instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Misperceptions of the Church

In a comment on the post below, Sara tells a harrowing and heartbreaking story about "the nicest man on the RCIA team" flying into a rage when she said she liked the crucifix in their church:
"The Church has changed. It's not about that anymore. I spent my whole childhood with that face looking down at me, trying to make me feel guilty... I'm done looking at that face. I've seen enough of it to last me the rest of my life."
I was born and baptized a few months before the close of Vatican II, so the Us vs. Them battles of the time are not my battles. But while the idea that Catholicism is "about" guilt is as foreign to me as the idea that Catholicism is about worshipping the pope, I can't simply say that this fellow was wrong on the facts.

If, indeed, his experience of the Church prior to Vatican II was of a smothering sense of guilt, and of the Church after the Council of the relief from that smothering guilt, then I can understand his passionate response. I can understand a knee-jerk reaction against any movement "back," when "back" means "God = Guilt." I can understand the disinclination to worry about whether today's solutions to "God = X" are true, or have any relation to what the Church has taught through history up until 1962. I can even understand why, under those circumstances, someone might think that the solution to "God = X" is true only if it's not what the Church taught in 1961.

This is, of course, an intellectual understanding of a subjective state. I can sympathize to some extent, but I can't really empathize. People have had my whole lifetime to align their emotions with right reason. It's heartbreaking for a Catholic to be unable to look upon a crucifix without getting angry, but it's also a sign of stunted spiritual growth. We don't need to break communion with them to observe that it's disconcerting for spiritually stunted people to be instructing catechumens in the Faith.

I'll steal from Dostoevsky and suggest that the way to heal people who have been stunted by their experiences in the Church is through beauty. Someone who has encountered ugliness will rush to embrace not-ugliness, or even just a lesser ugliness, and call it gain. But everyone who apprehends true beauty will desire to rest in it.

It's not easy to get someone to apprehend beauty where he is already convinced there is nothing but ugliness. It takes time and effort and love just to get him to look, much less perceive. But maybe we know an imperfect Catholic who's worth the time and effort and love.