Friday, August 1, 2014

Distinction: Unworthy vs. Incapable

There is a difference between being unworthy of something and incapable of something. Unworthiness refers to being; incapacity refers to doing or activity. And although activity follows being (function follows form), one has to be careful in how this concept is applied.

For example, we are unworthy of salvation before God because we have sinned. Nevertheless, even if we hadn't sinned, as finite creatures we still could not save ourselves without God's grace because salvation transcends the capacity of finite power; it requires the infinite absolutely. Sin, on the other hand, makes us in a certain sense further incapable of salvation because it makes us unworthy by willfully rejecting the only thing which could save us, namely, God's grace.

Sometimes the Church makes this distinction. For example, She tells us that two persons of the same sex are incapable of marrying each other through the Sacrament of Matrimony. She tells us that women are incapable of ordination, and at one point, She decreed that women were incapable of singing in the choir because it is a liturgical function and hence reserved for men. In none of these instances does the Church decree that such people are unworthy so as to shame them. In a certain sense, all are unworthy of the grace of marriage, priesthood, and contributing to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But most people take the notion of unworthiness as a stimulus for shame rather than humility. 

This stimulus to shame rather than humility is fueled by a lack of healthy self-integration usually caused by childhood experiences in being raised poorly. Shame is fueled by falsehoods, pain, and hatred. Humility is fueled by truth, consolation, and love. Humility can feel painful, but it is a very different kind of pain than the pain that accompanies shame. The pain of humility is the pain of subduing one's pride, of resisting the allure of falsehood. The pain of shame is utterly destructive and usually leads to a form of overcompensation: either a person acts "nicely" and allows himself to be walked over without asserting healthy boundaries so as to avoid further pain; or the person acts like a jerk, stomping over others to give himself a false sense of power. Both reactions are extremes that try to hide from the simple presence of shame.

Hence when a person is told they "can't" do something, usually due to the above circumstances, this denial is used as a way to shame the person, confusing the notions of unworthiness and incapacity. In the past, others may have said, "You can't do that" so as to shame the person; e.g. "You can't watch TV/be with those people/eat this food/do that activity/etc." This "can't" took other forms as well: "Stop crying/don't be a cry baby/grow up/toughen up/don't talk about that/shut up/etc." These commands express one reality: you "can't" talk about your emotional state and what's really going on.

Rather than being a way to state a simple, humbling truth, "can't" becomes a powerful tool to place people into positions of shameful submission. Instead of something obvious, such as, "You can't fly because you don't have wings" or "You can't touch the stove or else you'll burn yourself real badly," can't takes on the form of unhealthy social dynamics that leads to shame. 

Hence when the Church declares something very simple and pure and profound, such as, "You can't deliberately miss Sunday Mass without committing mortal sin," She isn't trying to shame us to go to Mass but reminding us of a very basic reality: the primacy of God in our lives, and the most obvious expression of that primacy is weekly worship as handed down to us from Christ Himself.

All the commandments and dogmas of the Church are interpreted as shaming mechanisms by people who themselves feel ashamed for whatever reason. They cannot be properly seen as humble statements of divine truth when a person is caught up in such a psychological-spiritual state. But in reality, these commandments and dogmas are lampposts to our happiness and freedom because they guide us to humility, and as Scripture tells us, "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (Jas. 4:6).

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.