To Be Able to Say of Grace & Truth: There It Is
December 1988By Mark Lowery
Mark Lowery teaches religion and philosophy at a Catholic high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
The devil has played a devious trick indeed on many modern Catholics (and others besides). He has been particularly successful at drawing us away from the grace, the truth, that stands right in our midst, so close and simple that we look beyond it for something supposedly more real and more ex citing. As a result, in the words of poet Richard Wilbur, we die of thirst here by the fountainside.
Before we recall what that fountain is, consider several of the most popular and attractive substitutes that well-meaning theologians have put in its place. Much ado is made, in catechetical instruction and Theo 101, of something Transcendent discovered at those big moments of our life that are variously called peak experiences, boundary situations, experiences of ultimacy, or limit situations. The most popular theological methodology in academic circles the revisionist program is centered on such experiences. One popularized version of that method is found in Andrew Greeleys novels. The sacraments in the Christian tradition are conveniently reduced to a formalized way of recognizing (or labeling) the centrality of such experiences in our life we have these big experiences at the birth of a child, when we make mistakes, when we experience community, when we reach adulthood, when we marry, when we decide on a priestly vocation, when death enters our experience. Of course everyone in the world has such experiences, and so everyone experiences the Transcendent Mystery. Different people and different religions label them differently but its all really the same thing. So why be Catholic? Well, it doesnt matter that much .
The devil likes this a great deal because truth has found a locus in personal experience rather than in something objective that might challenge and confront our experience. Now we have just cause to say of an unpleasant doctrine, Well, it just doesnt fit my experience. The devil likes truth made flimsy.
Another flimsy substitute comes straight from the horses mouth, or one step removed from C.S. Lewiss version of the devils conniving in Chapter 7 of The Screwtape Letters. There, Uncle Screwtape advises Wormwood of still another way to distract his patient from the truth: Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the cause, in which Christianity is valued because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or Pacifism . Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of end he is pursuing.
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