By DONALD DeMARCO
The Internet is a vast ocean stocked with innumerable statements that beg to be redressed. I came across the following personal confession, though quite by accident, posted by a lapsed Catholic:
“I grew up in a conservative Catholic family, went to church every Sunday, and studied Christian apologetics: My life was filled with fear, stress, anger, self-disgust, and felt like I was the lowest of the low on this planet, all taught to me by my very ‘Christ-like’ father and church community.”
While the Internet grants everyone freedom of speech, it does not require them to practice sobriety of thought. Since the above citation could be seen as an unfair indictment against the Church, I thought it might be helpful if I endeavored to frame a response.
The statement obviously expresses anger, and that emotion, as we all know, tends to impair objectivity. It does, however, have much in common with the frequently heard accusation that the Catholic Church loads people with guilt. Today it is fashionable to blame the Catholic Church for one’s failings, rather than oneself or something else.
I recall reading about a baseball player and a basketball hopeful who took their lives, the former because he lost an important playoff game, the latter because he was not drafted by the National Basketball Association. Yet, I am unaware that Major League Baseball or the NBA has ever been blamed for loading athletes with guilt.
Guilt is hardly a Catholic invention. The old Roman pagans, to take but one example, knew well about guilt and did not withhold it from their writings. Consider the following: “Guilt is present in the hesitation, even though the deed be not committed” (Cicero). “Alas! How difficult it is not to betray guilt by our countenance!” (Ovid). “Men’s minds are very ingenious in palliating guilt in themselves!” (Livy). “It is proper for the guilty to tremble” (Seneca). “By the verdict of his own breast no guilty man is ever acquitted” (Juvenal).
Guilt is simply the recognition of one’s complicity in wrongdoing. One of the great benefits the Catholic Church offers is to absolve people of guilt through Confession. The Church is realistic enough to recognize the reality of guilt and how unexpiated guilt can be a source of great torment. It would indeed be a fearful thing to know that one has done something grievously wrong and have no way of being forgiven.
Consider poor Lady Macbeth who feared that her guilt was so great that “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
The Church of Christ offers redemption. She is throwing a lifesaver to a drowning man. It would be of no avail if the drowning man refused help because it reminds him that he is drowning. In point of fact, he will drown if he refuses the lifesaver. The would-be benefactor is not imposing guilt, but offering help.
If going to Mass and studying apologetics can be such a frightful thing, as our Internet poster claims, why is not everything at least as frightening? High school should be terrifying. The possibilities of failing tests, not graduating, being rejected by one’s peers, and ridiculed for not being sufficiently “cool” should be horrifying. The same goes for the workforce, marriage, and any social encounter one can name.
The prospect of failure, embarrassment, and rejection looms everywhere. T.S. Eliot’s timid J. Alfred Prufrock found a solution, though a negative one, when he wished he could be “A pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” One gets the idea that our Internet poster would prefer to drown rather than be saved.
The Church offers a way of life, forgiveness, and redemption. That should be enough to praise it over the world that offers scant light, little forgiveness, and no redemption. Fear, stress, anger, and self-disgust are not gifts of the Holy Spirit. We occupy a fallen world to begin with and need help. It is not liberating to reject the Church and fall back into a world in which there is no provision for salvation.
It is hard to believe that attending Mass, studying apologetics, and living in a Christian community could be the source of our friend’s plight. It may be darkest before the dawn. A man may finally acknowledge his need for water when he is ravaged by thirst.