What good I have done as a person is known by some. What bad I have done as a person is known in bits and pieces by many, and to my wife and confessor in full. Please don’t ask them for details.
Many theologians and saints have written about how pride is the first and most dangerous sin. Every time we rely on ourselves, every time we think we are capable of goodness separate from God, we inevitably fail. This blog is an example of that.
You see, I’m just a big phony. None of the ideas I’ve written about here are original: they are truths first passed on by the apostles and disciples of Christ who witnessed His life, death, and resurrection, further elaborated on by holy men and women throughout the ages, and taught to me by my family, friends, and educators. They were given to us through the revelation of God, and we have not added anything to it. Of all people, I have perhaps the least claim to the contents of this blog. A quick game of Six Degrees of Salvation would reveal the real sources of all my ideas.
As a friend once commented to me, quoting Samuel Johnson, “People need to be reminded more often than instructed.” If this blog serves any purpose, it is to remind people of what they already know through God’s revelation present in their souls and in the world around them. These truths exist outside of us; we can but point to them and smile.
Most of the specific methods and models I’ve used of communicating these truths were directly stolen from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, saints, popes, or the wonderful people I’ve worked with and befriended. Most who read this blog probably have thought at some point, “That a-hole stole that idea from me!” And they would be right. Only, it was Jesus’ idea first, and He said I could use it…so there.
As I quoted in a previous post, St. Josemaria Escriva bluntly asks each of us, “You? Proud? Of what?” What is it that you or I can take credit for? What is it that we can claim as our own, other than our sin?
Even my favorite singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, a deist who often openly questions Christianity in his lyrics, asks, “All that love, all those mistakes; what else can a poor man make?” How true. It is only our weakness that we can “boast of”, as St. Paul tells us. What strength, beauty, and goodness we have was given to us before we even knew to ask for it.
My worst posts thus far were probably the one on politics and the one on activism; these were topics I thought I had a great personal insight into, ideas I thought I had an original take on. Not only were the things I said not original in the first place, but my pride prevented me from accurately communicating the truths I wanted to. To paraphrase Lewis, any attempt to be original ends in failure; it’s when we forget about originality and focus on honesty, then we succeed.
When I look at the world around me, I see anger, discord, desperation, dissatisfaction. When I look in my own heart, I often find the same. There is so much pain, and all I want to know is how to fix it.
And I know I can’t.
It is Christ who changes hearts, and it is His mercy and love that is our only hope. When I look at politics and movements in the secular world, or even within the Church, I am dismayed at the brutal attacks people level against one another. Often, I tend towards the mistake of generalization, the mistake of trying to talk about and criticize abstractions like “movements” and “causes” instead of talking about either the ideas behind those movements or belief systems or the the unique and complex individuals who hold those ideas. And these generalizations cause more harm than good, because, well, that is all I’m capable of on my own.
If this blog serves any purpose, it is to remind us of the movement of the Holy Spirit I feel so strongly in my own heart and in my own soul, the movement that whispers softly, daily, that personal holiness is the only answer to the pain we see. So when politics and activism come up, I want to scream, “Go first to Confession, then to the Eucharist, then to prayer, and then to the world!” I want people to root themselves in the Church and Sacraments to purify and give direction to their personal charisms, their personal calls, their personal vocations given to them by God. But, of course, I need to do this more myself.
So this is the point: if you look between the lines of the war and pain and disunity of human history, those that truly changed the world were those who sought their own holiness, which is to say those who forgot about themselves entirely and allowed Christ and the Holy Spirit to work through them. God has given us great saints throughout the ages, as well as men and women who lived outside of the institutional Church as we understand it, who lived lives of prayer and fasting and effected social change by their witness to the Truth.
This is what we are called to do: not to create truth, not to claim it as our own, but to be a witness who has seen the truth and tells others about it. This is how we will change the world.
I don’t want an end to politics. I don’t want an end to activism. I just wish that politicians and activists were all Catholic. I just wish that as we are inspired to end injustices, as we see parts of the Truth we want to witness to, that we would do it in a way that recognizes the whole Truth.
It is of no use to speak of these movements or political bodies as a whole, and I apologize for doing so. But if you are a member of such a cause, remember that it is only good insofar as it brings people and the world closer to Christ, and you will only be as effective in achieving your aims as you are effective in allowing Christ to work through you. And you can only let His life and light shine through you if you are first filled with it, if you literally eat of it and drink of it in the Eucharist, if you work to cast out all that is not of Him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, if you allow Him to speak to you and allow His Spirit to move you through prayer.
That’s how pride will die, and how goodness will live. When we forget about ourselves entirely, when we stop abstracting others (as I regrettably do at times) into neat little boxes of prejudice or stereotype and address each other as unique and complex persons, and when we work to unify all of our actions and all of each other into the Body of which we are meant to be a part.
That’s how I will become a saint. That’s how you will become a saint. And that’s how the world can begin to change.