Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fasting, Penance: and Infinite Depths of Joy

I follow the Man:
  • Who said
    • "...take courage, I have conquered the world."
      (John 16:33)
    • "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM."
      (John 8:58)
    • And made it stick
  • Who was killed
  • Who gave his followers orders
    • Which we are still carrying out
      • Two millennia later
I hope for an unending life of joy and peace with my Lord. Following Jesus isn't always fun: but even now there's an echo of the "glorious joy" that, God willing, is ahead.

Despondency isn't a Virtue?

I've heard "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" sung as if it's a funeral dirge; and met folks whose theme seems to be "oh woe, all ye faithful."

There seems to be a confusion of despondency with virtue in some American subcultures. I think it's partly connected with this country's cultural history. Some of the folks who set the spiritual tone for America managed to present Christianity as a rather grim affair:
"Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."
H. L. Mencken, The Quotations Page
Long before Mencken, Puritans, and the Mayflower, some folks got the idea that tangible, physical, things are evil. The idea caught on, and has been repackaged quite a few times over the centuries. Millennia, actually.

Knowing Stuff; Being 'Spiritual;' and Icky, Sticky, Physical Things

I can see an appeal to believing that knowing stuff, and being really 'spiritual,' is good - not like icky, sticky, physical things. I like knowing stuff, and learning more.

But believing that what can be seen, touched, tasted, are bad because they're physical? That would force me to assume that God is a klutz, and doesn't know good from bad:
"Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.

"God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness."
(Genesis 1:3-4)

"God called the dry land 'the earth,' and the basin of the water he called 'the sea.' God saw how good it was. "
(Genesis 1:10)
I think the idea that there are two eternal, balanced, equally-matched, principles locked in an unending struggle between Good and Evil, could make a really good story. But I don't think it's true.

More to the point, the Church says that's not how it works.
"...Still others have affirmed the existence of two eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, locked in permanent conflict (Dualism, Manichaeism). According to some of these conceptions, the world (at least the physical world) is evil, the product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind (Gnosticism)...."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285)

"The truth about creation is so important for all of human life that God in his tenderness wanted to reveal to his People everything that is salutary to know on the subject. Beyond the natural knowledge that every man can have of the Creator,124 God progressively revealed to Israel the mystery of creation. He who chose the patriarchs, who brought Israel out of Egypt, and who by choosing Israel created and formed it, this same God reveals himself as the One to whom belong all the peoples of the earth, and the whole earth itself; he is the One who alone 'made heaven and earth.' 125"
(Catechism, 287)

Genesis and Getting a Grip

America's cultural assumptions about Genesis, the Bible, science, and psychiatric disorders being what they are, I'd better explain that I'm a practicing Catholic.

I don't have to hate science, or believe that the Bible was written by Americans: Or by folks who were as poetically-challenged and literalistic as some of my fellow-citizens.

I take the Bible, Sacred Scripture, very seriously. But I don't refer to the Bible when trouble-shooting my computer, and it's not a science textbook:

Emotions, Faith, and Something Indescribable

Fasting, Confession, penance, and other serious matters, are part of being a Catholic. So is joy. I don't mean a sort of Giggle Gospel, encouraging folks to 'get high on Jesus.'

Not that emotions are bad: but I can't and won't rely on a 'feel-good faith,' and that's another topic. (March 3, 2009)

"Joy" can be a noun or a verb:
  • Noun
    • The emotion of great happiness
    • Something or someone that provides a source of happiness
  • Verb
    • Feel happiness or joy
    • Make glad or happy
    (Princeton's WordNet)
"Joy" is "the emotion of great happiness:" so if I stop feeling "great happiness," I've lost my faith? No, I really don't think so. I've posted about the "dark night of the soul" before. (April 22, 2010)

If this "joy" thing that Christians are supposed to experience isn't just an emotional buzz, how would I describe it? Part of the answer is in the first chapter of Peter:
"Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

"as you attain the goal of (your) faith, the salvation of your souls."
(Peter 1:8-9)
Knowing that it's "an indescribable and glorious joy" doesn't give me the sort of definite answer I might want: but I've gotten used to the idea that God's God, and I'm not. I don't expect to have all the answers. Not now, anyway.

Joy and Jesus

I converted to Catholicism because it made sense: but there's more to it than that.

I've followed Jesus for as long as I can remember. After I found out who held the authority that my Lord gave Peter, I only had one viable option. (Matthew 16:13-19, John 6:68)

For two millennia, the Catholic Church has been telling folks about Jesus:
"The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him. From the beginning, the first disciples burned with the desire to proclaim Christ: 'We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.'11 And they invite people of every era to enter into the joy of their communion with Christ:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.12"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 425)

What About All Those Rules?

There's something to the stereotype that the Catholic Church has lots of rules. The Vatican's "Secret Archives," a sort of office library for the Holy See, has about 85 kilometers of shelving now.

The basic principles are simple: Love God, love your neighbor; everybody's your neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:25-27, 29-37; and Catechism of the Catholic Church 1822, 1825)

I think the proliferation of rules and explanations is partly the result of two millennia of folks trying to weasel out of the basic principles, simply stated. (September 26, 2011)

There's an attractive notion that all a person has to do is 'really believe' in Jesus. Yes, belief is important. But so is doing something about it. (James 2:18-20) I never could see the point in believing something: and not acting as if that belief mattered.

This gets me to morality - which sounds an awful lot like what those grim 'oh woe, all ye faithful' folks are so grimly sanctimonious about.

Like I've said before, "morality" isn't just about "morality." Ethical behavior includes what we do about our sexuality: but there's a lot more to being human than sex.

Where was I? Joy, Jesus, rules: right.

"Sing for Joy to the Living God"

By cherry picking in the Catechism, and elsewhere, I could find 'proof' that the Catholic Church only accepts perfect people. We're supposed to work at perfection: but it's a goal, not an entrance requirement.

There's a sort of 'payoff' to being perfect, apparently:
"Moral perfection consists in man's being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, as in the words of the psalm: 'My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.' 46"
(Catechism, 1770)
Somehow, I don't think I'll find out what that sort of "moral perfection" feels like this week. Or this month, or year - but it's still a good goal.

Meanwhile, I can work at developing virtues: human and otherwise.
"Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.

"The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love."
(Catechism, 1804)
The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. (Catechism, 1812-1829)

Joy: Short-Term and Long-Term

My long-term goal is the joy of Heaven. In the short term, I realize that there's no guarantee that I'll have a worry-free life. I follow Jesus: and my Lord went through some rough terrain:
"1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us 2 and persevere in running the race that lies before us

"while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God."
(Hebrews 12:1-2)
I'd just as soon not be tortured and executed for my faith: and don't think it's likely that I will face that.

God, Rain, and Me

On the other hand, I don't expect following Jesus to result in fame, fortune, and a rollicking good time. Although my life has been pretty good.

I've been blessed with good parents, and a mind that's thirsty for knowledge. My wife stood by me through some very rough times. Four of our six children survived birth, and are as wonderfully varied a new generation as I could have hoped for.

Some of what I've experienced isn't obviously good news. I've:
  • Been used as a sort of lab rat
    • Without my parents' knowledge
  • Lived for decades with
    • Undiagnosed
      • Major depression
      • ADHD-inattentive or
        • Asperger syndrome
        • Something else
    • Pain in my hip joints
      • Until getting them swapped out
        • In my '50s
  • Lost a dear friend to suicide
  • Lost two of six children
    • Nearly lost my wife when the second died
I think God's given me lots of opportunities to practice patience and other virtues. Which is just as well, since I'm not a very patient man. Actually, I need improvement in all the virtues.

As nearly as I can tell, God loves all of us. He showers blessings on everyone, pouring sunshine and rain "on the just and the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)

Joy: "At the Heart of the Christian Experience"

Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI discussed joy, and reasons for rejoicing:
"...Joy is at the heart of Christian experience. At each World Youth Day we experience immense joy, the joy of communion, the joy of being Christian, the joy of faith. This is one of the marks of these gatherings. We can see the great attraction that joy exercises. In a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith...."

"...A yearning for joy lurks within the heart of every man and woman. Far more than immediate and fleeting feelings of satisfaction, our hearts seek a perfect, full and lasting joy capable of giving 'flavour' to our existence...."
("Message for the 27th World Youth Day," Pope Benedict XVI (March 15, 2012))
There's quite a bit more: I strongly recommend following that link and reading the rest.

Jesus, Joy, and Standing Orders

Here's why my Lord endured torture and death:
"1 2 When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, 'Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
"But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.

"I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.
"Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.

"As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.
"I made known to them your name and I will make it known, 8 that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.' "
(John 17:1, 13-14, 17-18, 26)
Later, after Jesus stopped being dead, my Lord gave His disciples the standing orders that we're still carrying out:
"11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

"Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

"teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.' "
(Matthew 28:18-20)

"Infinite Joy"

I've had a few unpleasant experiences: a stubbed toe; the death of a baby; hurting one way when I moved, and another when I didn't.

But I'm convinced that it is all overwhelmed, lost in an infinite ocean of joy: if I keep my wits about me, remember to look at the 'big picture,' and accept the love of God.

One more excerpt, and I'm done:
"...Whatever brings us true joy, whether the small joys of each day or the greatest joys in life, has its source in God, even if this does not seem immediately obvious. This is because God is a communion of eternal love, he is infinite joy that does not remain closed in on itself, but expands to embrace all whom God loves and who love him...."
("Message for the 27th World Youth Day," Pope Benedict XVI (March 15, 2012))
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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.