If I had but one sermon to preach it would be this: The ripples are not the rock, the rock is not the ripple, and it is the confusion of the two that damages the Church.
A current trend amongst Catholic leaders, priests and ministers is to look at the Holy Mass and ask, “How can we get the world to come? Ah, well, we could bring the most beautiful art into our churches, we could bring the music people like into the Mass, we could orientate it towards families, we could have a later Mass so more people can attend,” etc. etc. And though these things are not all bad, they miss the point. They mistake the rock for ripples. The Mass is unspeakably gorgeous, our life and our salvation, but even more importantly, it is The Thing Itself.
What do I mean? Well, if the Mass is what we say it is — the wedding feast of heaven and Earth, the moment where God humbles himself into the physical, the veil is torn and we are consumed by the Creator Himself — then our previous questions are stupid. The question should be: “How do we get The Liturgy into our art? How do we get The Holy Mass into our music? How do our marriages reflect the wedding feast of heaven and earth? How do our families reflect the family of the Church?” The Mass is the rock, not the ripples spreading out from it. The Mass is the Thing Itself; all else should be reaction to and from it.
The pride of a Catholic — that stupid, dreamy grin that slips onto our faces whenever we start talking about transubstantiation or apostolic succession – it doesn’t come from the mere thought that “these things are awesome!” We know they’re awesome. Of course they are. But if our hearts and our minds stopped there, all we would have is the smugness of a child who has a brighter, better toy.
No, the pride of the Catholic comes from the fact that these things are the rocks dropped into the water, from the fact that the Catholic faith is not something that can be put on the scale of the world, labeled somewhere as a religious, artistic or political force, and measured against various other religions, powers, philosophies and movements. No, the Holy Roman Catholic Church is the damn scale. She is the cumbersome and ancient ruler which all things are measured against.
Thus when we look at Catholic Social Teaching, there should be no conundrum over whether it is too liberal or too conservative. No, liberalism and conservatism are far too unlike Catholic Social Teaching, ripples far from the rock. Or when we take the music of the Church, the Gregorian form; the question isn’t what genre it belongs in, the question is how do all other genres depart or conform to it?
These truths I hold not to be self-evident — and they are all the truer for the fact:
The Cross is not an event that took place at one time, in one place. The cross is a spear plunged by God into the void, and the world swells and exists around it.
The life of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the Immaculate Conception – was not merely a remarkable life compared to the human beings around her. The life of Our Lady was the life humanity was made for. Her life is how our lives should (and will) be: The Thing Itself.
The Sacraments of the Church — Communion, Confession and the like — these are not supplements to life, as one might be supplemented by drugs, literature, friendship, and romance. No, the Sacraments are the Thing that all supplements imitate – from heroin to meditation, adventure to friendship. The Sacraments are 7 rocks flung with violence into the muddy water of things-that-make-life-worth-living. All else is ripple.
The Eucharist is not simply a beautiful addition to life. It is not merely a glorious, loving thing. Rather, it is glory. It is beauty. It is love. In the words of J.R.R Tolkien:
“There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”
So there you have it. I understand the need to quietly love one’s religion, and to avoid smug Pride in its proclamation, I really do. But the fact of the matter is that one can have no more Pride in pointing out the awesomeness of Catholicism than in pointing out the blueness of the sky. Catholicism isn’t great. Catholicism is. She is the rock and all else the ripple; that is all there is to know, and all you need know, for everything else will orientate itself around that shocking, piercing point.