Call me “rigid.”
Last night, I saw a tweet that broke my heart.
A woman wrote that her husband told her he was going to Mass after work. But he went to a bar, instead. She went to the bar. He was there. He was drunk.
She asked for our prayers.
I said one for her, and two for her husband.
The woman is a traditional Catholic, like me. Or what the Holy Father calls “rigid.”
I know nothing else empirically about her husband. But I know this: he and I are a lot alike.
I couldn’t count the number of times I went out drinking with friends from work when my wife expected me home. Friends from work, friends from outside of work, by myself. Whatever.
Each time, I justified my selfishness in two ways:
- I deserve this.
- She wouldn’t understand.
When you make a habit of doing what you want instead of what’s expected, you get good at putting others out of your mind. At least, I did. Never while sitting at a high-top table with five or six drinking buddies did I think, “Poor Angela is at home taking care of the kids.” Nor, “I wonder if Patrick or Jordan needs help with homework.”
Not once. Because I deserved not to be troubled by such trivialities. I was bonding with co-workers, which might improve my position at work, which might mean more money, which would enrich their lives. I was doing them a favor.
We’re all the hero in the novel of our own lives.
But we’re all the villain in someone else’s.
So I said one prayer for the woman who asked for prayers and two for her husband who didn’t.
The first prayer for her husband was that God would shower him with the grace to see that time with his wife and children will bring him more joy than time with his friends at the bar. The second was that he be spared the perpetual remorse and self-loathing that strikes me out of the blue every day.
Every single day.
My kids are grown, now. They have their own lives, flung, literally, across the globe.
I don’t have to worry about their homework or fixing them something they’ll like for dinner. I don’t have to worry about their lunch money accounts or their laundry or what they’ll do after school before I get home.
I don’t have to “give up” watching a Cardinal’s baseball game because one of them has a Little League game. I don’t have to “suffer” through their hockey practice at 7:00 a.m. with a hangover.
I have all the time in the world, now. Time to wish Patrick would come bounding into the room to inform about some fascinating hockey statistic he just discovered or what Alex did at school that day.
I have time to wonder how Angela got through those nights when I was out laughing with friends over bourbon and soda.
I have time to wonder whether my career was better served by always saying “yes” to an invitation than if I’d said, “I’d love to, but I promised my kids I’d watch the game with them.”
I have time to wonder if my kids realize that all my political work was really about my ego, and making the world better for them was just a bonus.
I have time, now, to sit and write blog posts like this one, most of which never make it to the internet because I’m too ashamed of myself—and too defensive of my reputation—to hit the Publish button. (Yes, there are hundreds like this saved to a drafts folder somewhere.) So, I prayed for the woman’s husband. And I committed to write this post. (Actually, I committed to writing a much better version of this post, but the brilliant lines I thought of as I was brushing my teeth before bed seemed to vanish in a dream through the night.)
I prayed that God would give him the graces to see into the future. I prayed God would show how miserable he’ll be when he’s my age, looking back at his family life of 20 years ago and seeing the void. I want him to see himself in his fifties, sitting before a laptop, typing out a mea culpa and wishing one of his little ones would barge in and ruin the moment for him.
I want him to know today what he can only regret having missed in a decade.
For the woman who posted the tweet, which she has since deleted, I asked Our Lady to give her strength and patience and understanding. That God give her peace.
Which brings me back to my rigidity.
I am rigid. I am rigid in my sinfulness, my opposition to authority, my obstinance, and my selfishness.
I’ve been Catholic my whole life, but I’ve lived like a Catholic only when it’s convenient. Or when things were rough.
My parents sacrificed to send me to Catholic schools. Kindergarten through college. Sixteen years of Catholic education.
Despite all that Catholic schooling, I knew little about the faith or the Church until relatively recently. In school, we learned that almost any sin is not really a sin, that God wants, above all, for all of us to be happy. When some old Dominican sister would tell us such-and-such is a grave mortal sin, a priest would come in the next day and tell it wasn’t, as long as we love God and are happy.
My parents, who never stopped complaining about Vatican II and the New Mass, agreed with the old Dominicans. But I found it easier and more to my liking to side with the priest. And he was a priest, after all. Being naturally suspicious of authority, I grabbed onto the priest’s new theology: God put us here to be the best possible versions of ourselves. I could do whatever I wanted as long as I did it with the intention of being the best of who God made me.
Deep inside, I’m pretty sure I knew that my parents and the old Dominican were right, but I also knew that Jesus gave the power to bind and loose to priests, not to nuns and parents. If the priest said it was okay, then it’s okay. And if the priest was wrong, well, that’s between him and Jesus. I was just following orders. Can’t hold me responsible.
I heard a woman on EWTN say that she confessed to having an abortion, and the priest told it wasn’t a sin because of her circumstances. She left the confessional and found a priest who would acknowledge her grave sin, forgive her, and admonish her to sin no more. Ya know, a rigid priest.
My wife, the woman who took care of the kids while was having drinks with friends or carrying on at some political event, became Catholic. Throughout the process, Novus Ordo priests helped and encouraged her. As I’ve written before, her mother, son, daughter, and son-in-law all made it into the Church before she did. Her witness of patience and hope was that strong. And the extreme tenderness of the post-Vatican II Church undoubtedly helped. Or, at least, it didn’t hurt.
But the same extreme tenderness that helped my wife persevere through the emotional pain of a Petrine Petition also feeds the concupiscence of weak men like me. Like the woman’s husband. And it’s brutally unfair.
In the church that educated me, the woman and her husband could have died last night and both would go to heaven. Or maybe just the husband, since he was busy being what he believed to be the man God made. He made no attempts to deny himself the pleasures of the world, and God made the world, therefore he was doing God’s will. His wife, on the other hand, wanted him to conform to some legalisms intended to deny him his true nature. Therefore, one could argue, it is she, not he, who needs to get to confession.
When Bishop Barron says there’s a reasonable hope that all men will be saved, he’s saying the good-hearted woman and the good-timing man are both doing what God wants. Like dogs or pigs, they’re simply living out the nature God gave them. Who am I to judge?
When Fr. James Martin, SJ, says that to be a saint, be yourself, he’s saying the wife must not ask her husband to go to Mass, then come home and help her with the kids and the house.
And, even if that’s not what Bishop Barron and Fr. Martin mean when they say what they say, it’s what people hear. When you speak in vaguaries, people add their own color. And the color is almost always friendly to their base desires.
I know the bishop and the father have more theological training than I have, but even our Protestant brothers and sisters can see how ridiculous their theology is. Memorizing a book of errors doesn’t make you smart or right; it makes you a walking encyclopedia of stupid and wrong.
And that, my friends, is why I am too bad for the New Church. For most of my adult life I believed Fr. Martin and Bishop Barron. I was myself, and myself is an egomaniacal ass who cares more about accolades from strangers than the hopes and fears of the woman who forsook all others for me or the children God put into my care. That is who I am!
Or, I should say, that is who I am without the grace of God.
And that’s why I’m not good enough for the post-Vatican II church. I am inherently a bad person, and the strongest woman on earth cannot make me good. Only the grace of God can keep me from my worst instincts. But the Vatican II church teaches me to be myself, and to go to confession once a year only if I determine that something I’ve done is a sin. If not, c’est la vie. Go get your “wafer,” and carry on. Be yourself. That’s the way God made you.
The rigid Latin Mass Church is far less accommodating. This church taught Catholics of the first two millennia that sin is sin and heaven is for those who accept the grace of God to overcome their sinfulness. Hell is for those who love their sin more than they love God or desire heaven. God is fair. He gives us what we want. If we want to live in sin, we are free to do so. But being who we are is not the reason God put us here. He put us here to be like like Christ, and Christ was free from sin. Christ avoided temptation. Christ did His Father’s will and reminded us of that fact frequently.
As the Rector of my Latin Mass oratory says in almost every homily, “No one said it was going to be easy.” Imitating Christ will not help your career, even if you’re a priest. Overcoming your fallen nature means denying yourself what you want to do, not giving in to every brute instinct. In heaven, you will be free from those brute instincts and able to appreciate everything without conflicting desires. On earth, though, conflict is a constant.
If I had no base desires, the Vatican II, nouvelle théologie, “be yourself” message would work. But, absent base desires, we wouldn’t need a church at all. The abense of base desires is Heaven, and this ain’t Heaven.
Therefore, I pray for the woman and her husband. I pray that he can find only rigid priests who will show true love to him, not a Jimmy Martin priest who will encourage his concupiscence and admonish his wife to let the poor man be who he is.
Acquinas said that “to love is to will the good of the other.” Jesus said “only the Father is good.” Therefore, to love is to will others obey God against their own animal instincts. St. Catherine of Siena got it right when she wrote: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
God meant you to be like His Son, not like me or the guy who skipped Mass to drink with friends last night. Your Novus Ordo priest who speaks about nothing but loving your neighbor won’t say it. But, by the grace of God, I will: Don’t be yourself. Be who God wants you to be.
Let those who are without propensity to sin defend the New Church. Give me that old-time religion, because I’m tired of hurting people, and I want to go to heaven.
I hope you’ll join me.
Maybe this will help: