Contra Mozilla

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blog Versus: Harmful Slogans--Come As You Are

Just for fun, a little debate on our site. Today's topic is "Annoying Catch Phrases/Damaging Slogans." You can read the post by my co-blogger, the Faithful Skeptic, here.

I've said before that the faith cannot really be reduced to a single slogan, catchphrase, or motto. There are some which certainly come close--"Truth," "Love/God is love," "Discipleship," "The two greatest commandments...(fulfill the Law)"--but these are still rough approximations at best, and generally only capture one facet of our Faith, or of our God. They are true as far as they go, but none can go far enough.

There are others which are arguably true to some extent, though not as far as they go, and yet which some people would make into a slogan for the Church, or even for a ministry (such as evangelization or Catechesis). Some of these do more harm than good, especially in the current culture, with the current zeitgeist. I can think of few (if any) as damaging as the phrase "come as you are" and its flip sides, "Judge not...", "Who am I/are you/are we to judge," and (more to the point) "Don't judge me..."

The thing with these phrases--and I hope it is understood that they collectively work together to form a sort of attitude, even a counterfeit worldview--is not that they are all untrue or mischievous in and of themselves. The deeper problem is that they leave a man where he is: they too often mean "stay as you are," which people are all-too-happy to oblige. "Who am I to judge" often means "What does it matter?", a rhetorical question to which the answer is supposed to be, "Not a whit!"

This phrase and its underlying attitude is both pernicious and ubiquitous, and is used to excuse (though never to forgive) much. I'll give an example of this kind of thinking:
"Every liturgy I ever attended was unworthy of Christ the Lord. I know that every liturgy I ever attend will be unworthy of Him, as well. What I have never seen, not once, was a liturgy that was unworthy of me.... 
I feel sorry for these people who spend all their time gnashing their teeth and getting all lathered up over what they see as the terrible liturgy. They are not only missing their blessing, they are taking their blessing and throwing it back into Jesus’ face. 
I thank God that we have priests who bring us Jesus at every mass, who consent to be conduits of grace. I have no desire to pick at them over how high they lift the chalice, if they allow applause and whether or not they pray the liturgy with the “proper” amount of gravitas.... 
If the mass and the liturgy are good enough for Jesus to be there, if we, with all our imperfections, are good enough for Him to love us and share Himself with us, then what’s our complaint?
There is, of course, some truth to this statement, just as there is to the idea that we should "come as we are." It's true that we will always fall short of perfection, that we cannot even be actually worthy of God, that it is God's grace and not just our own merits which make us into His friends, disciples, brothers, or children. However, just because we cannot do it all, doesn't mean that we should throw up our hands and do none of it. Just because we cannot be perfected, does not mean that we can be better than we are.

The philosopher Peter Kreeft once remarked that as a Father, God is easy to please and hard to satisfy. The meaning of this is that God is pleased with any small token gesture of worship or service or indeed of affection and filial love. However, He is not satisfied until we are full-blown disciples, is not content to let us stop at anything short of agape. This should be reflected in our liturgies, in the literal sense of the Mass and in the trans-literal sense of the work in our everyday lives [1]. We ask for our daily bread in the Lord's Prayer, and by this we mean on the one hand our "Bread," that is, the Eucharist, Christ's Body and Blood and the graces we receive from consuming it [2], and in another sense for the simple graces, the "strength" to go about our daily lives while striving to become saints.

My co-blogger mentions "Fear not" as the slogan which does the most harm, and I must agree that such a phrase is very harmful when used to undermine holy fear. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," as the Bible tells us; but the end of wisdom, the thing towards which it is geared, is to love the things of heaven above those of earth, and above all to love the Lord our God [3]. One way which we show this love is in our reverent liturgy; another is in our daily lives.

Our Lord tells us that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). His beloved disciple further says that "If any one says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). It is true, therefore, that one part of showing love is merely to be inviting, that is, to invite a stranger to come to Mass with us, to "Come as you are." But that is not the end of Mass, or of evangelization. It's not to score one more point for Team God, to get one more butt in the pew at Mass and one more body in line for Communion. Those things are also a start, but they are not what the finished product--person--should look like.

And one way we can show our love for our brother is to offer fraternal correction when its warranted. Being nice is ok, being kind is better and also more demanding--but loving is the hardest and best of all, and it goes being "being nice," "being tolerant/accepting," or even "being kind." There is no true dichotomy between mercy and morality, or between love and the Law. Jesus is love incarnate, and yet He also was to fulfill the Law; He is infinitely merciful, and yet does not at all loosen the moral restriction of the day, but rather tightens them. Do not murder becomes do not hate others, and do not fornicate or commit adultery becomes do not lust.

"Come as you are," yes, of course. We all need to take that first step. But after the first comes a second and a third, and then the thousands of steps which we walk during a lifetime. Let us not sacrifice all of these latter steps for the sake of constantly repeating the first step.

[1] Trans-literal: liturgy translates to "work of the people." When we refer to the liturgy, we are literally talking about the Mass and to a lesser extent to the Daily office; but in another sense, we literally mean our daily work, the work of becoming moral, virtuous, of becoming in a word disciples of Christ.

[2] A few different Greek-speaking sources tell me that the literal translation is "Super-substantiated bread."

[3] This is also what is meant by St John when he writes that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). Perfect love is attained in heaven, where even filial fear become unwarranted: there, we need not fear that we will sin and thus offend God, and we need not fear that we will be told to depart from Him. Here, love may be in the process of being perfected, but it never completes that process. To that end, love here may ultimately cast our servile fear (fear of God's punishments) which moving us to filial fear (fear of losing God).

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