Monday, January 01, 2018

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken: The Spark Of Life

One of the reasons why it's not terribly hard to feel joy during a recovery like mine is that you get to spend some time with yourself. You get to imagine what it would be like if you weren't here. There is a great joy in knowing and seeing that you have something utterly unique to bring to the world. There is a goodness in the soul that is Jason Kettinger. I might make all manner of mistakes and sins in the next hour, say, but those aren't the essence of me. 

I don't understand death, really, but because I've had a brush with it, I know that death won't change what makes us, well, us. I didn't have any cause to doubt the Church's teaching about our eternal souls, but I have less reason now. I'm not even sure I can explain how I know. I think I understand why most sinners should be able to say that what makes them sinners isn't intrinsically part of who they are, at least who they are supposed to be. It's simply that my worst day as a moral agent on this Earth has no part in the essence of who I am. We're facing a choice to be increasingly defined by the things we do, good and bad. Welcome to life. But if you could spend one minute or five thinking about how the world would be that much darker if you weren't in it--seriously--life would be different. There are proud people who don't need to be doing that, sure, but then again, that "self" of theirs isn't the real one, anyway.

Who you are and what you are is revealed when you lack the power to pretend to be someone else. If you only had a moment to give yourself to someone else, what would you say? What would you do? We'd like to hope that we've got something to give that isn't from selfishness.

Oddly enough, I feel like saying something about Confession. It's an odd tension, knowing that I did x, y, and z, but that, in a sense, that wasn't my best me. You can only go and receive the benefit of it if you're willing to say in various ways that you acted contrary to who you're supposed to be. And of course that you do not intend to continue acting in those ways. What makes people afraid to go? I don't really know. Pride, I suppose. But unless you believe foolishly that this is the best version of yourself there will ever be, you have reason to partake. There are people who must think they will die if they go. I must admit, I want to laugh at them. I had a funny thought, like, "No, the lady and her car who hit me are not waiting for you." I can remember only one time having a less-pleasant experience, and 1) he's right, and 2) he's a military chaplain. And frankly, I'm a big boy; as long as he says the right words at the right time, he's free to say what he likes. He's the Lord's priest. I'm here for the "I absolve you..." What insanity makes people go decades between these experiences? If you figure it out, let me know.

Let's keep things really simple. Jesus loves you to pieces, way more than you or any of us are ready for. We know that even today hasn't been a banner day reciprocating that love back to Him. Confession is a way to say you're sorry before you die, and it's too late. I defer to the Church that the Eucharist is the greatest sacrament, but Confession is my favorite. If you don't know how to do it, numerous guides are available. Beloved Monsignor Pins (RIP) walked me through my first one, because I froze up. It'll be fine. Just go.

A Word About Ecumenism

I have never believed that it's good to change your mind about big things quickly, or without reason. Even in my Reformed days, I did not leave a church (parish) on a whim, or for a trivial reason. Some people out there seem to think that I suddenly and arbitrarily decided to hate my Reformed heritage, and that I hate and misrepresent it to this day. That's false. The story of becoming Catholic is the story of remaining where I was, knowing what I knew, until the triune God made a way for me to do what he called me to do: seek full communion with the Catholic Church. If you cannot even imagine that the only true God might be calling all people into the Catholic Church, then don't dialogue with real Catholics, because that's what Catholics are supposed to believe. At a minimum, this means that the faith professed by Catholics is the true faith, and that anything distinct from this is in that respect, false. There are gentler, and more open, inviting ways to live this or not, and I try to be as warm and inviting as possible. But bottom line: Any Roman Catholic who doesn't tell you, show you, invite you into the one true Church, as it were, is either misinformed, or lying. I think you need to know this. We don't have "distinctives" as some of you Protestant evangelicals might call them, because we got bored one day, and others are OK, too. We call them "dogmas," and we call the contraries "heresies." Now, I realize that's equal parts impolite, and possibly scary for some of you. But look, this is religion, not a bridge club.

All the innumerable qualifications exist: No, you are not hopelessly damned right now, because you are a Baptist. You could be closer to God than I am, for all I know. But that will be in spite of  something you profess, in some respect. And, to look at it from the other direction, the well-catechized Baptist knows why he's not a Catholic. You can take him at his word, and still think he's incorrect. I don't need to misrepresent him, because if I understand my faith properly, the best presentation of his I can make is still different, and therefore, wrong. Is he mostly right? Well, probably, if most things he says are what all Christians would say. But there is a key point: We don't need to talk about all the parts where we agree; that's actually not the point of ecumenism. The point of ecumenism is to reach agreement together in the totality of the truth. If you as an individual need affirmation, just tell me. I'm happy to do it. But that's not ecumenism.

Now, someone says, "But you're playing with loaded dice. Ecumenism from your seat means everyone must agree with you." Well, the One True Church would be pretty lame if it didn't say that, no? And sure, I am aware that the Orthodox of various kinds also say this, but given their own lack of even nominal unity, that's just bluster, and most know it.

Part of the reason this conviction is so annoying is that most Protestants have a radically different notion of the Church than we do. The universal Church is invisible for them, if not explicitly, then in fact. And it's easy to just assume this is correct, getting mad at the Catholic that he won't join the little model UN project of denominations, right alongside yours. But the visibility of our Church--its hierarchy and unity--is part of the faith we profess. The surest marker of being a Catholic is being in visible union with Pope Francis. If your bishop doesn't answer to Pope Francis, you're not Catholic, or catholic, or any such thing. Now, bishops, priests, on down to your neighbor Phyllis might profess the doctrines of demons. You might be a better "Catholic," so to speak, than any of them. Granted. But if you want to know the truth, ask the Catholic Church.

[No one has a neighbor Phyllis, unless they are 84.--ed.] Could be, could be.

This should be obvious, but a Catholic cannot profess "faith alone" as the Protestant "Reformers" understood it. In fact, it became a slogan precisely to differentiate that profession from what the Catholic Church taught and teaches. For this reason, I don't find it terribly helpful to discuss the "5 Solas," musing on exactly which parts I could affirm. If I could affirm them, I'd be a Protestant.

The Church contended with the leaders of the Protestant Reformation mostly on the definition and function of agape, the Greek word for supernatural love, or charity, in justification; that is, the state of being just before God. On both sides, the discussion can get pretty technical. I don't recommend it for most people. That is, unless you need to know. And you might.

Anyway, please feel more than free to show me, quote me, refer me, to documents that exemplify your profession of faith, if we are in dialogue. I don't like to make mistakes. If I do, tell me, and graciously, if at all possible. It is in fact my goal, however, to show how that position is incorrect. Because those details are actually the reason you aren't Catholic, and I want you to be Catholic.

If you accuse me of misrepresenting you repeatedly without showing me how, I reserve the right to call it whining. If the root of that whining is anger that someone you love is Catholic, or just bewilderment that any sane person would become fully Catholic, I cannot help you. I'd like to, I just can't. I'll readily concede that most passionate Protestants are better Christians than Joe Catholic, but that's not really relevant to the question of truth, ultimately. True ecumenism isn't always sunshine and rainbows, even when we're actively trying not to offend. God bless and keep you always.