Examine the tradition of Catholicism and find a seemingly rigid and troublesome set of traditions and rules. I feel confident that any Christian would agree with this statement: Catholicism employs far more “rules” and tangible traditions in its church (some argue for better, others argue for worse).
The result? A highly inconvenient religion to follow. A starkly counter-culture path. But remember, a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it (Undoubtedly, other Christian traditions also demand a lot from their followers: to live as Christ lived, to put it succinctly, is not an easy task for any human). Sadly, most don’t invest enough in the orthodoxy for the intended transformation to take place.
In the society around me, I see little but laziness and comfort, even among my Catholic and Christian friends. I hear complaints that would be laughable to many living outside the U.S., and I offer them up regularly myself. In my more specific world of college-graduated, employed, middle-class 20-somethings, this lack of discomfort is all the more apparent. Our conditions rarely force us to question our “résumé faith,” though they do quietly push us away from a deeper union with God. But what does a more multi-dimensional faith look like, one that has faced true hardship? More generally, what does it mean to truly prioritize God? To put one’s faith at the very core of one’s being in such a way that it influences everything one does?
As a living body, the Catholic church calls its members to bend themselves and their lives to God; it does not ask God to accommodate their lifestyles. God does not change to match the times. The finite times must mold to the infinite value of God.
Attending Mass weekly in lieu of a fun activity, handing over the convenience of birth control, truly understanding and living what delayed gratification entails by reserving sex for marriage, incorporating confession into one’s life regularly, observing Lent and so on… these demands can often feel like “too much” for many people (myself included).
There are plenty of religious traditions that allow you to choose when you’ll attend services, how you’ll practice your faith in your own life, and borderline expect you to opt in or out when it truly is convenient (or desperately needed). That is not Catholicism. But there is great news.
It’s taken years for me to understand the liberating qualities within the rules of Catholicism. And it may take the majority of one’s life to see every benefit, but adhering to a set of guidelines for a life that is intended to be close to God is a deeply rewarding experience. One that I have yet to achieve, certainly, but I have seen glimpses.
Denying oneself of the temptations of life, big or small, in favor of closeness with God, can only result in reward. Those who have denied themselves of one of our most basic human desires until marriage can surely speak to the reward. The sense of true reciprocity in regards to one of life’s most mysterious gifts, and an unrivaled intimacy as a result — also creating a greater intimacy with God. This is just one area of life where the short-term demand is often passed over, and the heightened reward is therefore lost.
In smaller ways, the simple act of attending Mass weekly does in fact, over time, produce a great strength and closeness with God. In the same way, attending confession regularly keeps our hearts accountable and bound to God more closely. These are not rules for the sake of rules. These are the only rules in place that are designed to liberate – that do liberate in their very nature.
I look at my limited scope of the unraveling of history and time, and I see only movements and organizations and communities that have changed. I look at the Catholic church and I see some change, of course, but more than that I see consistency. I see a belief in Truth that is so strong it cannot be moved. I hear the voices of the dead and recognize that no other institution gives their voices this much credence. I see the pain and difficulty exhibited by those who choose to live and stay Catholic to the best of their ability. I recognize their sacrifices and I know their influence. Yet I also see their great joy and continue to chase after it.
But do not take all this from me, in the very midst of the hardship and cloudiness; hear the power of orthodoxy instead from G.K. Chesterton, a mind above the fray:
This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.
It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.