Realer Than Real

I never really did understand the following complaint made against Catholicism: that it all could be a lie, a clever trick, a joke no one knows who started, with a punchline that never comes. (Have you ever come across the rather interesting atheistic argument in this vein; that maybe the Evangelists just wrote the Gospels for kicks?) No, there’s no part of our stodgy old religion that seems particularly deceptive, what with a million books explaining every minute detail and children’s catechisms. But I do believe that a real complaint might be made that much of our religion seems far too real.

Take for instance, our previous discussion on Suffering. We talked about a basic human truth, that we can take a moment of suffering and make it into something beautiful; write a song, a novel or make some masterpiece, something that helps others deal with their own pain. Easy, right? No reason to bring that God fellow into it. But then, nagging against our hearts comes an eternal voice, saying, “I suffered infinitely, and made it into something infinitely beautiful; your salvation. From my suffering I produced a song, a roar that will erase all pain, dry all tears and repair the entire world.” And then, hearing His voice, we are lead to consider: are our songs not plagiarism? Are our words of comfort anything more than imitation? Is the idea that we can bring good out of suffering our own, or does it come from an Example? The Christian teaching of the Crucifixion, it seems, is realer than our realities.

Or art. It seeks to reveal spiritual or emotional truth. It uses the material – the paint, the photograph or the words – to articulate something, anything. Sorrow, joy, existential crisis, suppressed homosexual desires; you name it, art is articulating it. Again, seemingly self-contained, it is a wonderful reality that an atheist, agnostic or materialist could take part in without guilt. But again the eternal voice sounds, this time booming out from the tabernacle in our Church, “I am the material and the spiritual. I am God and I am bread. I am the ultimate articulation, articulation to an infinite degree; for I am what I articulate. I am the only metaphor in the universe that isn’t a lie.” See how crazy it sounds: The Eucharist is a photograph that IS what the photo was taken of. When this is taken into account as true, all of our art seems to be no more than ripples, ripples spreading away from Holy Communion. It begins to seem that the Eucharist is the real thing, and all else; dim mirrors. So again, we have Catholicism holding truths that seem a little, well, realer than real.

And Catholics, is that not something of the sweet anguish we go through in Eucharistic Adoration, in worship? That it is all “too much”? But how could anything be too much unless it were greater than great, more than what we want, realer than real?

I understand if I’m making no sense here. Trying to convey this idea is like trying to sink a beach ball.

But I believe that this is part of what it means to be truly Catholic. So often we look at our religion upside-down and backwards. We say, “the Mass was comforting”, “the service was elevating”. We talk in hushed tones about the beauty of our faith, the wonder its mysteries creates in us. Blasphemy, I say! That sort of talk makes the wonder the thing, and the mystery the catalyst. It makes the comfort the object and the Mass the method. What we need to realize, in a rather bold move, is that the Mass, the Eucharist, the Creation of the World, the Resurrection, forgiveness, salvation, all these truths are what happened, they are the Reality, and everything that follows is either an imitation or a reaction.  

Think about it.

What if our myths, our superheroes, our accomplishments, our relationships with our fathers, our mothers and our siblings, our romances, our art, our building and tearing down, our suffering…what if all this was the reflection, the metaphor? What if all these realities simply pointed to The Reality? And is that not what it means, to live for Christ? To realize that there can be no pride when all things are but mirrors to His light?

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