Monday, December 26, 2011

Arrogance or Accuracy?

Here's a Q&A from a Facebook Catholic Q&A group of which I am a part:
Questioner:
I was talking to my uncle today (who was baptized Catholic, but is now Buddhist), and he said he feels the Church is "arrogant" to say that she holds the fullness of the truth when so many other religions have "similar myths and legends" (virgins giving birth, a god impregnating a human, etc.). He said that he didn't understand why the Church couldn't just admit that she was one among many and that he didn't see any difference between Catholicism and the other religions. 
I did talk about how, if all of creation was awaiting the coming of Jesus since the beginning, it makes perfect sense that there should be "echoes" of this in all of man's searching for god (thus the similar myths and things), but as far as how Catholicism is different from these...I just had no idea what to say or where to start. I know there are huge differences, but...any ideas on how I should have responded?
My Response (slightly edited--I always think of better ways to state things aftewards):
Prayer. That's the best response. 
As for actual dialogue with your uncle, you could start with the Trinity (no other religion comes close to holding the idea of 3 persons in the one God), you could also try to distinguish the Incarnation (God retaining the full nature of God while taking on a full human nature, hypostatically united in one person) from the myths (half god/half man status, or fully god, but only seeming to be human, etc.).
You were right with the "echoes" idea. If Christianity is entirely true, that doesn't mean it has to be entirely unique. In fact, it likely means that Christianity is not entirely unique. It's extremely unlikely that no other religion would have ever come up with any correct doctrines, and that only the one true faith would have a single correct doctrine. Just because some other religions may have happened to have gotten certain aspects correct doesn't mean that Christianity copied them, it just means that they found pieces of the Truth, whereas the Catholic Church has received the fullness of the Truth. We, as Catholics, commend others (even atheists) in the places where they are correct. It is always good to urge others on toward goodness, truth, and beauty. God is the source of all of them. If someone truly strives for any of them, he will find himself growing closer to God and coming closer to realizing the fullness of Truth, which God has revealed. God established the Catholic Church to make sure that His revelation would be handed down accurately. Our claim of fullness of truth is not for the sake of self-righteousness; rather, it is for the sake of the Truth--something infinitely higher than elevating ourselves in our own (and other men's) esteem.


Personally, I find your uncle's attitude more arrogant than the Catholic claim. Taking his mindset (that Catholics are arrogant to claim the fullness of the truth) to it's logical conclusion is to say that no one will ever know anything that is correct--or at least it will be arrogant to think so. Just because I think I'm correct in knowing that 2+2=4 doesn't mean I'm arrogant, it just means I'm right, and I know it. If I were to flaunt my knowledge of addition and make those who believe otherwise into lesser persons, then I would be arrogant. Merely to state that I have the truth and to propose it for you to accept, however, is not arrogance. That's what the Church does. She proposes the Truth to others; She never imposes it. The Catholic Church doesn't force anyone to accept the Truth; She only makes it public so that others may freely accept it. To me, your uncle's attitude seems to incorrectly (and slightly arrogantly) elevate tolerance and diversity over Truth.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Enigma

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we become bombarded with the trimmings of the "Christmas Season:" Christmas songs, Christmas parties, Christmas cookies, Christmas decorations, etc. This begins with the stores decorating for Christmas and piping Christmas music over their speakers beginning sometime in October--all under the label of putting customers in the "Christmas Spirit." To the average retail store, this "Christmas Spirit" is really just an excuse to hope that people will start thinking about Christmas much earlier, and so buy more gifts in this extended time of preparation.

Many people follow this lead and try to "get into the Christmas spirit" by listening to Christmas music, having Christmas parties, putting up Christmas decorations, etc. The unfortunate side-effect to that is the actual celebration of Christmas becomes an after-thought. I can remember being a boy and getting all excited for Christmas, listening to songs, wearing a santa hat, going to parties, etc., but when Christmas Day actually came, we excitedly opened presents, and then I was left with this feeling of "now what?" It seemed to me that all the songs sung of Christmas Day as this great occasion, but by the time that the clock struck noon, the excitement had already waned, save the fascination with whatever new toys I had received. Something about Christmas Day seemed a little empty, but I could never place it.

On the other hand, we have the Church, and Her seemingly antiquated approach of preparing for Christmas by holding off from any celebratory activity until the event itself, and then following through with a full season of celebration (what was previously the 12 days of Christmas and is now a variable length season). This is the 4th week of Advent--the final approach to the celebration of Christmas, yet when I go to Mass, I won't hear songs like Oh Come all Ye Faithful until Saturday evening. What I will hear is something more like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation (building with it's Gaudete on the third--rose-colored--Sunday, and it's O antiphons of this week), but not yet a time of celebration.

The question I wrestle with every year is this: To what extent should my personal life be like the liturgy (no Christmas until Christmas), and how much it should be like the retail industry (Christmas begins in October and ends on Christmas morning)?

Msgr. Pope has written a great post about the Advent practices of previous generations of Catholics, and he aptly considered them giants (performing penance for 40 days in preparation for celebrating the Christmas season). Surely their feats were greater than mine (perhaps staving off the consumption of a few cookies until Christmas day has arrived). These ancient practices are fascinating, but I wonder how one could perform them today (or if one should not bother). How can one avoid every Christmas party that occurs before Christmas? (Should one do so?) How can one encourage others to delay their parties until the Christmas season has begun? What about those who will only be able to be home before Christmas? There are, indeed, many questions, but as the years pass, and I try to conform myself a little more to the liturgy, and each year, the celebration of Christmas Day and the Christmas Season continues to be more meaningful. I wonder how to balance being in the world (not being a snob to those who celebrate Christmas early) while trying not to be of the world (not falling to the commercialized over-celebration of Christmas before it actually gets here).

Amanda and I have implemented a few ways for us to have a spirit of Advent:

  • Making a Jesse Tree
  • Using an Advent Wreath at the dinner table with special prayers when lighting the candles
  • Trying to listen to anticipatory Christmas songs (I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, I'll be home for Christmas, etc.) Advent songs, neutral winter songs (Let it Snow, etc.)

What do you think? How do you balance the Advent & Christmas seasons?

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