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A Right To Be Merry: Five Things That I Don’t Know How Non-Catholics Live Without

1. The Sacraments.

The Eucharist wins this one, obviously. How many religions do you know of where there's a room you can go to, pretty much any time you want, and God is waiting there—like, physically—hoping you'll stop in and talk to Him?

Confession is a close second. It's a pain in the neck, it's embarrassing, and there's always some mantilla'd old lady who is taking way longer than she obviously needs to, but nothing beats this moment: the one time in ten when you go in there, whether you've done something epically stupid or just pedestrian stupid, and realize that behind the screen—if it dropped suddenly, you'd see Him—is Jesus himself, listening and understanding. Melancholic that I am, I sometimes need actual permission to feel okay about everything, and when Jesus/the priest says "go in peace," then brother, I've got it. Actually, that brings us to:

2. Knowing that everything is, in fact, okay.

I just finished reading Josef Pieper's In Tune With the World. Not his best, maybe (which is to say, still better than 99% of everything else), but listen to this: "No destructive action...can ever corrode the substance of Creation." And the same thought in different words: "there is a divinely guaranteed Goodness of being which no amount of mischief can undermine."

"Destructive action" and "mischief" probably sounded more forceful in Pieper's original German. Instead, how about "chronic depression," or "death of a friend," or "unrequited love"? Pieper is saying that, in spite of everything, the world is good, and never won't be. Whoever you are, whatever happens, no matter how bad we feel, we are Christians; which means that we never have to suspect that anything is meaningless. Everybody has to feel that way sometimes, but Christians never have to believe it.

To take it one step further: there's no such thing as "too good to be true." All you atheist existentialist types who are so proud of being dour because at least you're not taking refuge in any illusions—joke's on you. Christians get to be realistic and optimistic at the same time. That reminds me of:

3. Getting what we want.

God made our hearts, and even our most distorted desire has its origin and its end in Him. He made us hungry because there's food. He made us thirsty because there's water. And he made us burn and ache because there's Him. Are there going to be puppies in Heaven? How about sex? I don't know! But if not, there's something better!

Of course, it takes a lifetime to learn how to seek those desires in the right way (St. Augustine: "See what you seek, but not where you seek it."), and Heaven is a long way off, so there's also:

4. Offering things up.

What do non-Christians do with the pain when they're sick, or sad, or they have a migraine? I have no idea. I don't know where all that pain goes. Builds character, I guess. But we're Christians, and we get to use it for something. Being connected to everyone else in the Body of Christ means that all you have to do is say, "Lord, even though I deserve this hangover, please use this splitting headache for my cousin, because she feels this bad all the time and doesn't even drink."

We can love people at a distance! It's like a superpower. Pain is money in the bank that you get to spend on anyone you want. Finally, there's:

5. The Magisterium.

I saw a great bumper sticker once: Don't believe everything you think.

Similarly, here's Flannery O'Connor: "If you live today, you breathe in nihilism...it's the gas you breathe. If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now."

I've been wrong about some pretty important things in my life. Without the Church, I would have done what the Disneyists are always adjuring us to do, and Followed My Heart. (Or, more frequently, my pants. The one often leads to the other.) But having a Church guided by the Holy Spirit means freedom from the tyranny of emotions and intellectual fads. Whenever I've thought or felt something particularly asinine, the Church has always been there, saying "Stupid move, Prever." She's always turned out to be right, even if I generally don't see why until years later.

27 comments | Add one of your own.

  1. Tim H

    >>>What do non-Christians do with
    >>>the pain when they’re sick

    Should read “non-Catholic Christians”.

    Regarding 3 and 4, it is good to know that the bible is ours and in the end, we win.

    -Tim-

    Reply

  2. JoAnna

    Wonderful post. I’m so grateful for Confession & the Eucharist.

    Regarding #5, I wish more Catholics realized that our Pope is Benedict XVI and not Jiminy Cricket (“Always let your conscience be your guide!”). Jiminy Cricket Christianity is dangerous — because, frankly, I don’t always trust my conscience. I have a selfish tendency to try to rationalize things for myself. I’m grateful for the Magisterium and its help in informing my conscience.

    Reply

  3. Danica

    Thanks for the great post. My husband and I get into these preaching-to-the-choir discussions all the time, and each time we conclude, “why isn’t everyone Catholic?”

    Reply

  4. Evelyn

    A sixth thing: when people we love die, we can pray for them. Best of all in some ways. People who aren’t Catholics can do nothing for people they love after they’ve died.

    Reply

  5. Susan

    #6–the communion of saints and the examples of the struggles to holiness. and the prayers that they offer for our benefit.

    Reply

  6. Bethany

    Wow!!! I happen to love the sacrament f confession btw.

    As far as #4, offering it up. Our non-Catholic brethren always seem to find it strange how we can “rejoice” in our sufferings or at least find a redemptive value in them.

    Thank you for the article.

    Reply

  7. Wild Bill

    I spent many years in rebellion against the Magisterium under the banner of 1 John 2:27 “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you.” I’m a little slow to catch on but after awhile I realized that there were thousands of others, also filled with the same anointing, also in need of no other teacher, and all coming up with different ideas about what was true. The Magesterium is the Holy Spirit as guarantor of the Church’s truth handed down by Jesus through the Apostles to us.

    Reply

  8. Helen Russo

    I really like this! Number 2 , at the very end reminds me of the time, long ago, when our family of 5 attended the Catholic Family Conference in Long Beach, CA. As supposedly occasionally happens on purpose accidentally ;) A Christian Wayfarers Conference was going on in a much, much smaller section of the center. I had no idea it was them, however we did notice all these dour people dressed in suits (men and woman, woman in skirts) walking in…scowling at all the happy families, couples old and young, religious…dressed brightly … on vacation. LOL. I really felt sorry for them-still do. They don’t get it…sigh.

    Reply

  9. Mary Jo

    Love this post. I have my own #6- the Virgin Mary as our perfect mother . We all have imperfect mothers on earth- my own children can write volumes on this topic! However, we have Mary to heal us, to comfort us with her mantle, teach by her example and intercede with her Son. What’s not to like?

    Reply

    1. Bill

      This comment reminds me of the time a Lutheran was trying to persuade my mother to consider the Lutheran Church. My mother’s response: “So let me get this straight. If I give up the Mother of God I get…Martin Luther?”

      Reply

  10. bo_leggs

    I guess Tim either never rear or doesn’t understand Matthew 5:11, Romans 5:3, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Colossians 1:24, and 1 Peter 4:12-19. I thank God everyday that I may offer my sufferings up on behalf of His Church, for I have been blessed with many and great sufferings. Praise Jesus and His Church!

    Reply

    1. Nick

      I don’t see what those Scriptures have to do with the mystical idea that one can offer up one’s pains for the good of others. None of those verses support such a concept, and Paul’s speaking of suffering making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ . If you will read the whole passage you will see that he refers to the sufferings which are incident to his apostolic ministry, in particular the pastoral nurturing of the Church at Colosse.

      This type of reasoning is exactly why not everyone is Catholic.

      Reply

      1. J. Prever

        I agree that none of those verses explicitly lay out the idea of offering up our sufferings for the good of others. But it does seem clear to me that they *could* be interpreted that way.

        Catholics and Protestants are both free to interpret individual verses from Scripture any way they like, so long as their interpretation does not contradict broader Christian teaching.

        Nick, if I’m reading you correctly, you seem to be saying that Protestants can interpret Scripture any way they like, just as long as they don’t accidentally subscribe to a bit of Catholic dogma (like the offering up of personal sufferings) while they’re doing it.

        Or maybe there is something else in (some denominations of) Protestantism that runs counter to this idea? I’m interested in hearing more.

        Reply

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