Tuesday, February 10, 2009

plenary indulgences?! WTF?!

I will begin by noting that, as a good Battlestar Galactica fan, "WTF" here stands for "What the Frack?"

It would seem that the church of my upbringing is making an effort to make things easy on me as I struggle with whether to remain Catholic. They've brung back plenary indulgences, choosing rather oddly to highlight the traditional teaching of purgatory as a time of suffering needed to cleanse the soul before one is ready to enter into heaven.

[insert image of frustrated Catholic banging his head against a wall several times here]


OK, so...plenary indulgences. Isn't this one of the teachings that led to great schisms within Christianity awhile back (or, at least, the practice of selling such)? Yep.

Doesn't the teaching implicitly suggest that God is a rather sadistic bastard who is so unforgiving and intolerant that people need to be "purified" through pain and agony before they can be welcomed into heaven? Yep.

Do I find the church's teaching that they could have any influence on such a process (were it to be true) rather arrogant? Why yes, yes I do.

And yet do I somehow just feel Catholic somehow, as if I'd be losing some part of my identity if I entirely left the church? Sigh. Yes.

OK, so my message to the Vatican right now is (to quote Bob Newhart from a memorable Mad TV scene): stop it. Thinking about encouraging the sacrament of reconciliation by bizarrely shedding light on an illogical, two-tiered system of forgiveness? Stop it. Thinking about letting avowed anti-semites back as bishops in a poor play to the ultra-conservatives that left the church because, say, we now say the mass in something other than Latin? Stop it. Thinking about encouraging plenary indulgences? Stop it.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I have another suggestion for the Catholic church. Stop using the word "modernity" so much. As in the phrase, "as we attempt to dialogue with modernity...." Instead, substitute the word "reality" or, if you prefer, use the phrase "modern reality." I think it clarifies things.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

on pain and suffering

I've been reading more of Pema Chodron lately, and I was intrigued by her discussion of the difference between pain and suffering. I guess I had always used the terms semi-synonymously, but in her definitions, pain is our immediate response to an unhappy event. If someone drops a hammer on our toe, we feel pain. If someone calls us an ugly name, we feel pain. But what is interesting about pain is that it feel fresh, new, immediate.

Many of us spend a lot of energy trying to retreat from pain in various ways. We withdraw into emotional and behavioral coccoons in a lot of unhealthy ways, out of an effort to feel some sort of comfort, and in so doing we create what she calls suffering. So if someone is so afraid of rejection that they keep to themselves all the time and feel lonely -- that loneliness would be a form of suffering. You get the idea. But what is interesting about suffering is that it always feels familiar. Like we've had that feeling before, or sometimes like it's always been there with us.

I was thinking about this today because I was contemplating getting older, and feeling this sense of loss about it. Lost opportunity, perhaps. But then I realized that the feeling itself was the same thing that I felt even back when I was younger. It hadn't changed, it had merely attached itself to this issue of aging. The feeling was part of my particular brand of suffering, I just hadn't realized it.

The solution, of course, is to lead a life where we are more fearless, more willing to experience pain rather than retreating into "comfort" and it's consequent suffering. I like that idea.