Sunday, April 15, 2012

Martial Arts and the Battle for Purity

Today is the second Sunday of Easter. It's also Divine Mercy Sunday. I re-posted something the local deacon wrote about that, earlier this week:
Devotion to the Divine Mercy is one of those things that 'looks Catholic.'

Looking "Catholic"

Detail from Franciscan University's TOR community for 2007-08. © Photographs by Franciscan  University Public Relations, Kevin Cooke (Graule Studios), Don Tracy, Alexander Johnnides, Emily Fogarty, Katherine Thomas, Sean Garrison, & Eileen Marrow. Used w/o permission.Photos of photos of Saint Faustina Kowalska, a European nun, the ones I've seen, show her 'in uniform.' She was a European nun, in the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Her order's habit wasn't the same as what Franciscan monks wear: but it's got the same general 'look.'

These days, wearing a plain robe with a rope for a belt says "Catholic," a point used by television and movie directors now and then.

But in a way, there's nothing particularly "Catholic" about that sort of clothing. Quite a few religious orders got started in Europe, when the sort of clothing you see in "Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry" was more-or-less contemporary.

I think the name of that high-end calendar sounds classier in French, and that's another topic.

(Limbourg brothers/Jean Colombe's July, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
Detail from "Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry," 1412-1416, Europe.

Simple, Modest, and Five Centuries Out of Date

The Catholic Church has guidelines about what folks in religious orders should wear, including this:
"...The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health...."
(17, "Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life - Perfectae Caritatis," Pope Paul VI (October 28, 1965))
My understanding is that, five centuries back or so, a loose robe of the sort monks and nuns wear today was "simple and modest:"1 and wasn't all that different from what folks in the contemporary equivalent of blue-collar jobs wore.

What my forebears in Europe wore back then looks comfortable, and I'd consider wearing the same thing myself. But I won't. My reasons include:
  • Cultural norms
  • Safety
I'd stick out when I went shopping or strolled around the neighborhood if I wore a loose tunic. Besides, the relatively form-fitting clothes I get from rummage sales or Walmart are much more practical in today's post-Industrial era. Anyone who's gotten something caught in machinery knows why. And that's another topic.

Some Guy in Minnesota's Musing

My guess is that if someone founding a religious order today took the same approach as the first Franciscans or Benedictines, the new order's habit would be off-the-shelf sneakers, jeans, and work shirts from Kmart, Costco, or some other discount store.

I think that's not likely to happen, because Western civilization has changed quite a bit in the last half-millennia, and folks have different notions about what 'religious' people should wear.

A half-millennia from now, more change will have happened. For all I know, there'll be some order wearing an anachronistic outfit that looks a lot like a flannel shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. And that's still another topic. Topics.

I don't, by the way, think that the Franciscans, secular or otherwise, should chuck eight centuries of tradition and start wearing dungarees. If they started doing that, they'd just have to change their uniform again when the year 2812 rolled around. And that's yet another topic.

Martial Arts and Me

I spent Friday evening at a Soo Bahk Do test. I stopped learning that martial art when physical limitations caught up to me. My wife and #3 daughter are testing for the Soo Bahk Do equivalent of a black belt. I went along as a driver and photographer.

Soo Bahk Do Test, St. Paul. April 13, 2012.

I don't see a problem with being a practicing Catholic and learning Soo Bahk Do. Until physical limitations any a streak of perfectionism caught up with me, I was learning that martial art, too. I still have the 'pajamas:' the dobok I wore.

Clothing and Perceptions

Unlike everyday clothing of Europe's late Middle Ages, the Soo Bahk Do dobok doesn't look "Catholic."

My guess is that some Americans see martial arts and being Catholic mixing about as well as mongoose and cobra. Or tiger and crane, and that's yet again another topic.

Bingo, Beer, and Soo Bahk Do

If you came to the Stearns Country Fair, you might hear me calling calling numbers at the Knights of Columbus Bingo booth. It's been decades since I played Bingo, but not because I think it's immoral.

It's also been decades since I limited my alcohol intake to what happens at Mass, and a glass of wine or bottle of beer on rare occasions. I don't think drinking is immoral. I do, however, know that I've had a drinking problem: and re-ordered my life accordingly.

I stopped practicing Soo Bahk Do mostly because of my hips. (February 3, 2009) Until I can figure out a way to make my re-engineered hips, wrists, and hands do what's required in Soo Bahk Do; I won't be wearing a dobok.

Ethics, Rules, and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church isn't 'lax,' or 'permissive.' If my personality and background were different, I could have a beer much more often than I do. But as a practicing Catholic, I'm not allowed to get drunk, blow the family's savings on a gambling spree, or indulge in any other sort of excess:
"The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2290)

"Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant."
(Catechism, 2413)
If my wife and #3 daughter allowed their interest in Soo Bahk Do to become idolatry, that would be a problem. So would my trying to find a way to pick up where I left off in that martial art, if I made an idol of that effort.

Idolatry, "divinizing what is not God," is against the rules. (Catechism, 2112-2114) There's the obvious sort of idolatry involving formal worship, but folks commit idolatry whenever we honor and revere something other than God, like:
  • Power
  • Pleasure
  • Race
  • Ancestors
  • The state
  • Money
    (Catechism, 2113)
Maintaining a 'perfect' figure, or excelling at sports could be idolatry: and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2289)

Discipline and the Battle for Purity

Soo Bahk Do isn't a sport, by the way. It's a martial art that's about mental and physical discipline. I see that discipline as a connection between Soo Bahk Do and my Catholic faith.

But I do not think that every Catholic should take up Soo Bahk Do, or any other martial art. Any more than I think we should all play Bingo. Or not play Bingo.

But discipline? That's very much a part of being Catholic. Or should be.

We're supposed to:
  • Discipline our feelings and imagination
    (Catechism, 2520)
  • Practice moderation and discipline in our approach to mass media
    (Catechism, 2496)
  • Teach our children with discipline
    (Sirach 30:1-2 and Ephesians 6:4; Catechism, 2223)
    • Which is not the same as beating the kids
  • Follow the disciplines of chastity
    (Catechism, 2349)
    • Chastity isn't what you may think
      (Catechism, 2348-2350)
      • That's several more topics
Then there's the "battle for purity." (Catechism, 2520-2527) I'm about as sure as I can be about anything, that I won't win the "struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires" without discipline; and God's grace. (Catechism, 2520)

And that's - what else? - even more topics.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 The Church has rules about clothing, but it's not "thou shalt wear clothing appropriate to middle-class Americans during the Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, or Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations." Part of the idea is to maintain modesty, but the guidelines recognize that "...forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another...." (Catechism, 2521-2524)


Anonymous said...

Happy to see you linking up with Worth Revisiting Wednesday today!So true that the bible speaks repeatedly about setting limits, boundaries, and prioritizing God in our lives. The problem isn't that we enjoy food, dance, developing a skill etc., but that we can do so in lieu of putting God first.

Brian H. Gill said...

My pleasure, theologyisaverb: and sorry it took so long to respond.

And yes - the trick is keeping priorities straight.

Thank you for taking time to comment.

Allison Gingras said...

Thanks for linking this great post - I am HORRIBLE at keeping my priorities straight, and appreciated the reminder! We hope you will continue to link up on Wednesdays!! I enjoy your blog posts!

Brian H. Gill said...

The Wednesday links are in a 'tickler file,' so there's a good chance I'll keep remembering.

Priorities? You and me both. :)

And thank you for the good words, Reconciled To You.

Vagner said...

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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.