One can feel more alone in a crowd than when physically isolated. The phenomenon arises from the awareness that none of those around you know or care about you. It’s more common among city-dwellers than those who live in less dense regions, but just about anyone can happen upon an occasion to experience it.
That state of aloneness can arise when one is surrounded by other Catholics at Mass, should the celebrant or a deacon spout obvious falsehoods from the pulpit. I had that experience this very morning.
The deacon at issue, a man of many years’ service to my parish, was “interpreting” Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. [Romans 1:18-25]
From this, our deacon proceeded to exhort us to “crucify all self desires,” each and every day. Those were his exact words.
Excuse me? Are we, then, forbidden to want anything for ourselves? Are the many pleasures and satisfactions of temporal life merely temptations, placed before us to test our souls? Is God’s Creation merely an expanded version of the tortures of Tantalus, he who stole ambrosia and nectar from Olympus that mortals might know the secrets of the gods? If so, what becomes of God Who is loving, just, and merciful? What becomes of Man’s free will and our ability to learn and flourish? Is everything either compulsory or forbidden, as in a Communist “utopia?”
Those were my immediate reactions. I looked around my fellow lay Catholics for any indication that I was not alone in thinking thus. I saw nothing to reassure me.
The celebrant had to have known what the deacon was about to say. By implication, he found it unobjectionable. I left the chapel in a state of deep confusion.
Now that it’s possible, I try to attend Mass every weekday. I seek to draw strength from it for the day ahead. The Eucharist is a reminder of how greatly God loves His people. After all, one doesn’t sacrifice one’s only son lightly, as Abraham would tell you. Moreover, the miracle of Transubstantiation is the greatest of God’s gifts to living mortals, for at each occurrence it reconnects us with His Son and the Passion He freely accepted in remission of the sins of men.
And then I hear crap like the above from the pulpit.
Fellow Catholics, I remind you, now and forever, to let your conscience be your guide. The Ten Commandments are explicit; moreover, they are organically derived from the Two Great Commandments:
Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:34-40]
At no time did Jesus ever condemn the enjoyment of the fruits of the Earth or of our honest labors in our own interest. Moreover, He twice reminded us that God the Father said just the same thing:
As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Matthew 9:10-13]
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick the grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry— how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” [Matthew 12:1-8]
These are the virtues. Asceticism is nowhere mentioned among them. Therefore, be free of the dictates of those who would chastise you for enjoying your temporal life, so long as it offends neither the Commandments nor the seven virtues above.
I hope that will leave you feeling a bit less alone.