Sunday, November 13, 2011

That's Funny: Another Way of Being Catholic

Growing up in America, about a half-century back, I 'knew' what 'being spiritual' was. There were folks who:
  1. Apparently equated poor health with virtue
  2. Sent money to chronically peeved radio preachers
  3. Were grimly pious
    • Might have smiled
      • Once
      • In their sinful youth
      • But had since repented of such wicked ways
  4. Acted fairly sane
    • And went to church
Then there were those 19th-century pictures of Jesus, where my Lord was "apparently seven feet high, with the face of a consumptive girl." Folks in category #4 helped me take Christianity seriously.

Humor seems to be part of being human. I don't know where the notion that being humorless and being spiritual were the same thing: but I suspect that it's a cultural thing. Sort of like the assumption that churches should be as devoid of decoration as possible.

Reverend Feelgood, The Gospel According to Newsweek, and Mystic Crystal Revelations

Then came the '60s, feel-good religion, weird 'in the spirit of Vatican II' nonsense, and weirder New Age stuff.

My parents were part of a nice mainstream Protestant church, which lacked the pathological extremes I've mentioned. For the most part, and that's another topic.

Crazily incompatible notions about 'being spiritual,' Christianity, and human nature encouraged me to take a long, hard, detailed look at religion in general: and Christianity in particular. Eventually I converted to Catholicism, and that's yet another topic.

Smiling's Not a Sin?!

I'm pretty sure that Jesus never said "thou shalt ever bear a grim countenance, even as one who hath bitten a lemon which rotteth." Ever notice how King James' English tends to sound like someone with a lithp? Which reminds me of Carrie Nation, the temperance movement, Prohibition, Demon Rum,1 and I'm wandering off-topic again.

Saints: Getting the Whole Picture

Then there were saints. I 'knew' about saints, too.

They were
  • Folks who
    • Died of starvation
      • On pillars
      • More than a thousand years ago
      • In some faraway land
        • That isn't there any more
    • Inhumanly perfect characters
      • In a melodrama
      • Dying horribly
        • From some disease
        • Or hideously painful torture
    There's a little truth to those lurid tales: and that's - you guessed it - still another topic.

    Some Saints could probably have given my Nordic forebears lessons in grim fortitude: but that's not the whole picture. One of the Saints, Philip Neri, earned a reputation for having quite a sense of humor. Which he wasn't afraid of using.

    If that's not like the Philip Neri you read about, I'm not surprised. Some details of his life were, ah, bowdlerized from 'proper' books for the American Catholic market.

    An AMIABLE Saint?!

    Sometimes Saint Philip Romolo Neri is called the Apostle of Rome, or Amabile Santo: which doesn't mean the same thing. Depending on which Italian phrase book you read, Amabile Santo means "Lovable Saint;" or maybe Agreeable, Amiable, Genial, or Sweet Saint. I've mentioned Saint Philip Neri's distinctly unsour approach to life before:
    "...St. Philip devised mortifications without end for attacking pride in souls of promise who could bear his heavy-handed humor. ... An especially pious young man asked permission to wear a hair shirt and Philip granted his request with this stipulation: he wear it on the outside. He was known around Rome as 'Berto of the hair-shirt.'..." ("St. Philip's Suggestions for Idleness and Learning Patience," (first posted March 15, 2011)
    Hair shirts have been out of fashion for quite a while, at least in America's branch of Western culture. They're a sort of exquisitely uncomfortable underwear: think of an all-wool T-shirt. Starched. The idea was to wear a hair shirt under normal clothing, and suffer in silence.

    I'm not criticizing the practice: I'm a practicing Catholic, and understand a little about the value of penance and mortification.

    But wearing a hair shirt - OVER your clothing?! That would be more comfortable, physically, than the usual arrangement. Socially, not so much. (Hair shirts were really uncomfortable to have next to the skin - I'm guessing that having one on the outside would be socially 'uncomfortable.' In a different way, of course.)

    Learning to Laugh - at Myself?

    In a society where your neighbors understood what a hair shirt was, and how it was supposed to be used, my guess is that wearing one on the outside of your clothing would be a bit like wearing a clown wig at a formal dinner. Or skivvies over a tuxedo.

    I think it's a good idea to cultivate the sort of humility we call 'laughing at yourself.' Think of how you feel about stuffed shirts, and I am not going to start off on another 'shirt' digression.

    I've got at least my share of self-importance. My wife tells me that if I hadn't been crippled, I would probably have been insufferable. That isn't quite another topic, but this post is getting long. "Has gotten" is more like it.

    Humor, Emotions, and Being Human

    Humor, in one form or another, seems to be part of the package: part of being human. I figure that 'God doesn't make junk,' and that having a sense of humor is no more sinful, by itself, than being able to feel non-dour when seeing a sunrise. Like any other emotion, 'humor' can be misused - or used. There's quite a bit in the Catechism about emotions: 1762-1770, summarized in 1771-1775.
    "Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits." ("Saint Philip Neri,"
    Somewhat-related posts:
    1 Alcohol abuse is a very real problem, as I know from personal experience. Being sober makes sense.

    Then there's the 'Biblical' attitude about alcohol: Demon Rum, and all that.

    Sure enough, the Bible says "you and your sons are forbidden under pain of death, by a perpetual ordinance throughout your generations, to drink any wine or strong drink."

    Wow. Even Carrie Nation and her little hatchet didn't carry temperance quite that far.

    That quote isn't quite complete, though. It's from a part of Leviticus that describes distinctly hardball discipline involving Aaron and his sons:
    " 'When you are to go to the meeting tent, you and your sons are forbidden under pain of death, by a perpetual ordinance throughout your generations, to drink any wine or strong drink. You must be able to distinguish between what is sacred and what is profane, between what is clean and what is unclean; you must teach the Israelites all the laws that the LORD has given them through Moses.' " (Leviticus 10:9-11)
    I could use Deuteronomy 29:5 to 'prove' that wine and beer lead surely to damnation. But first, I don't need the kind of trouble that'd come from deliberately messing with the Word of God - and to be consistent, I'd have to claim that eating bread is sinful.

    Besides, the first miracle my Lord performed was getting drinks for a wedding party, and that's another topic, too. (John 2:1-10) Which has theological significance. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1613)

    Even being "Biblical," the reasonable instructions seem to be 'don't get drunk.' Ephesians 5:18 is pretty clear on that point.

    The Catholic Church doesn't forbid alcohol. Or food. Or Bingo. What we're taught is to not drink in excess. We're also not supposed to eat in excess. There's more to it, of course. (Catechism, 2290, for starters) The key seems to be moderation. Our reasons for permitting 'wicked' activities like Bingo and pinochle follow the same general reasoning. (Catechism, 2413)

    1 comment:

    Brigid said...

    What? "still another topic. That photo shows"

    I think you have that backward: "That would be more comfortable, physically, than the usual arrangement. Socially, not so much."

    There's something missing here: "good idea to cultivate of humility we call"

    Missing punctuation: "There's more, of course, to it (Catechism, 2290, for starters) The key seems to be moderation."

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    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.

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