"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The wrath of God is the grace of God

Today's Mass readings were a feast. Listening to them made me meditate once again on the theme that God's love burns: with light for those who love him in return, with pain for those who prefer other gods, which usually means themselves. The same divine action that is healing mercy for the humble and repentant is searing justice for the proud and self-righteous. The wrath of God is just the flip side of his grace, blowing away our houses of cards and calling us to rebuild our lives on the firm foundations of his truth in love. I have experienced both in my own person, and no doubt will continue to do so.

Alas, the homily given today at my parish by the deacon would have us think not of that. In keeping with his basketball metaphor, he called on us to celebrate God's redeeming love for us much as we would celebrate the undeserved victory of our team in a tournament. There was nothing about our persistent idolatries, nothing about the wrath of God in face of it, which led to the sack of Jerusalem many centuries ago by the Iraqis, and the enslavement in Babylon of the relatively few Jews who survived the destruction. Nothing about the hell we face, here-and-now as well as in eternity, if we do not repent. Nope. Jesus has done for us all that we need; what remains is for us to accept it and bask in it; admittedly that means being nice people, which is hard enough often enough, given what people are like. But why be solemn? Rejoice! God's favorite color, after all, is Carolina blue.

Now I'm sure the deacon's theology, were one to put him to it, is quite orthodox. In our diocese, he probably would not be allowed to function in the clergy if it weren't. But if the hard side of truth is not made clear to the people, then the people will do what they've always done: abide in their comfortable illusions until, for some, it's too late. That's what happened to me in the 1990s, and I'm still doing my penance.

Even more than the ordinarily execrable liturgical music, which is really just a symptom, this is the sort of thing that most bothers me about the overall tenor of contemporary American Catholicism. We don't get, presumably because we don't want, much of anything that would shake us out of our comfort zone. We don't hear that there's something not quite right about driving gas-guzzling luxury SUVs while some of our fellow parishioners get sicker and sicker for want of basic health insurance. We don't hear that Church teaching about birth control is not just an luxury option for organic, NFP enthusiasts; that, in fact, it's not optional at all. We don't hear that, unless we pray often, give up some really good things, and offer up the unavoidable sufferings of daily life as self-mortification, our souls will remain too disordered, too glutted, to become what we are called to be: partakers of the divine nature, filled with the light and love of Christ. This is why Catholic families are shrinking even as Catholics get richer; this is why we don't have enough sisters and priests; this is why, for a generation, so many clerics felt free to permit a sexual-predation zone within their own ranks. In point of fact, most Catholics are virtually indistinguishable from other Americans. And the worst part is that, while we know something is wrong, we rarely think it has much to do with us. It's always "them."

Catholic New Orleans, a sinkhole of iniquity both politically and morally, got a wakeup call that not all its residents deserved. I hope the same doesn't have to happen to the United States of America as a whole.
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