As a writer for The Observer, many times pieces I write never go to print. This may happen if we run out of room or after I write the article, something happens and I make a last minute change in what I submit. Here is one of those articles.
Catholicism is not a set of rules
My roommate is from Long Island, and as such has a great love for Billy Joel. Last month, when I should have been at an Observer meeting, we were busy going through his iPod and listening to every Billy Joel song ever, looking for a particular song. It turns out that what I was seeking is in fact by Jim Croce, but at one point he said to me, “Do you like ‘Only the Good Die Young?’”
I responded by saying that it has a catchy tune but dislike the text. At the same time, I was on Wikipedia and other websites seeing if I could see anything that would point me towards the song I was looking for. I noticed that on Wikipedia, the song was described, in Joel’s own words, as not being anti-Catholic but “pro-lust.” Joel, who is a former Catholic, is certainly not anti-Catholic. I’d say that pro-lust is accurate.
The whole instance reminded me of a question an atheistic friend of mine once asked me. “Donato, if we proved that Christianity was false, which commandments would you still keep?” He was trying to show that I was “enslaved to God” and arbitrarily doing His will, as He is a tyrannical lawmaker. It’s a very common view, one which I have had many people express to me, and I must admit I one-time myself believed it, both when I was an agnostic and when I first came back to the Church. However, at this point in my life, I said to my friend, “The only things that I would stop doing are going to Mass and praying Catholic prayers.” I think he was hoping that I would say I’d go out and hire a prostitute or at least be willing to go to the local porn store and do what he deemed as “having fun.”
What I was trying to explain to him, I recently heard Father Michael Himes homilize on very well. “If you abide in My word, then you are My disciples, and you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” He said that we should note the order. If we abide in His word, then we will understand the Truth. It wasn’t until I lived the Church’s teachings that I understood that nothing had ever made me so happy. I had previously decided these teachings must be right because the Church that logic had shown me to be infallible had said these teachings were true.
The thing about Pascal’s Wager, and Father Himes said this in the same homily (although I’ve said it many times, so this wasn’t new to me) is that it’s not just “fake your faith to get into Heaven.” Pascal says, if you live it and try to understand it, you will eventually understand the Truth. “All who have ears ought to hear,” said our Lord. It isn’t until we understand what the Mass is and begin going that we learn how much joy it brings. It isn’t a burden at all! The same thing goes for all prayer, reading the Bible, and any number of the moral teachings of the Church.
This is why the teachings must not become simply a moral law. They must flow out of the relationship we have with Jesus. For example, the “rules” about going to Mass feed us and help us fall more truly in love with He who is Love itself (source of all happiness) and the ones about sexuality explain to us how we ought to love our neighbor. It isn’t until we study them and then try living them that they be comprehend as the meaning of our lives. It’s a beautiful experience.