When it comes to home improvement, there have always been do-it-yourselfers (DIYers). And if you’re like me, that means it takes three times as long to complete the project than you expected, three to four more trips to the hardware or big box store than you planned, and a project or two that doesn’t quite get completed. Just as there are DIYers in home improvement, there are DIY Catholics. They come in a variety of flavors. There are those who make up whatever they want to believe, ala cafeteria-Catholic style; or, taken to an extreme, they start their own schismatic group if things are too orthodox or too liberal for them. On the positive side, one Jesuit advocates for a DIY Church where the laity steps up to the plate to do more of the work in the Church and not leave it up to the priests or religious anymore. This is a necessity and exactly what Benedict XVI has called for: “They [the laity] must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’, for the Church’s being and action….” A strong challenge, to be sure!
I want to introduce another Catholic DIY flavor, the faithful DIYer. These would be the faithful souls who actually assent to the Church’s teachings on matters of faith and morals and are concerned about living out the faith in their actions. Obviously not every faithful Catholic is a DIYer. But the DIYers are defined by their attempt to live their faith on their own steam. In its simplest form, faithful DIY Catholics are working for love, not working from love. They feel as if they must do things to be loved. They become “human doings,” not human beings. They feel acceptable only if they do the right thing. They are often unaware of how they are living in terror of being rejected and abandoned by a significant person, or by God himself, if they make some stupid mistake! They love so that they can be loved. Soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II says, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” Redeemer of Man, 10. So we need to be loved, or life doesn’t make sense! Experientially, the DIYers feel as if they have to run in front of a freight train all the time to keep from getting run over. They are constantly “trying,” and they are usually exhausted, which is when they call me. I know about faithful DIY Catholics because this is the spiritual malaise that a majority of my clients experience.
The Source: Calvin, Luther, and Scatology?
What is the source of this fear and dread? Of course there is the fall, or original sin. But I think the Catholic DIYer has taken the Calvinist notion of total depravity (that there is nothing good in us) to a new extreme. In Luther’s anthropology (what it means to be human), he developed what I would call the scatology (the study of feces) of the human person (not to be confused with eschatology—the study of the end times). To not put too fine of a point on it, he saw humans as crap—as once good, but like food full of nutrients (pre-fall) that has gone through the stomach and bowels with nothing good left in it coming out the other end (post-fall): crap. At least in Luther’s thinking, when Christ forgives us, we turn into snow-covered crap hills. Christ does not see (or presumably, smell) the crap anymore, but we remain essentially…well, you guessed it, CRAP. As I said, Catholic DIYers take Luther and Calvin to the next level—they simply leave off the snow.
Personhood vs. Behavior
Catholic anthropology would not have any of this. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and this is not destroyed by the fall. Marred? Yes. Destroyed? No. While I have never read this in any theology book, I might say that we are essentially good, just covered in crap from the fall and from our personal sin. The good news is that the crap can be washed off! So we have an inherent dignity, or even a lovability, that never goes away. If my clients get this, then they are properly “anthropologized,” as Dr. Greg says.
So, sound Catholic anthropology would say our dignity is based not on our behavior, but on our being or personhood. I often illustrate this with one of my more recent favorite stories of the New Testament, the Prodigal Son. You remember the story: “Dad, could you play dead for me and give me my inheritance?” Then the son spends it all on lewd and sinful things and wakes up in a pig pen fighting the pigs for food. At this point he decides to go home to be a servant of his father where he can at least eat better. His father does a number of things to welcome him, including the big party which really ticks off the brother, who pouts and won’t participate. If you were a father whose sons were acting like this, do you think you would respond as he did? Probably not! Typical responses would include a well placed boot in the behind. But if the Father’s focus were on behavior, these boys would have been dead meat—where are the consequences to teach them a lesson??
So why does the Prodigal Son’s father respond as he does? Is he a naïve, clueless kind of father? I don’t think so. I think he sees past the behavior to the dignity of the human person—he still sees the goodness of both his sons. I usually ask my clients, “Were you worse than the Prodigal Son?” Typically they respond, “Oh no, not like that!” And this is where they usually have their initial doubts about their unlovability, which starts to go down the drain…or the toilet, if you want to continue the other analogy.
Parents: Another Source of DIYism
Parents are another source of this working-for-love idea. We are all fallen, and we can only give what we have received. We are social creatures, and the field of interpersonal neurobiology suggests that our brains develop only in relationship. We download what our parents teach us implicitly or explicitly. And not all of it is bad; otherwise you would probably not be here. Kids who are rejected or loved based only on their behavior end up knowing they have to work for their love.
STAY TUNED FOR PART II The Antidote for DIY Catholics—COMING SOON!
Dave McClow is a clinical pastoral counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. Learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services for couples, families, & individuals by visiting our website or calling 740-266-6461 to make an appointment.