Saturday, August 19, 2006

What difference does it make?

A few days ago Anna Nussbaum asked a very important question over at the Commonweal blog: what difference does our calling ourself Christian make in our daily life?
We are wondering if there is any real palpable difference in the logic of our daily lives as a result of our Catholicism, and if not, why not?

I recently met up with an Objectivist friend at the Met, and in the process of arguing with him over the logic of love vs. the logic of rational self-interest, I realized that I knew all the right Catholic things to say, and all the best arguments to put forth, but in terms of my day to day decision making I was much more a Utilitarian than I would like to admit. My lifestlyle in many ways, belied my belief. I too cared about success and power and believed on some perhaps unconscious level that my individual achievements were, in fact, a good indication of my worth. I spoke of self-sacrifice but knew little of it, and I wondered, "Is there any real difference in terms of how I actually live?"
That little question has been sitting with me for the past couple of days. The comments there are illustrative (obviously, I favor responses over others ...).

One commenter talked about the triumphalistic church he grew up with and how thankful he is that its smug certitudes are gone (but its worried about a resurgence) ... I've never known that church really. When I was first discovering the Church all those years ago in India, one of the things that excited me was the declaration Nostra Aetate and the idea that non-Catholics weren't automatically condemned to hell. I couldn't square the experience of the witness of the lives of my family and friends with a narrow understanding of extra ecclesiam nulla salus ...

There's many directions this qustion can take us. One would be, "Well, if our lives are so similar to the unbelivers', then, why believe?" Or, perhaps more commonly, "why bother with the institutional trappings of beleif", with "organized religion" as it is called? However, what I've been thinking about most is this: what makes my life distinctively Christian and Catholic, apart from piety? [I should say, however, there seems to be a tendency among some to knock piety -- understood as the external manifestation of one's faith, especially in acts of worship and devotion -- or to assume that piety is always empty ritual masking hypocrisy. Obviously that's simply not true. I suspect it has something to do with a cultural more that values orthopraxis over orthodoxy, but just as much, it could be traced back to Our Lord Himself who strongly denounced religious hyporcrisy, and suggested that we pray in secret where only Our Father in heaven sees us.] Well, I would hope and pray that the Great Commandment is made visible, is embodied in my life. Or, that I diminish while He increases. That seems to be a good measure.

And how am I doing in that regard? I shudder to think ... which is why I really cannot imagine the Christian life lived without the help of the constant renewal and grace of the Sacraments.

So, until that Day comes when all is revealed, I will muddle along in the barque, and pray that the Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
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Jason said...

Initially I have to responses to this question:

1) Reception of the sacraments sets me apart from belief and behavior of fellow sojourners of other faiths; and these were given by Christ so that we may come into the Fullness of Truth.

2) The fact that I put my faith in the Fullness of Truth of the Church sets me apart, even if that isn't outwardly apparent to others.

Napoleon said...

True Jason the Sacraments, particullarly the Eucharist, set us apart on a spiritual level, but Gashwin's musings seem to be more on a practical level dealing more with our daily living out the message and mission of the Good News. Asking if our lives are like a light in the darkness or a city on a hill, or do we instead light the lamp of our faith and then hide it under a basket of fear and social acceptance.

I feel your struggle Gashwin, day-to-day I constantly fail as a sinner to actually live out my faith, and end up being merely a Christian by name alone.

assiniboine said...

Well, I don't know that I necessarily find it a matter exclusively of "our Catholicism," but we can agree to differ there.

But to my mind there is not a scintilla of doubt: "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves....Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is thus: to visit widows and orphans in their affliction...."

I was wishing when I was asked by a mullah in village Pakistan, "What is the Christian version of the Shahada?" (Ie "There is no god but The God and Muhammed is the prophet of The God") that I had a slightly better recollection of Scripture. The true answer of course is the Apostles' Creed, but that seemed a bit long to rattle off in the circumstances. So I said, "Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord. And thou thalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets."

He found that entirely satisfactory. Possibly more so than the Apostles' Creed would have done.

But do you remember when I took you to Church House in Toronto and introduced you to the Anglican Primate of Canada and then took the both of you to lunch? ("What a splendid guy," you said. "What a pity he's not a REAL bishop." Ahem. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, I forgive, but I do not forget!

One of the people we ran into there was Andrew Ignatieff, who was then the director of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund. His brother Michael Ignatieff is in all likelihood going to be the next Prime Minister.

Keep watching this space.

Michael Peers, the Primate, reported then that Andrew was very sniffy indeed about Michael Ignatieff being short-listed for the Booker Prize for his novel ("Scar Tissue") about looking after an Alzheimer's Disease-ridden mother while Andrew was the one actually doing the looking-after and Michael was off being the darling of the London intelligentsia. (It is, though a wonderful book.) Andrew is, in fact, the do-gooder brother where Michael is the political one: cf the Costello brothers in Australia -- Peter is the rigorously Reagonesque Minister of Finance; Tim is the head of World Vision Australia -- and a Baptist minister (I think that Australian Baptists are rather like Canadian ones, and not at all the vicious nasties that they seem to be in the USA).

And Andrew is not at all the pathetic wretch the article suggests. Head of the aforementioned (albeit ridiculous-sounding) PWRDF, but before that the program director of UNICEF, and afterwards

He left when Michael Peers retired; the literature makes him sound rather a pious Anglican ("sitting vigil," whatever that means, for Ted Scott -- the former primate who was one of the "Commonwealth Eminent Persons" who were hauled in on the transformation of South Africa in the early '90s; frequent guest preacher at Canadian Anglican churches -- and all that sort of guff); he now runs the Save the Children Fund. The Anglican connection is odd, given the Russian antecedents on his father's side and the redoubtable Presbyterian ones on his mother's -- Queen's University in Kingston is a Grant, and United Church of Canada institution to all intents and purposes; the "headmaster" to whom Dunstan Ramsay addressed the monologue in Robertston Davies's "Fifth Business" is a Grant; Robertson Davies, indeed, was set up with Alison Grant, Michael Ignatieff's mother, as a prom date by her father, the headmaster of Upper Canada College, when they were in high school. But perhaps it only goes to show the exhaustion of the United Church and liberal evangelical Protestantism.

Just filling you in!

Did you not like the hymnal and CDs I sent?

Gashwin said...

@assiniboine -- I do think that the Great Commandment is an adequate equivalent to the Shahada ... brilliant thinking on your feet!

I was not at all suggesting that this was a concern only for Catholics: this was story found on the blog of a Catholic magazine, and mine is a Catholic blog, so obviously that's the focus. I am certain this is a question that is quite pertinent to all Christians (and possibly, mutatis mutandis, to followers of other religions as well) ... so there's nothing to agree to disagree about here ...

And, my dear friend, I do wish you would take all such remarks about Protestants and so on with a huge grain of salt! :-)

As to the CDs ... I have not even gotten to them. It's been a hectic week ... I don't have my place, my CD player is packed up ... so it's most likely they will be listened to after I arrive in DC.