"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Supernatural Temperance in the Mystical Body

Ecclesial consumerism manifests itself more explicitly in certain sorts of doctrines. Health and Wealth is one of them; nobody wants suffering. Assurance is another such doctrine. Recently I participated in a few conversations about Catholic and Protestant conceptions of assurance. The most telling aspect of the conversations was that truth seemed to take second place to desireability. I heard words such as "like," "prefer," "attracted," "couldn't handle" and "frightful." The terms "truth" and "false" disappeared. Switch out the nouns, and I could have been listening to an order being placed at a fast-food 'drive-thru.' To be sure, if "once saved always saved" is the standard of security one has come to expect, then without a developed sense of the difference between mortal and venial sin, the possibility of losing one's salvation is frightening and therefore repugnant. But such a person can recognize that truth must remain his foremost objective, because a theology guaranteeing that salvation cannot be lost, if false, is giving false assurance and endangering his soul. Ecclesial consumerism, however, is not ultimately about conforming to divinely revealed truth, but about "happiness on prescription; isn't that the whole point of getting religion?"

If I were constructing my own personalized religion, I'd make sure it guaranteed health and wealth, prevented all suffering, discomfort, and minor annoyances, as well as granted indubitable assurance of my elect-to-glory status, and ensured that 'Church' would always be "fun" and not "boring." But I would be like an unsupervised child in a candy store, on the short road to diabetes. To become like a child, in relation to an omniscient and perfectly loving Father, means that we receive revelation from Him in trust and humility, not ordering it up as we like it. The difference between those two stances toward God is the difference between heaven and hell; this is precisely why ecclesial consumerism is no trifling matter. Made-to-order religion was the downfall of our first parents as they chose what seemed in their own eyes to be a delightful and desirable means to become truly happy like God. Jude Simpson, in the video above, plays a modern day Eve.

As I wrote elsewhere, ecclesial consumerism "turns things exactly upside-down, creating Church in our image, rather than conforming ourselves to the Church that Christ founded, and in doing so conforming to the image of Christ." We conform to Christ by conforming to His Body, the Church. I'm not speaking of some mere abstraction called "the catholic Church," some invisible mental construct to which anyone in schism can claim to be already united and already conformed. I'm speaking of the Catholic Church, headed by the two hundred and sixty-fifth successor of that one Apostle to whom Christ the God-Man gave the keys of the Kingdom, that is, the Church.

Ecclesial consumerism also lies behind the divisions that now separate Christians into so many schisms. It operates not only on the demand side, but also on the supply side, feeding and enlarging the demand. The ecclesial consumerist is reluctant to acknowledge the logical implications of the myriad conflicting interpretations. These conflicting interpretations entail that a great many persons who claim to speak for God, cannot possibly be speaking for God. That is because God is one, and God cannot contradict Himself. These many persons are the demand side's self-accumulated ear-itchers in the Christian market of ear-itching. He who has ears to hear, let him hear, said Christ. But he who has ears to be itched, has forgotten what ears are for, exchanging the pursuit of truth for the pursuit of its concomitant pleasure. "God-Bearer" is fine, they say, but "Mother of God" gives offense to our ears. Talk of absolute assurance is delightful; talk about mortal sin is repugnant to our ears. And so on.

The unity that Christ wants His followers to have only comes through supernatural humility, through accepting in faith and trust the one divine message as explicated by the divinely authorized teacher, and the one divine life as offered to us by the divinely authorized priest. Mary the Second Eve, demonstrates this humility before God in her submission to divine authority: "be it done unto me according to thy will." She recognized the divine authority of the one whom God had sent to speak on His behalf. In Gethsemane Christ Himself demonstrates for us this humility before His Father. "Not my will but thine be done." As His human will conformed to His divine will, so our will as individuals must conform to the will of His Body, the Church. To take up our cross is to conform to His crucified Body.

For that reason, our pursuit of truth cannot limit itself to true interpretations of Scripture, but must also seek to discover the true Church, i.e. the very Church that Christ founded, and to which belongs the authoritative determination both of the canon and interpretation of Scripture. The same two stances that are the difference between heaven and hell, are manifested in our stance toward His Body, the Church. The same Apostle who learned that to persecute Christ's Body is to persecute Christ (Acts 9:4-5), understood that to give ourselves in service to His Body is to give ourselves in service to Him. St. Paul knew that if we love Christ, we will devote ourselves to building up His Body, the Church.

But how do we build up the Church in unity? Within the soul of the individual, according to Aquinas, the virtue of temperance restrains us from desires and pleasures contrary to reason. Furthermore, in Book IV of the Republic Plato describes the virtue of temperance at the level of society as a kind of harmony grounded in the agreement of each part of the society concerning who is the rightful ruler. Therefore because grace builds on nature, supernatural temperance within the Mystical Body can likewise be described rightly as a kind of harmony grounded in the agreement of each member concerning who has the primacy in magisterial authority. Supernatural temperance in the Body of Christ is the agreement of each member regarding who holds the keys of the Kingdom. In this way, supernatural temperance as a virtue of the Mystical Body restrains her members from the ecclesial desires and delights that are contrary to the divinely guided determinations and counsels of her visible head. Find the primacy in magisterial authority, and we find not only the antidote to ecclesial consumerism, but also the key to ecclesial unity, the principium unitatis (principle of unity). Building up the Church in unity through this supernatural virtue thus requires the pursuit of agreement among all Christians concerning who now holds those keys.

Video H/T: Energetic Processions

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Catholic Reflection on the Meaning of Suffering

If God is all powerful, and truly seeks our good, then why does He allow bad things to happen to us? Why does God allow all the suffering we experience in this life, if He loves us and is all-powerful and all-knowing? What does the Catholic Church say about the meaning of suffering?

We believe in an all-loving, all-power God. Not only does all love come from God, but the Apostle John says that God is Love. And we know that genuine love seeks the good for the beloved. If you love someone, you want that person to have what is truly good for him, what truly and most perfectly makes him happy. But God loves us infinitely more than we love each other. Therefore we know that God wants us to have what is good for us, what truly makes us happy.

But that is just what makes the sufferings of this present life so odd, perplexing, even apparently contradictory. If God is all powerful, and truly seeks our good, then why does He allow all the suffering we experience in this life?

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