instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Practical speculation

In a recent online discussion about graces received through the Eucharist, someone asked if people who received Communion more often (e.g., daily) had more grace than people who receive Communion less often (e.g., weekly).

It struck me that this was the wrong sort of question to ask. Instead of speculating about how two groups of people stack up relative to each other, we should ask ourselves the practical question, "Would I love God and neighbor better if I arranged my life to receive Communion more often than I do?"

At first, I thought the difference was between doctrine regarded as a matter of science -- where a certain tenet fits into the whole mosaic of religious truths -- and doctrine regarded as a matter of prudence -- how a certain tenet helps us determine what to do.

Now, though, I think the difference is better seen as one between doctrine regarded as inert fact and doctrine regarded as living truth.

Much of theology is, so to speak, a matter of dissecting the Faith to see how it all works together. Or better, maybe, to call it vivisection, since the Faith is alive and not even the driest scholastic can kill it.

But theology might make the Faith look thoroughly lifeless. A freeze frame of grace in action can give you the sense that grace is just there, just a word for life's token currency, so much spiritual Monopoly money to be added up at the end of the game to see who wins and who loses, when in fact grace is the Holy Spirit Himself acting in our lives. You can't find a topic of study more alive and real and meaningful than God.

Good theology knows that whatever is not attached to the Living God is dead, but we aren't all always good theologians. It's easy to fall into classroom mode when you start hearing about the various ways grace has been categorized, and worry more about whether your notes are complete and correct than about how well you love God and neighbor. (It's also easy to say, "This won't be on the test," and dismiss the whole business as stuff and nonsense.)

Which brings me back, sort of, to asking the practical question: "Now that I know this, what do I do with it?" If it isn't helping you love God and neighbor, then something's wrong.