Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Giving up being a good Catholic ...

Thoughts from Greg Crowhill Krehbiel (Mea maxima culpa!). [Via the Ratzinger Fan Club Blog]
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a “good Catholic” or a “good Christian,” and the more I think about it the more I realize that I’m not either. And I’m not that worried about it. It often seems that being a “good Christian” means toeing the party line and being overly busy with all the right sorts of activities. For example, recalling my days as an Evangelical, it seemed that being a “good Evangelical” meant, primarily, having the Evangelical attitude on issues and being involved in evangelism — or at least going to a lot of Bible studies.
In some circles, a “good Christian” can speak or pray well in public (maybe in tongues), and is involved in a lot of activity — going to this, that and the other church-related event and being on lots of committees. A really good Christian is a man who’s so involved in “Christian activities” that he hardly has time to play catch with his kids.

When I first became Catholic it seemed that being a “good Catholic” was largely an intellectual exercise. It was a matter of submitting to the right doctrines and, for heaven’s sake, avoiding the “Catholic cafeteria” mentality. But it also meant (to others, never to me) adopting certain “cultural Catholic” attitudes and devotions — esp. about the rosary.
When I look at all this I’m left with very little. I’m not holy enough to see how unholy I really am, and I don’t believe half as well as I should. So to that inner voice of pride that wants to be able to say “I’m a good Catholic,” I can only reply, “No, I’m just a sinner.” And the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, so I qualify for the team.
I can't tell you how much this resonated with me. Too often (and certainly, in the blogosphere!), we reduce being a "good Christian" to certain things that we do. And then, make these things into litmust tests by which to judge not ourselves, no (we hate judging ourselves!), but others. To feel better about others. "Thank God I'm not like that tax collector over there."

We all do this. Conservatives ("Oh thank goodness! I'm not a darn feminist, or a pacifist, or homosexual activist, or what have you."). Liberals ("Oh thank goodness! I'm not a heartless bigot, a fundamentalist, a homophobe."). And it's not just about positions on these or other issues.

Now, of course, some of this is natural. Whether it be a certain amount of pre-judgment, stereotyping, criticism of other's positions, or behvaiours, or attitudes, or what have you. And, of course, recognizing our own sinfulness doesn't mean suspending judgment about good or bad.

The important thing, I guess, is to realize that no one is good, but God alone. And that, whatever our piety, it shouldn't be a source of spiritual pride. For that is the work of the Devil.

So, yes. We end up with the tax collector. "Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner."


pritcher said...

This is wonderful--thanks for posting it.

Reminds me of what Richard Rohr talks about as one of the unfortunate but understandable results of being "chosen": at first, you feel special (because you are), but you also feel better than everyone else (because you haven't figured out yet that everyone else is special to God just like you are).

This is one temptation I'm constantly struggling with as I move more and more towards the "conservative" side of things. Not that it's peculiar to conservatism, of course.

Gashwin said...

Yup yup. Everyone does it. Hopefully some struggle with it, realizing that it's not the way to be.

[And, I should add that pretty much everything else on Crowhill's blog that I saw, I found to be a little hard to stomach. There's portions of the Catholic Right in the blogosphere that make me want to run.]

angelmeg said...

My struggle is to find a way to talk about my spirituality without sounding as though I have all the answers, because I know what works for me. What I know works for me today may well not work tomorrow, and what I know works for me may look rediculous to others.

So, I watch and I pray and I keep my mouth shut most of the time unless someone asks me a specific question.

I figure I have a hard enough time knowing what God wants of me to wonder-- or care for that matter-- what God wants of others.

St. Izzy said...

The perennial struggle. And while I waste time wondering whether I've checked off the correct boxes or not, I miss the opportunity to minister and be ministered to as a human being.

I note that further down the front page, Gashwin quotes Jars of Clay. This post reminds me more of several songs by Mark Heard. I'll only quote from one, though:

As our conversation swells and our patience somehow lingers
And accusing fingers shout about insensitivity
Don't we oscillate so well
Within our fundamental boundaries
While fiery foundries melt us down and kill tranquillity

But we believe so well don't we tell ourselves
Don't we take exclusive pride that we abide so far from hell?
We might laugh together but don't we cry alone
For the ashes and the dust we've swept beneath the holy throne.


JEW said...

Hey, Gashwin, some good thougths -- yuurs and Greg's. One correction: Those quotes were not from "Greg Crowhill". The author of those snippets you quoted is Greg Krehbiel, who gives vent to his ideas, crazy or otherwise, on his blog, Crowhill Webblog. :) Anyway, I was wondering what it was about all the other stuff at Greg's blog that made it hard for you to stomach. Just curious.


Gashwin said...

Hey Jack --- thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. And for the correction. Guess I saw "Crowhill" on the blog banner and assumed that was Greg's last name. Mea culpa.

Gosh. What did I find hard to stomach? I've not really been back to his blog so I dont' recall in much detail. I think it was the whole idea of male headship of families. It's something that I've hardly ever encountered in my nearly twelve years as a baptized Catholic, either in India or in the US. I tend to find that rhetoric more among some evangelical Christians and Baptists as they grapple with Eph. 5 ...

Gashwin said...

Hmm. Just realized that I wrote, "pretty much everything I saw." That must have been an exaggeration!

JEW said...

Thanks for the reply, Gashwin. Male headship of families.... Hmm. Greg's thinking is quite biblically based; so he does seem to take male headship quite seriously. Plus, he seems to hate the feminization of our culture. But I better not speak for him. That's just my take on Greg's views of male headship and the woeful lack of male leadership in our culture in general and our families in particular.


Gashwin said...

Hey Jack ... thanks for stopping by here again. Oh I understand the stuff you mentioned: about a lack of male role models and so on. I don't know if the best way to counter that today is to promote a "male headship" concept. I grew up in a society that takes that idea for granted, and it's not always pretty. Of course India is a different world than the US or the West in many ways, but "male headship" that involves dowry deaths and wife beating isn't the best. I'm also a little suspicious of how the rhetoric of "male headship" has been used to keep women in line in the past.

Of course, I'm sure that Greg doesn't advocate any of that; I'm just trying to explain my uneasiness with the language, I guess.

Yes it's biblical. But in the same passage in Colossians, for instance, St. Paul asks slaves to obey their masters. Most moderns explain that away ... I suppose one also has to deal with issues of proper biblical interpretation.

Anway, we're talking about someone else's ideas in the third person! The best would be to go to the horse's mouth, so to speak ... :)

Anonymous said...

Gashwin -- of course I advocate biblical headship, which means servant-leadership. The man is the head of the home the way Christ is the head of the church, so the man is called to sacrifice himself for his family.

Greg Krehbiel (aka Mr. Crowhill)

Gashwin said...

Mr. Krehbiel -- first of all, apologies for messing up your name (and forgetting to correct my error until now!) ... I see what you're saying. I wonder if that kind of biblical headship has really ever existed. Which doesn't mean it's wrong or useless, of course.

Anonymous said...

It's early in your journey. Later you'll discover that you are really in the company of saints. That, as you approach Holy Communion you are in line only by the grace of God. First comes faith, then comes love. Pray that the Holy Spirit help you to see others as God sees them. You begin to realize that the hallmark of all that you encounter (including yourself) is our brokenness and then you can't be angry at someone or even judgemental when you realize that they too are not whole. Only Christ can make us whole and that is the process by which we become saints, when we truly become ourselves, the person God intended us to be, before all of life's experiences warped the fullness of that creation.

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I am nearly off the Catholic radar. In fact I really wasn't sure I could call myself 'Catholic' anymore. Then a few months ago I met a priest in Lourdes, who told me in conversation, several times, that I was 'really Catholic'. (He also told me in no uncertain terms I should get back to Mass!)I am still not 'back', but he gave me a real gift calling me Catholic. I can at least visit Churches etc now and feel like I do belong, instead of feeling like a complete tourist. I have been going to a discussion group recently where the people are really welcoming. I probably couldn't have done that if he hadn't told me I was 'really Catholic".

Gashwin said...

Hey Kiwi Nomad -- thanks for sharing your thoughts on here, and glad that your nomadic peregrinations brought you here. Your story is powerful -- a reminder, to me, of how the Holy Spirit works in the most unexpected ways. Blessings on your continued journey. As a Catholic priest-in-training let me just say, that you're always welcome in the Church -- it's your family, no matter how you feel about that, or what you feel the "issues" that keep you away might be. In some sense, you, and really, all humanity, "belongs" in the Church. Christ came to save not to condemn the world, as St. John reminds us, and the Church is the sign and sacrament of that salvation. Blessings on your journey.

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