Friday, September 5, 2014

Distinction: "Lifelong Catholic" vs. Living Catholic

There is really only one use for describing oneself as a "lifelong Catholic": a statement of chronological fact regarding one's self conception. In other words, it describes a fact of time—that the lifelong Catholic was baptized soon after birth, confirmed, received First Communion, etc., continued attending Mass throughout life, receiving sacraments, perhaps praying.

But what good is a label in itself? I can call attention to any other "chronological fact" regarding myself—I'm a lifelong brown-haired male. Or I can state a fact regarding how I view myself (self-conception), a view that may change with time; e.g. in high school I believed I was ugly because I had acne.

The label and the self-conception are morally neutral, psychological qualities. These qualities may be harmful or beneficial to our flourishing and striving for happiness. There is, however, no intrinsic point in any of these labels. The labels are spoken so as to be used, to set oneself in relation to something else. Hence labels, while neutral qualities in themselves, are always concretely employed in relation to something else; hence enters their political dimension.

However, I want to draw attention to how a person will call himself a "lifelong Catholic." Usually this label is spoken in order to give moral or political weight and authority to what is said; it serves as a sometimes-very-subtle power play, a badge of honor or pride, saying, "Look at me. I've lived this all my life. My opinion therefore is worth something."

But the problem is that being a "lifelong" anything doesn't guarantee mastery. One could be a lifelong entrepreneur, manager, woodworker, painter, etc. Length of experience certainly exposes one to more possibilities, but it in itself does not guarantee mastery. Mastery requires deliberation and intentionality, usually growing through a slow, heuristic process; sometimes, however, such deliberation draws out an intrinsic genius and leads to spontaneous leaps (punctuated growth rather than gradual).

Hence, the label "lifelong x" is an expression of unconscious pride. The label of the Saint is "I am a sinner; don't listen to me but to Christ, to the doctors, to the Church" (paradoxically in so doing, the Saints then become listened to themselves precisely because they submit their experience and knowledge to the greater tradition and judgment of the Church). The self-styled expert, or "lifelong Catholic," reveals himself to be a novice. If the "lifelong Catholic" would only realize that salvation and sanctification can be lost in a single moment, a single moral act, that salvation is not guaranteed, that the grace of perseverance must always be begged for, that the mystical life, just as with any art and virtue, must be advanced upon by calm and persevering deliberation that is oblivious to time and the growth of which is not set in proportion to the length of time that has passed, then perhaps that lifelong Catholic may actually become a living Catholic, which is the only kind of Catholic that is worth anything for glorifying God, working for the salvation of souls, and being saved.

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