HOME THOUGHTS ABROAD, 7
I believe I mentioned in an earlier essay that I’ve been reading Matthew Kelly’s Rediscovering Catholicism. In it, he identified what he considers the three greatest fallacies (read: heresies) of our time—individualism, hedonism, and minimalism. I cannot agree more that these afflict our times in horrible ways.
But when he comes to discuss why Catholicism seems to have lost its power in Western society, I think he has forgotten about one more fallacy/heresy: that of non-transcendentalism. It’s a big word: let me unpack it.
Unfortunately, as a society we believe by and large that “What you see is what you get,” except in the case of ourselves. We are convinced that while there is much more to us than what is initially perceived, still what we see of most others (persons and things) is just what we see and nothing more.
Do words “mean” anything beyond the moment they’re spoken? Is there a reality beyond what we can experience with our senses? Is Hamlet’s observation “There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies” a statement that has any currency today? How much do we believe the saw about “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”?
The spiritual life and the sacraments are all based on the premise that there is something, and something important, beyond/through what we can experience in the here-and-now. The Christian faith proclaims that there is a transformation waiting to occur for us that is analogous to that which occurred when we left our mothers’ wombs and came into this existence, and that this transformation is linked to our being incorporated into the death & resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do we believe this? Do we want to believe this?
Catholics proclaim that water can wash away sins; that verbal confession can result in absolution; that oil can strengthen; that bread and wine can become the most incredible spiritual food ever imagined. But this is fundamentally to accept the possibility of there being an existence that transcends what we experience sensually. Is it possible? Do we believe it? Do we want it??
Transformations take place all the time, and we think nothing of them. Grape juice becomes wine; wheat becomes bread. Cotton and wool and flax become thread for clothing; charcoal under extreme pressure and temperature becomes diamond. But we don’t notice this so much.
How open to transcendence are we? We come up to receive Holy Communion at Mass—what do we think we are doing, really? Are we convinced we are in touch with Jesus Christ, Body/Blood/Soul/Divinity? Or do we think it’s just a wafer, something we come to receive by rote because we think it’s “expected”? Did Jesus really die/rise for us, or is that all just a story? Where are we, really, in our faith-walk?
Are we open to (and longing for) transcendence? Let me offer you the perspective of Les Miserables:
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?