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.