Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Comforts and Fears of Legalism

Quite some time ago, a good friend said something along these lines to me:
"I've been trying really hard to defeat spiritual legalism. When I think about sin legalistically, I'm constantly terrified that I've committed a mortal sin recently which I haven't confessed, and that if something were to happen to me I'd be damned instantly. I try to remember that if at the personal judgment I truly embrace God, He won't turn away from me."
I think this is certainly a valid way of thinking about things from a Catholic perspective, and I don't want to speak against it, but it did strike me as a very foreign viewpoint when I heard it. Foreign to my own experience, that is.

You see, my experience is pretty much the opposite: As someone who seldom feels a strong relationship with God, I find the idea that when I've gone to confession my sins really are forgiven, whether I feel like it or not, very comforting. On the other hand, relying entirely on the idea that when faced with the full experience of God I would unhesitatingly rush to him is, for me, a little terrifying. Unhesitating rushing is not something I'm known for. I'm not the rushing type. The idea of being face to face with God is more than a little terrifying for me -- as perhaps it should be.

As such, I find a more traditional (some would say: dour) approach to Lent intensely comforting, as opposed to the "this is a great time to work on your relationship with God" approach. Even in my married life, I'm not sure how you "work on your relationship" -- but I do know how to say "I love you", spend time talking together, go on a date, or buy a present. Similarly, I don't know how to "work on my relationship with God", but if fasting, prayer and alms-giving are what builds our relationship with Him, those I know how to do.

1 comment:

bearing said...

Thanks for this.

Often it seems to me that the "feelings" people have hijacked the discussion of spirituality. Some people approach faith from the heart, so to speak, and can talk about having a "simple love for Jesus" and mean it, and I have no doubt that their relationship with God is genuine and strong and that it is one way to be a Christian.

But a cerebral sort of faith can be good too.

I think there's a lot more pressure on Catholic women to be touchy-feely about their faith, to talk in relationship terms, than on Catholic men. Sometimes I seriously have to avoid the Catholic-mommy-blogosphere because I just don't do the "feeling" thing very well, and I don't think it's in my nature, and it's too easy to start thinking there's something wrong with me personally.

I do sometimes wish there was a balancing element for the purposes of the kids' religious upbringing, since both their father and I are, um, cerebral about it. I may be the only orthodox Catholic homeschooling mother in the world who sends her kids to the parish religious ed so they can get exposed to the touchy-feely stuff. (Our parish DRE is a woman who absolutely radiates a deep, loving relationship with Jesus, so I mean that in the best possible way.)