Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: It's Not Based On Feelings

Recently, Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon, Mexico had this to say about the priesthood (emphasis mine):
“It is not easy to appreciate the true meaning of the priesthood in a cultural context that only exalts whatever is based on feelings or emotions, that tells us to do only what we like and not what we should, that exalts what is fleeting and not what is eternal.”

“How much we need this year of priestly grace in a time in which we are experiencing the brunt of a culture that has no sensibility or appreciation for what is definitive, for what appeals to the truths that are founded upon divine plans,” he exclaimed.

Mexican Archbishop: Priesthood Not Based On Feelings

As I read those words, it occurred to me that the same could be said of Catholicism as a whole. Catholicism is definitive, it does not exalt what is fleeting but what is eternal. The obligation to attend weekly Mass confronts a self-absorbed culture that says "If it feels good, do it." I don't attend Mass just when I "feel like it." I attend because I know as a Christian I am called to worship my God and to encourage and comfort the Body of Christ. But I don't even worship God because I think or feel a certain way - I worship God because He deserves all the worship I can give. The point of Mass isn't to make me feel good for attending but to fulfill the call upon my life as one who has died to the flesh, to remember what God's Son did for me and partake of His Body and Blood.

This is definitive. This is a truth founded upon a divine plan. The liturgy, when embraced, runs counter to the whole "feel-good" movement. It is a battle that now rages in many parishes, between those who want to follow the soft, self-indulgent ways of many non-denominational churches and those who know we are called to a higher place.

I continue to think upon all the different types of Masses I've attended over a year's time. Like a stranger in a foreign land, I visited everything from the most liberal Mass to the most orthodox. I observed the responses of the congregations, the tone, and yes, the "feel" of liturgy. I noticed if people were engaged or not. I suspected many were there out of obligation, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but yet felt a twinge of sadness when I realized so much more was available to them if they only put forth some effort to understand what they were doing.

When I was a younger girl, before I left the Catholic Church, I would say I was in that exact same place. I attended out of obligation but I really didn't "own" my experience. Now I do. When I attend Mass, I know what is going on and why. I am studying the liturgy, loving its rich tapestry of meaning that wraps around me each week but yet is different. I love the liturgical season, celebrating the various points of our Lord Jesus' life, and remembering His followers.

During the years I was attending non-Catholic churches, I was in a different place emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Combined with a culture that emphasizes the indulgent "feel-good" mentality, I was hungry to find meaning, which I erroneously thought was missing from the Mass. It wasn't that the Mass had no meaning. It was my perspective that didn't allow me to discover the meaning and purpose of Mass. It was a perspective that, not surprisingly, was focused on my feelings.

I don't know who said this, but I think it was a priest. He said it didn't matter if a priest celebrating Mass was a great homilist or even if his personal life was a mess - what mattered was what the priest was engaged in doing during the liturgy and how the focus drew us to the One who saves us, sanctifies us, and nourishes us. I thought that was very profound.

As Catholics, we have a faith that tells us to do what we should, not just what we like. Jesus Christ preached hard truths to His disciples and followers. He didn't cater to the whims of man but to the will of His Father. It is a tough road to follow, but the most exhilarating, fulfilling one we could ever find. We were built for this tough road, to pursue relationship with our Holy Creator, His Son, and His Holy Spirit. Nothing else will satisfy and nothing else will redeem.

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