Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Importance of Being Rigid

When I was an undergraduate and learned that all priests weren't singing from the same hymn book, I was introduced to the term "solid". "Solid" described a priest who knew and proclaimed the faith and didn't bend the rules or, rather, warp the truths. This was the kind of priest you could trust with your soul.

I realize that this is not the most popular topic in Catholic circles and that some of us rosary-counters do need to do more regarding the corporal works of mercy, but the object of all our striving is not heaven-on-earth but saving our souls. Every human life that lasts beyond age 7 is a cosmic, all-or-nothing drama: either we will go home to heaven and be happy, or we will find ourselves in hell and suffer eternal misery. 

Please don't shoot the messenger. This is good news. The Ancient Greeks didn't believe they had a shot at happiness in the afterlife. They conceived of souls flitting about disconsolately in Hades, deeply envying the poorest of the living. And so it likely was before the Harrowing of Hell. I don't think St. Joseph spent his stretch being grilled by demons, do you? 

Anyway, solid priests are not as interested in our earthly happiness (which they still hope for and may fight for) as they are in our eternal happiness. If you are a believing Christian, you don't think 60 years of a great sex life are worth the price tag of unending aeons of misery.  You also believe that  60 years of suffering, bravely born, will all be worth it when you see God face-to-face. It's the atheists who think 60 years of a great sex life is all one can hope for. It's the atheists who think a life of suffering is meaningless. 

Don't get me wrong. I am not an enemy of happy marriage (au contraire), and I don't think people should be left in their suffering.  The Christian Church is quite clear on the importance of the first and the need to alleviate the second. How achieving the goal of eternal happiness and avoiding the fate of eternal grief is to be accomplished on earth can also be found in the deposit of Christian teachings, expounded and protected by the Catholic Church (and to a certain extent the Eastern Orthodox Churches, I think). 

Some of these teachings sound very tough, especially now that they no longer shape popular culture. The most obvious ones concern marriage, particularly acts proper to marriage. As popular culture is now so out of step with traditional Christian teachings, these doctrines will shock the stuffing out of Catholics who don't hear about them until it's too late. I was 15 or older before I discovered that the Church forbade the use of artificial contraception. I was so surprised: why then were there so few Catholic families even as big as mine? However, I had divined from a very early age that premarital sex was wrong and shameful, so I accepted the Church's prohibition on artificial birth control cheerfully. I accepted it with the trust of a child until I was old enough to read and understand Humanae Vitae, which was the second Bible of the pro-life movement. 

Humanae Vitae is very solid--rigid, even. Having understood its contents from the age of 18 makes it that much easier to refuse the free IVF treatments my British health care providers keep offering. I would  love  to have  a baby--but not at the expense of my soul. The rigidity of Church teaching against IVF gives me a lot of peace. Not only that, it sanctifies my (probably age-related) infertility in a way impossible for women 30 years ago. Thirty years ago, childless women had no right or wrong choice to make. I, however, have the opportunity to refuse IVF, which may add a little something to my "offering it up."  The down side, of course, is that other married Catholic women succumb and have IVF babies, and may never regret their sin: how would they, when the end result was their babies?

I used to resent them, but now I feel sorry for them. They have their heart's desire--and now they're stuck in unrepentance. Why didn't their priests explain it to them? Or did they just proceed from the starting point of "An all-loving God wouldn't stop loving me if I helped create a number of embryos in a dish so that I might bring at least one of them to term and thus have the baby I want so much." I am not sure where they would have got this from Scripture or Tradition, mind you. Oh dear.

Sometimes earthly happiness is a bad thing, and sometimes earthly suffering is medicine for the soul. I am quite fascinated by my deformed foot as a vehicle for penance. Who needs a hair shirt who has a bunion? Whenever my foot hurts, I can offer it up!

Anyway, if I went to the wrong kind of priest, I possibly could get "permission" to dabble in IVF. However, my devout Catholic husband would never consent, so that's a mercy too. (Don't forget, we're talking about mortal sin and hell here.) Poor man, what a martyrdom it would be for convert him to have his cradle Catholic wife begging and pleading and cajoling him to participate in objective evil. I am sure he wouldn't cave. However, say I took him to this wrong kind of priest and the priest convinced him through some sigh or clever argument or assurance that there's a wideness to God's mercy that includes joyful and unrepentant IVF, and B.A. submitted... Oh poor chap.

Actually that the above scenario could  happen in the Historical House is so ridiculous, there is no point in continuing.

Here's a recent article about hell in the Catholic Herald. It includes verses from Scripture and, appropriately for 2017, Fatima material.

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