Oh Lord, purify me, make me a chalice in which you dwell, offer your sacrifice in me and spread your love through me. Let me shine like gold, adorn me with the jewels of virtue that I may always be open to you. Fill me. Overflow me. Let me be like that most perfect vessel, the Singular Vessel of Devotion, She to whom I cry for protection against the Evil One. I ask this for your glory, for the vessel is nothing without the sustenance inside, the cup nothing unless it is filled. Oh Lord, purify me.

Give me a word, Abba

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Puritanism and Hedonism

I am back, and with my return come some remarks on one of my favorite topics: Puritanism and Hedonism.

This is not particularly relevant to my ultimate point, but I firmly believe that the origins of the American Project are Protestant and even Puritan. Thus, all the comments I am going to make on the personal level should be taken in this cultural context. I am not going to chip away at the cultural disease right now, but merely reflect on the realities of this disease on individuals, presumably myself as well as others.

There is an impulse in each of us to sin, often referred to as concupiscence (for the love of God, teach this word to your children. They will thank you). There are perhaps two sides to this concupiscence. One side is what I would call the Emotionalist and the other I would call the Intellectualist. The emotionalist concupiscence tends to see all actions in terms of how they feel, whether they feel good or bad, whether they make you feel happy or not. Essentially, it is whether you have a powerful emotion about something that determines its worth. The intellectualist concupiscence is essentially one of pride. It is the assertion that your thought and your logic and your rejection of the impure emotional intuitive instinctive judgements. As long as your argument is valid and sound, you have reached the summit of correct action and thus can not be faulted. Both of these, if you notice, are based on the assumption that you are the most important consideration in all matters, whether it be your emotions or your intellect. Simply these could be called sins of the flesh and sins of the intellect. C.S. Lewis tends to find the latter to be more dangerous to one's soul. I haven't reached my own conclusion on that yet, but I tend to agree.

These impulses, unfortunately, are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, when someone's world-view is Intellectualized, the need for authentic human interaction outside the mind often drives them to sins of the flesh. It is, as I say, an authentic need, but because of the extreme Intellectualism, the response is an extreme Emotionalism. Because of this dichotomy, the need for justification arises and so the Intellectual intellectualizes his emotionalism. Thus, the two are tied up in one big knot and he can not escape either one else he would lose everything.

Which might be the point.

One of the great things about Catholicism is that it is able to embrace two extremes, (Christ, you know, stretched out His arms on the cross to embrace the whole world). The two extremes that are relevant to this discussion are what I would call the Mirthful and the Thoughtful. Once again, the two are not mutually exclusive and one often follows on the heels of the other. However, Mirth is not Hedonism. It is not self gratifying, but very free and open to others, and especially in a Christian context, to God. It is an expression of Joy. Thus, we get Hilaire Belloc saying: "Wherever the Catholic Sun doth shine, there's always laughter and good red wine." and Thomas Aquinas recommending drinking to "hilarity." We get St. Francis leaping about among the animals and nature and get all the great Catholic humorist Saints, like St. Lawrence. I myself have experienced this true, pure mirth which forgets all prejudice and hatred on the banks of the Tiber after a particularly potent Mass.

And this, as I mentioned, is the connection between the two. It was out of a reflective, thoughtful, prayerful Mass that this Mirth comes. Giving one's mind and soul over to God in the Eucharist for spiritual communion (not to mention the physical communion of the Eucharist) will release such a spiritual dopamine that one can not help but sing a song unto the Lord. Once we understand ourselves and our relationship to God and his creation through thoughtful reflection (and the Grace of God), we can rejoice in the our place in creation. We are lowly, not worth mentioning in relation to God, but he has elevated our humanity through the Incarnation. We rejoice not only in our humble relationship to God, as a dog does when his owner throws a ball, but also in our relationship to God as sons and daughters.

This is the true coin, the real mint. The other is merely counterfeit. Thoughtfulness is not rigid intellectualism and puritanical legalism, nor is mirth pleasure seeking hedonism that answers merely our emotional need. There is a tension between mirth and thoughtfulness, but it the tension that holds together the spider web and creates a beautiful geometric image. It is not the tension of a stretched rubber band waiting to snap. This is a lesson, I think, for everyone. The tension itself must serve the whole (the Thought and the Mirth must contribute together to the worship of God) and not divide the person into two persons, the Puritan and the Hedonist which just breeds confusion and chaos. The Hedonist/Puritan eventually becomes so self absorbed just trying to break the confusion that the two sides of himself war each other into annihilation. This could be called damnation, and in fact some have called damnation annihilation.

But the unity of Mirth and Thought is the Joyful Life of the Trinity, which is both Dance and Reason. When we allow God to enter our minds and our hearts and fill them with a Reasonable Dance or a Gamboling Logic, we are drawn into greater communion with Him and that, my friends, is a taste of Heaven and in fact, ultimately, will be heaven itself.

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