Tuesday, April 15, 2003

No rules. Just right.

I have reached a stage where I find my tendency towards legalisms to be interfering with my desire to be good. My first attempt at a solution appears to be working, but it is not a solution I would recommend for most people. For now, I am trying very hard not to pay very much attention to the Catechism.

It’s not that the Catechism hasn’t been helpful to me, for it has. But it is intended to be completely comprehensive, and so it contains a seemingly precise list of every conceivable category that could arise. That is in fact helpful, but most life is lived in the spaces between categories. Friday night’s dinner party was a perfect example (of a very minor sort). Guests had been invited and thought if not to be Catholic, then at least seafood eaters. But they were not, and were a challenge to feed because mister also does not like cheese. (Eliminating flesh, seafood and cheese largely exhausts my standard culinary repertoire. I long ago foreswore Vegan friendships.) I ordinarily like a culinary challenge, but instead of simply reveling in that, everywhere I turned I found difficulties and rules that had to be overcome. Finally, I decided (and the Kathy the Carmelite reinforced with a few pithy citations) that the truly operative function here was Christian charity. I hadn’t invited my guests in the hopes of evading a Lenten discipline, and I could not possibly disinvite them, but if I couldn’t at least nudge my way around the rules then I was going to serve them a meal of uncertain quality in the name of my own selfishness.

Some well-meaning soul is no doubt now scrolling down to the bottom of this post in order to add a comment that says something about the pursuit of holiness not being selfishness, possibly even backed up with a quotation taken from some papal pronouncement, probably written by John Paul II. (The man is nothing if not prolific.) But, you see, what happened is that the rules got in the way, and that’s what made it selfish. Instead of simply being able to say, “Aha! Now I have the opportunity for some real grace here, because I have to find a way to meet the duties of charity to my guests while preserving the Lenten discipline!” I had to add “Let’s pull out the handy dandy list of rules and see what we can manage here!” Every time I thought I found a solution that got me within clear and unarguable boundaries, I began to feel that I was cheating my guests of a meal I could know in advance would be worth serving. (For the record, I went with simpler food and staked the quality of the meal on pairing the food with some good wine at each course. It was only partially successful, because mister used up most of his quota of drinking with the aperitif.)

In any case, this is a minor example, and you shouldn’t get caught up in the details. My larger point is that this illustrates a tendency of mine towards a tender conscience. And I find that tendency growing. So, my solution is to cast the rules to one side for a while, to set them down, and to live.

BUT, in order to do this and not turn into some sort of namby pamby “social justice” “protestant,” I am stepping up my occasional practice of the “Examen.” This, you will recall, is a principle of Ignatian spirituality in which a person spends some time each night examining the day, and seeing the ways in which he succeeded or failed. My particular question (not all that far from what Ignatius prescribed) will be “How have I taken or failed to take the opportunities for Grace that the day presented?”


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