“I dare say that when I get out of this bed I shall do some deed of an almost terrible virtue.” – GKC
There’s a simple way to look at a Catholic. It’s to take the rosaries, the scapulars, the devotions to obscure Saints, the novenas, the ashes, the fasting and the abstinence; to see all these practices and say, “Legalism. These poor/stupid people are bound to medieval practices. They are not free.” It is this view that causes our Fundamentalist brothers and sisters to inform us that we Catholics believe we can ONLY reach God through a priest, that we are not free to “find God” on our own. (Thanks guys, I was horribly ignorant until you corrected me). It is this same view that allows our secular brothers and sisters to inform us that we are oppressed, suppressed, repressed and all the rest, that we are not free to live as we truly, deep down in our loins, want.
But the truth is better. It is because we are free that we pick up our rosaries, it is because we are free that we put on our scapulars or fast during Lent. That’s the beauty of the Church; we know that Christ saves us, we know that he meets us in the Sacraments, and every devotion after that – every Catholic practice – is simply a gift we may use or not use. We wear scapulars because we don’t have to wear scapulars. We pray our novenas because we are free not to. Being a Catholic is a little like this; you wake up in the morning and say: “I feel like walking barefoot to the nearest shrine in reparation for the sins of mankind. Well, why the hell not? God loves me.” Or singing a Latin chant of thanks before lighting a cigar, or pouring a beer, or jumping into a large body of water. Because why on earth not? God died for us, gave us every good gift, so why not react to those facts, in whatever way we please? We are free to burst into song. We are equally free to burst into silence. We are free to ditch our suburban lives and go be a hermit, or leave hermitage to live in Suburbia, because, again, why not?
It’s the freedom found in Augustine’s words, to “love God, and do what you want.” Because we are grounded in the love of God, the entire world opens up to us. If God loves us, why do we care what society thinks of us? If God loves us, why do we care whether we’re making money? If God loves us, why not get a massive tattoo of Aragorn on my back, because frankly, nothing is going to change that one fact. The Catholic fully living Catholicism had utterly no obligations to the world, to its social norms and niceties, or to its odd insistence that we don’t sing in public.
Because I know God loves me, I can freely do what I want, within that truth. And so I pity – not the Catholic covered in the medals of his patron saints – but those who do not believe that God loves them. Because when this isn’t the central fact of existence, something else must take it’s place. The Catholic knows that God loves him, and is free to do whatever he wants. The atheist denies that God loves him and must do whatever he wants. Do you understand the difference?
What joy is there in saying, “I have a great life. I drink, eat, smoke weed, watch porn, and make money,” if you cannot – with equal joy – say that you don’t? I’d give our atheists and agnostics and post-Christians a lot more credibility if I knew they woke up in the morning and said, “I think, for no other reason then that I can, that I will not eat today,”or “I think, because I know that there is no God, that I will not smoke weed.” That’s freedom. Everything else is a commitment, a bondage to a thing, and let me tell you, a commitment to money or sex or status is a poor, poor substitute for an assurance in the Father’s love.
But Catholics beware. If you are wearing your mantillas because you believe you have to, or wearing your scapulars because you must, then take a step back. God loves us. The devotions he provides are gifts, signs of his love, conveyors of his grace, but they are there for us to freely choose. If you are panicking because you forgot a day in your novena, or missed your daily Rosary, you may very well be missing the point of the novena, and the point of the Rosary. If you think that your salvation is in jeopardy because you stopped your devotion to St. Therese or saying the Angelus, then again; take a step back. The best advice I’ve had in a long time is also the most offensive, so I apologize, but: “God’s not a douchebag, and Mary’s not a bitch.” The Heavens love us. We are free. Life is good.