Friday, February 8, 2013

In Defense of "Checklist" Catholicism

Though it took awhile, Matt McGuiness has written his second installment of his "Second Look at Porn" series.  The first installment received a fair amount of criticism.  Dawn Eden and Fr. Angelo Geiger (in this case particularly the latter) have written very insightful responses.  Like them, I find this second installment a vast improvement over the original, and he deserves credit for this.  I would say he really only makes one mistake, yet it is a very large mistake.  Mr. McGuiness states:

If the multinational corporations have a “wonderful plan” for our lives (and they do), sometimes church people offer us “solutions” that alienate us from ourselves no less than the spinning wheel of production and consumption. Some within the Church will tell us to ignore the infinite need that makes our hearts restless and just plunge into Catholic practices and pious devotions. Never mind the meaning, “Just do it.” Here's a sample checklist: start going to daily Mass, pray the rosary, make a holy hour, try this novena, frequent confession more often, do some twelve step program, go to a Catholic conference, be virtuous. You get the picture.
The picture painted might seem familiar to some.  As a traditionalist, it is far more common than I am comfortable with for sure.  The difference between myself and Mr. McGuiness (and those of us and Christopher West for that matter) is that we see the same situation they do.  We see a lot of traditional forms of piety seeming to alienate people from their true calling.  We are just far likelier to place the blame on our fallen natures, not on the tools given.  When the Bible introduces Job, we see the following:

There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, and that man was simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil....  And when the days of their feasting were gone about, Job sent to them, and sanctified them: and rising up early offered holocausts for every one of them. For he said: Lest perhaps my sons have sinned, and have blessed God in their hearts. So did Job all days.  (Job 1:1,5)
 Job is following the checklist.  He has set times for devotional prayer for his children.  He offers sacrifices daily for them with elaborate rituals.  Everyday he repents not only of his own sins, but begs for repentance for the sins of his children.  When the Bible praises him, it does not do so falsely.  Job is using these things as they are meant to be used:  for our holiness and the holiness of others.  Now were these practices going to guarantee holiness?  Certainly not.  If anything, a good case could be made that throughout the story Job falls into the stale formulaic religion that Mr. McGuiness condemns.  Pride (or some other imperfection) seeps into our devotions and corrupts them.

At this point, the course of action is not to throw off these devotions which have sanctified millions of souls over thousands of years in search of some action with deeper meaning.  If pride and imperfections weakened these "simple" devotions, how much more so something deeper?  Better to avail ourselves to adoration, where alongside our God, we can probe deeply our desires and human nature to better understand them.  Even better still is the Confessional, where we can throw off our imperfections, receive sound guidance, and hopefully learn how to transform these devotions from something stale into something magnificent.

At the end of his work, Fr. Geiger criticized Mr. McGuiness for essentially being to reliant on the "self-help" side of things.  I completely agree, but I'd like to take Mr. McGuiness at his word.  If the self-help way of deep introspection leading to a fundamental change in paradigm is really the way, such a person needs to be in a pretty advanced state mentally to achieve this.  He needs an understanding of his own passions and desires far beyond what a porn addict is likely to achieve.  The best way to know ourselves is through prayer "on the mountain", that is, separate from everyone else and seeking to be close to God.   There is a reason such devotions have played such a monumental role in the lives of everyone, including the founder of the religious movement Mr. McGuiness venerates so heavily.  Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why they played such a huge role in their lives as saints, and why they play so little a role in ours.

1 comment:

  1. Very well said. Thank you. I think we can all fall into the trap of thinking the checklist is the end rather than the means. I know I have done that at times and then sadly made the mistake of discarding the checklist instead of recognizing its value in helping me to deepen my relationship with our Lord.


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