So the other day I’m at Mass and doing my thinkpray stumblebum through the liturgy.
As has been my custom for some time now, I dragged my big heavy pile of sins, frustration, anger, faults and complaint to God. Some of that anger I direct at me, primarily about the sin of Anger. Ironic, no? A lot of it has been anger at other people. No news to you guys, of course. Most of what I have to say to God is the same stuff I say here, to the deep weariness of many of even my most patient friends, not to mention people who can’t stand me, of which there are more each day, I suppose.
As I have said, on previous occasions, my heart has been broken by the spectacle of a conservative Catholic subculture to which I once belonged that brags constantly of its superior fidelity even as it detests the Holy Father and most of the social teaching of the Church while defending every Right Wing Culture of Death priority of postmodern Trumpian “conservatism”. And the anger has been mostly fruitless, I think. Leading to more Anger. It’s like a Ponzi scheme from Hell.
At Mass something jelled, thanks to the Holy Spirit and I am trying to figure out how to obey Him about it.
I am amazingly slow to figure things out and even more amazingly reluctant to obey God once I do. For example, this piece I am writing right now is written in response to what I take to be a “still small voice” prompting by the Holy Spirit after that Mass on Sunday. Why am I only getting to it now? I really can’t say except that it’s not uncommon. Something in me hangs back, delays, hesitates, finds other things to do, and complicates life by doing stuff I was not asked to do or, worse, that I know I should not do. As Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Ro 7:15).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. So anyway, I was at Mass thinking about a number of things.
- I was shown some months back a truth that, Cassandra-like, I cannot get most people to see: namely, that the paradox of the average “prolife” Christian who says that “abortion should be our focus, not lesser matters” is that lesser matters are almost entirely the actual focus. While all the talk is about stopping abortion, most of the action is about defending everything the Party of Trump wants to do in making open war on virtually all of the Church’s social teaching. That’s why I watched for years while Real Catholics[TM] argued to defend, not the unborn, but unjust war, torture, the NRA, capital punishment, rejection of health care as a right, denial of a living wage, and everything else the Church teaches that conflicts with right wing dogma. That’s where the real time and energy went.
- I was also thinking about how, in a very similar way, the focus of the Trump supporter is not on the “sacrament of the present moment” but on blaming everybody else and on refusing to take responsibility for what is going on right now, today. Every time some outrage is committed, such as arresting disabled people for begging for their lives, or trying to doom Iraqi Catholics to deportation and death at the hand of ISIS, the response of “prolife” Christians is not to live in the present and oppose these obvious evils, but to travel back to 11/8/16 and intone the mantra “but Hillary”. The Party of Personal Responsibility cannot, for the life of them, take responsibility.
- I was also thinking about how my chief success since realizing these things was in becoming (at least online) an angry and frustrated person who, if I were at a party and met me, I would find a way to excuse myself and go talk to somebody who did not make me feel so uncomfortable.
- I was also thinking about something C.S. Lewis notes in his delightful little book The Great Divorce, (the tale of a bus ride from Hell to Heaven and of the various “ghosts” who are brought there with the option to stay if they please. Most do not and their reasons, though varied, always come back to one thing: self will.) Some of them want to tell those in Heaven about Hell but, as Lewis perceptively writes:
This curious wish to describe Hell turned out, however, to be only the mildest form of a desire very common among the Ghosts–the desire to extend Hell, to bring it bodily, if they could, into Heaven.
4. That tyrannous narcissism of Hell got me thinking in turn about (wait for it) me. Or more precisely, my frustration (same difference) and how it, not the gospel, has taken center stage. Ironic, no? Here I am, fretting about how other people only talk about focusing on the gospel and the unborn while actually wasting all their time and energy on things opposed to all that and… well, what am I doing? Spending my time and energy focused on those people and on their great sucking vacuum of narcissism, Donald Trump. My anger has become yet another manifestation of the same thing.
Now I’m as needy as the next person. Yesterday, I was out on a walk and saying the Rosary. I got to the Mystery of the Coronation of Mary, the great climax of the Exaltation of the Humble, and it hit a very sensitive spot for me: something I suspect lies very close the weakest spot in my nature, something that is a kind of blasphemous parody of the Coronation of Mary.
When I do an examination of conscience in light of the Four Big Idols: Money, Pleasure, Power, and Honor, I find that:
- Money (while certainly a worry) is not an obsession. If I have enough for a modest life I’m content and rather lazy about getting more.
- Pleasure, likewise, is not a driving force. No sex addictions or drugs. Food is a problem, but less than it was thanks to the sacrament of Anointing, which is why I could drop 80 lbs.
- Power actually frightens me and I tend to avoid it.
- But Honor. Aye, there’s rub. I have always loved stories of the exaltation of the humble and the vindication of the righteous. I cry when Sam and Frodo are honored after the Destruction of Barad-dur. I am moved deeply when the innocent, after their reputation is besmirched, are exonerated and exalted.
And I find it so easy to put myself in that role: a perfect set up for prideful self-delusion.
I remember a fantasy I used to cherish in high school (particularly in those hours when I felt so outside and alone) that I would someday be given a hero’s welcome back to Everett. I had no fantasy of actually doing anything to deserve it. I just fantasized about the idea that “they” would one day all say, “We were so wrong about him! What an amazing human being!” as I was given a ticker tape parade and feted by the city. It was not a vengeful fantasy. I didn’t want people to crawl before me in shame and beg for forgiveness. I just wanted to finally be vindicated, appreciated–honored.
And, of course, I still do. I want it so much. I always have. And when you do get hurt or rejected, it comes back with a vengeance. It was a desire there before the Register offered me as a human sacrifice to please the Francis-hating Trumpians and events like that have only exacerbated it.
In short, there is, in my soul, a desire that the Tradition urges us to cultivate: the desire to be like Mary and seek from God the words, “Well done, good and faithful.” But like all desires from God, this one can be twisted and distorted and become a sinful desire for some less idol that only looks like God. My desire for honor is often something like a hungry spider. Something that, if I let it, would spend all my time and energy seeking the praise of men, seeking the precious words, “We were so wrong about you. You were so right and such a heroic man!” and hoping it was a sign of the praise of God.
Something, in fact, exactly like Donald Trump’s consuming narcissistic need.
That was a jolt to realize–and to realize that perhaps, in the mercy and Providence of God, I have been consistently denied that gratification. (Though it’s weird too because when I do receive praise from people, I tend to reflexively distrust it and thrust it away. Why that might be is mysterious to me, but it has the happy effect of leaving me perpetually dissatisfied and restless, which I need to be if I am to avoid falling permanently into soul-destroying sin, rather than just hang out in the the outer precincts which are bad enough.)
Anyway, I was thinking about all this during Mass–all this sucking, inhaling, gluttonous neediness for Honor. All this bloated spider hunger to devour. All this demand that the whole world love me . Images like Shelob came to mind. And indeed, devouring has been my go-to way of coping with pain for time out of mind. It’s not gluttony. It’s self-medication.
And then I started thinking about Eucharist. Eating is a divine image too: Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you shall be filled.
The very first sin (and a curiously trivial one in the grand scheme of things) was also entire centered in eating. I was talking to a friend the other day about Augustine and his hyper-focus on something intensely sinister in stealing some pears as a teenager. We were joking that Augustine would wind up in therapy today for being so wracked with guilt over this seemingly trivial moment.
But in his favor, Augustine seems to have intuited something that Genesis 3 also saw, and that millions of children have also experienced: a first contact with a willed choice for evil need not be big in the eyes of the outside world. A stolen apple was all it took for the human race to lose the hope of God, because all that mattered was that moment at which human beings chose Me and What I Want over trust in God. It was the thought that counted.
And so, Christ, in redeeming us, likewise does so through the act of eating. But instead of devouring, he pours himself out. He gives and gives and gives infinitely. From this tiny bit of bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper he goes on to feed a billion people with no hint of it every slowing down. As the universe poured out from a speck the size of a hydrogen atom to fill the whole cosmos, so the Eucharist pours out. And it pours upon the radically undeserving, on the people who reject him, on the coldly indifferent, on the facepalmingly stupid, on the schemers and plotters and whisperers and mockers and distracted and bored.
And we are are supposed to be like that. Pouring out love.
And I’m not like that at all. I’m supposed to feed people. Do I?
Sometimes I think I do. I get feedback from people that something I wrote helped. So that seems good. But I also spend an awful lot of time demanding from the people of God things that I am not certain they can or even should give. Do I want those things for God or so that my heart will not be broken? There is a difference.
Well, at any rate, what it came down to at Mass was that Jesus, on the night he was betrayed did not respond with anger to the betrayal. He knew what was in man and he knew what man–including me–would do to him. And yet still he gave his Father thanks and praise before breaking the bread and giving it to his disciples. And he meant it. Knowing what was coming, he did not let Hell extend itself into his mind and heart and become focused on evil. He gave thanks.
The other day I was talking a walk, full of complaint about the stuff I have been complaining about for what feels like years. And it was… given to me… that I should say the Our Father slowly. The long and the short it was to notice that “give us this day our daily bread” (that is, all petitions” and “deliver us from evil” are not the priority prayers. “Our Father” (which establishes our identity better than all the honors of men) and “Hallowed by thy Name” are far more important.
So I just started repeating the Our Father and, especially, “Hallowed be thy Name”. I started thanking the Father for various gifts (I was in a gorgeous wood on a June day so it wasn’t hard to find things) and, more than that, praising him (which is directed, not at the stuff he gives, but at the One who gives it).
It was transformative. Not completely or finally transformative, of course, but nonetheless a real experience of grace that I could keep pursuing–or not. So I’m trying to walk down that path further.
The hard part is that the world is relentless. You try to get out but it pulls you back, in the words of The Godfather. Moreover, I feel the pressure of conscience. I feel obliged to speak of against the evils so many fellow Catholics defend with silence, excuses, and lies.
But I am increasingly skeptical that the sin of Anger is helping. That doesn’t mean I still don’t commit it. But it does mean that I am still feeling my way–blindly–toward trying to operate from love a little bit more.
Anyway, I thought it fitting to write this here because it concerns my readers, many of whom I have offended and many of whom have offended me. For my part, I wish to extend forgiveness (though I must leave that maddeningly vague since I cannot for the life of me remember the details of every cross word said to me). But most of all, I ask forgiveness–and especially forgiveness for the many, many, *many* times I have not honored other people as I so much desire to be honored. You know who you are.
I cannot, of course, promise “It will never happen again.” Of course it will. We talking some pretty ingrained habits here. So get real. But I am *trying* to change things with God’s help. So your prayers would be appreciated. And yeah, I’ve been to confession about this stuff multiple times and will be again.
We fall down, and we get up. We fall down, and we get up.