
4 Although the Catholic Church accommodates local cultures where possible, we don't make a priority of changing our standards to suit whatever shamans, gurus, or college professors prefer. We tend to not fit neatly into contemporary cultural stereotypes, and haven't for about 2,000 years. I've been over this sort of thing before:
5 I think America's establishment has the wrong impression about what the Catholic Church really teaches. About homosexuality, among many other things.

First, I think it's important to point out what the Catholic Church isn't. It's not one of those Protestant outfits who say the Pope is the antichrist, that sex is bad, and that anyone who disagrees with them is going to Hell.

Let's put it this way: These folks aren't Catholics:

(ArizonaLincoln (talk), via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)

(Reuters photo, via FoxNews.com, used w/o permission)

The Catholic Church is the outfit whose leader gets his authority in a direct, unbroken chain going back to Peter - who got his authority from the Son of God. For about two millennia now, we've been trying - and not always succeeding - at carrying out our instructions. Which boil down to "love God, love your neighbor."

As a Catholic I have to love everybody. Which makes sense, after you realize that "love" doesn't necessarily mean "approval."

As for folks who like to have sex with members of their own sex, animals, or a pillow? What they do isn't a good idea - but mistreating anybody is a bad idea, too.

I've been over this before:
6 Natural law "...expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1954-1960) By analogy, it's like physics: you can choose to not believe in gravity; but your life will be easier if you acknowledge that gravity exists:
7 It's faith and works. (James 2:19-20; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1021) I didn't have a problem with the Church's teaching about acting as if God matters. I couldn't see a point in saying I follow Jesus, if I wasn't going to have a shot at doing what He said was a good idea. Not everybody sees things that way, of course:

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

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.