I’m sitting in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. For the past couple of weeks, I have gone to the Monday noon mass. It’s been a deep spiritual struggle each week to decide whether or not to go forward for Eucharist, but I think God wanted me to do it. Each time I have been terrified to get “caught” as a Protestant infiltrator. But that fear has been overridden by a longing to be part of Christ’s true body, the one true church. So now that mass is over, against this backdrop of feeling like a filthy Samaritan completely unworthy of God’s mercy, I just read Glenn Beck’s declaration, “We are all Catholics now.” I’m not sure that anything more sacrilegious could possibly be said.
No Glenn, we are not all Catholics now. We are the opposite of catholic because we idolize our opinions above any concept of sacramental unity. And to try to claim the mantle of Catholicism for the sake of scoring cheap political points that perpetuate the ideological schisms of our world mocks the concept of Catholicism about as thoroughly as anyone possibly could. What Catholicism means is unity. Its etymological basis is Greek (kata holo, according to the whole). To a true Catholic, heresy is that which causes schism. Only heretics think that ideological purity is possible and so they come up with litmus tests for excluding others from their increasingly narrow “orthodoxies.”
Let me share an interesting side note about the word “orthodoxy.” in Greek, the word doxa has two meanings: opinion and glory. The way Aristotle used the word, it meant opinion, but when the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the Hebrew word for God’s glory, kabod, was translated as doxa. To some degree, the one “orthodoxy” precludes the other. When we are so focused on having the “right opinion” that our lives become a perpetual punditry of bitter arguments, then we can never experience the “right glory” of God. True orthodoxy means having our minds opened to a “right” perception of God’s glory, which paradoxically requires renouncing the need to be “right” about God that keeps our minds closed.
Anyhow as I was walking around this beautiful cathedral, I was tallying all the statues of Mary and scoffing in my mind about the way that Mary gets more prayers here than Jesus. But then it hit me: the reason that Protestants don’t get Mary and the saints is because we don’t really believe that they’re still alive and capable of intervening in the affairs of our world in whatever form they have. It did bother me how many Holy Mary mother of God’s there were before the mass today. But not enough to undermine my awareness of the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit in the room. I don’t know what to do with Mary, but somehow a whole plethora of very fervently devoted disciples of Christ throughout our apostolic lineage had spiritual encounters with Mary which shaped the way that the Roman church sees her today. Who am I to scoff at that? It’s simply something I don’t understand and that somehow has to be okay if I want to share Christ’s body with my brothers and sisters in the Roman church.
I don’t think that I’ll ever ask Mary to pray for me, though I suppose if God revealed to me the merit of doing it, I would. But one thing I am learning from coming to this basilica and listening to God is how worthless theological opinion is compared to the indescribable ecstasy of experiencing God’s presence. I have said one prayer today over and over: kurie iesou christe, huie tou theou, eleison me ton hamartolon (Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner). It’s called the Jesus prayer and people have been saying it for thousands of years.
Nothing else has been necessary. Not a list of my confessions, petitions, thanksgivings, etc, all of which are legitimate prayers at different times. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have encountered God’s sacramental presence today precisely because I haven’t been mired in the cognitive, or ideological for that matter.
I really think we have to renounce the perpetually-colonizing/categorizing tendency of our Western minds if we want to experience God and not just theorize about Him. As long as the defense of our opinion is our raison d’etre beneath which we subordinate everything else, we will never taste God’s sacraments and we will never experience any real bond of catholicity with other people. People who allow themselves to be shaped by ideologues like Glenn Beck have decided to become the opposite of catholic. The bitter irony of Beck’s statement is that catholicity is the one thing our nation desperately needs right now.
Overwhelm us with Your mystery, O God, that our minds may be silenced and made stupid like Isaiah was before Your throne.