Thursday, January 3, 2013

Faith in a Creature is “Futile and False”

Paragraph 150 of the Catechism (CCC) defines faith as “first of all a personal adherence of man to God.” It goes on: “It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.”

And yet I did so. When I was nineteen, just the age for such things, I followed a teacher across the ocean in search of esoteric wisdom. I placed “faith in a creature,” and for a time I “believed absolutely” in what he said.

This is not easy, change that, this is painful to confess now, and such a confession is probably more suitable for a memoir than a blog post, and I am working on that.

But meanwhile this painful memory is useful for me in reflecting on the CCC and its question currently before me, that of faith (in Section 1, chapter 3, “Man’s Response to God”). What my experience as a nineteen-year-old and my contrasting experience today as an observant Catholic tell me is, this response of total personal adherence is something for which we all are wired. As my CL friends like to say, it “corresponds” to my nature as a human being.

We all want to follow, even those of us who believe we don’t. That today most of us are following human idols (from Barack Obama to “American Idol” to Tom Brady) only suggests to me how far we have come from authentic faith.

I am free-associating here, and of course you can escape at any time. Have mouse, will click. But while you’re still in my virtual company, let me share an impression that struck me at Tuesday’s solemn Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother of God.

Our pastor, Father Barnes, was assisted in the Mass by transitional deacon Tom McDonald. A censor was used, and in the way of deacons, McDonald assisted Barnes in “loading” the censor with incense and then, once Barnes began swinging away, McDonald did the thing deacons do. He held back the right sleeve or rear-right panel of Barnes’s chasuble. If you have attended a Latin Mass—a Mass in the Extraordinary Form—you will know that there are moments in that Mass when the server or deacon holds the tail of the celebrant’s chasuble like an attendant in a bridal procession holding up a veil. McDonald made this sort of move, but with the edge of the chasuble, during the censing. Katie and I speculated afterward that maybe it is done only so that the priest’s sleeve doesn’t catch on fire.

This is a long way of leading up to the fact that I was moved by this diaconal gesture. It is a gesture of pure and gratuitous service, a sign or symbol perhaps of the kind of total obedience that is necessary in an act of faith. And I thought, as I watched McDonald alertly shadow Barnes, so that the chasuble was always out of the way, never tugging at the priest or hindering his movements, I once wanted to provide that kind of attentive, faithful service to the teacher I followed when I was nineteen years old. This is an odd memory to have during Mass, but I am beset with odd memories these days.

It may seem that I am making some kind of terrible admission—of an unseemly, servile attitude—but it is or was an honest memory of a moment in my life when I was willing to make an act of what the CCC terms “obedience of faith.” I dare to bring this up here only because I suspect that such secret religious impulses run through most healthy human beings, that in fact such impulses define us in our deepest humanity, that finally this is the impulse of faith—and faith, as the CCC insists, is a reasonable, human response to God.

In fact, the only response.

Just don’t give such faith to a creature. It would be “futile and false.” Thirty years’ hard experience taught me that.

You see, it’s a long story, and I am still figuring out how to begin telling it. 

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