Thursday, February 14, 2013

But, But, But, But, But...

The fact that it was Ash Wednesday yesterday gave rise to another discussion about religion with a member of my family-- one that I don't see on a daily basis but who was visiting.

A lot of old ground was covered. What if you had a child who turned out to be homosexual? How could you accept them without approving of their choice of life-- how would that feel to them? Isn't it better that sexually active teens should be told to use contraception rather than simply ordered to abstain and end up hiding their activities from you? Why do Christians have to broadcast their faith, as with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday, rather than keeping their religion a private thing? Isn't religion just about living a good, moral life? Can't living a good, moral life be boiled down to kindness and not wanting to hurt people? Do you really believe in heaven? Wouldn't it be better to have no images of God or heaven since they are beyond human comprehension? Isn't it easy for a man to accept Catholic teaching as it affects women? Would human beings turn to religion if they had no frustrations or disappointments in their lives?

I did my best to answer all those questions, and I don't think I did too badly, but I always come away from such conversations with a sense of disappointment in my own responses. Why do I grope for, and often mangle, Gospel quotations that I have read a hundred times, and I have heard from the ambo so often? Why do arguments that seem so clear in my own mind come out so tortuously when I try to express them?

But the argument that I can't help taking to heart-- when it comes from a member of one's own family-- is the argument that religion is a crutch, or a kind of compensation for the things you lack in your own life. It does embarrass me that my own faith could be seen like that. I know how vain and prideful that response is. But I wish I had explained better that, in my own experience, I have felt the hunger for God most in my happiest and most magical moments, rather than in my darker interludes. In fact, when I have felt most alienated and angry, my bitterness has built a wall between me and God.

Perhaps my Lenten exercise could be to read nothing but the Gospels, over and over and over, so I no longer find myself straining for an allusion.


  1. Not easy, M; I'm sure you did fine. The most important thing in such discussions is to show the strength of your own faith ... the people asking those questions. even family members, aren't really looking for you,or anyone, to convince them they are wrong ... you own unwavering faith has a better chance of doing that over time than any answer you could give.

    O, by the way, fellow letter writer to the IT - I have one in today on the subject of the new pope!

  2. I saw it earlier and very much approved! Surely it is the central and crucial point.

    I don't know if you know Father Robert Barron, who has a Youtube apologetics ministry. But he put it very well in his video on the resignation. He said the purpose of Vatican II was not to modernize the Church but to Christify the modern world.

  3. I also wrote a letter to the IT on the same subject but it hasn't been printed.

  4. I do know of Fr Barron & think his videos are excellent (am still waiting for someone to send me the box set of Catholisism as a pressie!). I haven't seen the youtube clip you mention, but I'll look it up; thanks for the tip.

    thanks also for what you had to say about my letter ... as you say, the central point. It would be nice if people actually took heed of that & spared us all the endless nonsense that we're hearing on this subject; like that would ever happen!

    They might print your letter yet; sometimes they 'hold' them for a week or ten days. I suspect not on this topic ... they are no doubt flooded with them! Stick it on the blog though; that's what I do with mine; double dipping if they publish it ... & waste not, want not if they don't!


  5. I wouldn't feel disappointed Maolsheachlann. I understand what you mean and respond in the same awkward way because I communicate better in writing than speech. It's the way God formed some of us. The only way I manage to get my point across is by telling them a story, connecting the dots by firing their imagination and not making myself the core of the story. I don't really feel my own belief in God merits the attention and I'm not a good example for anyone to follow.

    I remember an old boyfriend complaining that I couldn't see the wood for the trees, sometimes I don't even seem to spot the trees. My sister retorted that it's because I'm on the hill overlooking the forest to beyond and it's hard for people stuck in the forest to understand or appreciate the value of that perspective. I liked her analogy because it captures what others have hinted at too.

    Prayers offered for your current tough time and I'm glad your dad passed his tests with flying colours. :-)

  6. Thanks for that. I appreciate it.

    What kind of story do you tell them? I appreciate your point about not making yourself the core of your story. I realize that I use the first person singular a lot, especially in this blog, and I am always shy that this might seem egocentric. My only real defence is that I'm no good at writing more impersonally (believe me, I've tried). And the kind of writing I like to read myself is personal and draws heavily on first-hand experience and introspection-- my three favourite books are Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, and The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens, all three of them very personal spiritual memoirs.

    Your perspective sounds very mystical which is good! And yet you also seem to be very practically-minded, I must say.

  7. I am the ditzyiest old bat you'd ever have the misfortune to meet! It takes a lot of concentration to get my mind out of the next world or spotting connections to it and messy reality to concentrate on the reality in front of my face in purely practical worldly terms. So I seem as daft as a brush most of the time.

    I beg your pardon, I didn't mean to imply that I make connections through writing but in speech rather. You see, when people ask you questions they're concentrating on you as a person. So when you discuss your faith they're concentrating on you and what they admire and dislike about you as they listen. In real life, not written form. When you have little to do with religion really, you're only a star in the sky watching the sun.

    To those question I would have responded with Church teaching and Natural Law re a gay child, cite the horror of the UK and Russia re teenagers having sex and dragged in PP and its Malthusian roots where even now they're targeting black and Hispanic neighbourhoods. There's a chance to paint a big picture right there. Why do you have to broadcast your salary stood there with your Karen Millen bag and have you stopped any Sikhs recently, and why do you feel anything about it anyway, why do you care? No, religion is giving God his due and remembering somebody who loved us dying for us, will she be at the 2016 celebrations in the GPO by the way? Did she think nurses waste their time when they do the Last Offices on a loved one who has died? There's no clinical reason for it but it's done because it's a way to honour that person for the family, ditto for religion. If she doesn't acknowledge Jesus died for her fine, but we do so that's why we do this. Pictures - what's her issue with public displays of faith? There's a conscience being pricked there. Men - see that's why I object to women on the altar, there's so much more we could be doing in terms of teaching the faith to others, not in terms of feelings but in terms of reason and historical fact. Women communicating how liberated we are as Catholics stops people in their tracks. Troubles and strife - that's the parable of the seed. I've seen men who converted with apparently deep faith skip away when faced with faith and trouble, a strong faith of will and reason and faith sticks around through good and bad, because that's what love is. Is she married? Does she have a family? Would she walk away if there was trouble at home? Love sticks around when it's good and awful, and actually in the good times God is very close. Sure didn't He walk with Adam and Eve in the garden?

  8. It may be best for you to relate in terms of personal faith though because young men are not the usual suspects at Mass. Women speak in terms of emotional satisfaction a lot when it comes to religion so a man speaking like that may give it some welly. Having said that a lot of Irish Catholics need a good dose of reality anyway. Go Socratic with people like that and try to tease out what they actually understand. All those questions though, God has clearly given her the gift of faith.

    I don't really know how to get across the big picture, maybe that comes with time and prayer and contemplation? I know reading St. Faustina's Diaries sparked it off for me years ago, although I was lucky as a child too. But you have to get closer to God before you can get to that picture painting, at least for me. Even the other day I finished reading The Lord of the World which is prescient and I'm no armageddon watcher. Maybe you should start reading old Catholic novelists, they usually see the world in the reality of faith and that might shed some light for you. Read world-watching stuff too, like Lifesite and try to see the patterns. And pray pray pray. You have to find your own road to Jesus though, make your own relationship, find your own saints to help you. It has to go from reason to feelings to will and back through again now, because when the going gets tough, in spite of Him withdrawing when things don't go your way you'll have to rely on your will. When that happens then you'll see the bigger picture. I don't know if that makes sense or answers your question, it's such a huge topic and I've been eating fish and chips while writing this so I've kept on losing my line of thought.

    I will say this, the sign of a good teacher is, as you know, their ability to teach the simple part of their subject as well as the advanced stages. To be able to communicate the little stuff you have to be intimate with your topic, in this case God. Not religion, not Catholicism but The Holy Trinity themselves. Only you know where to start there.

  9. Those are all good recommendations, thank you. I will bear them in mind.

    This particular lady does believe in God, she said, but she seems to differentiate between God and religion.

    You make a good point about the Karen Millen bag. The truth is anything that anybody is white-hot about, we inevitably want to communicate and pass on to others.

    To be honest, although I think we SHOULD be equipped and knowledgeable, I increasingly think that simply proclaiming our belief in Christ is the most important thing and the most persuasive thing, not the barrage of arguments that we make.

    I hope you enjoyed your fish and chips.


  10. Indeed. But you have to be ready to barrage them back with good arguments to make them lose their balance first. Start and end with your simple belief but when somebody Irish thinks you're thick using the Church as a crutch and confronts you with it you have to drop the nice-guy act and show them the reasons for your faith and how it fits in with the world we live in. They've been through the same RE curriculum we've been through, remember. Otherwise they will think you're a dopey brainwashed believer who bases your faith on feelings. Knock that stereotype on that head when challenged. That in itself is a powerful witness and garners respect, they may disagree but they no longer think all Papists are ignorant.