Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Blessed Oppression

First off, I have a lot I need to blog - I already know that. But this topic has been on my mind for a few days and I wanted to put it down here before it left my mind.

When was I away this past weekend a friend of mine made a comment about my recent conversion that actually really irked me. I normally do not get offended at comments but this one stuck for some reason. This person is a relatively long time friend of mine who, while not Catholic, certainly believes in God and prays etc. I can't remember where it started but the initial conversation was pretty benign. Eventually the word "oppression" came up and he said something to the effect of:

"You'd better get used to oppression, because there is a lot of that in the Catholic Church."

To which I replied with something to the effect of:

"Um, actually I believe I've been freed."

He mumbled something which I couldn't distinguish but was obviously in disagreement. I let it drop.

My point in mentioning the remark is not to take my friend to task on his comment. I let it go and its water under the bridge. But I have noticed several people who are friends, relatives, or acquaintances making comments like this all around me. So I would like to address the idea that somehow taking a step towards Christ by joining his Church is some sort of self imposed oppression.

First off, joining the Catholic Church has been the most liberating experience of my life. If I had continued on my path of just believing in God but doing nothing that would not have been freedom but a continued slavery to sin and the world. My life now is not by any means saintly but I am trying to achieve that goal. I am not a lemming. I am a sheep. Lemmings senselessly run off the cliff following the herd. The herd follows its animal nature this way and that to its eventual peril. I am following a caring shepherd who has my best interest in mind.

Sometimes I think those around me believe I have given up all possible joy in life by throwing it all away and joining the Catholic Church. Binding myself to all these rules and thou shalt nots is a terrible thing to them. To some perhaps I should allow the passions to rule my life and live like an animal rather than go through life as a free thinking individual. Choosing the passions is not freedom, but rather choosing a different master.

In focusing on all the shalt nots, we have forgotten the the beatitudes. Submission brings a virtue which I think all of us can benefit greatly from: Humility. The reason I haven't been as loud on this thing as usual is that after my confirmation a month ago something genuinely changed in me. I realized that, as St. Thomas Aquinas once did, that everything I know is nothing more than straw. I am a complete imbecile when it comes to this stuff. Standing around with other practicing Catholics and hearing them talk about this or that and how they live their lives has been a very humbling experience. Even being around regular people in my life makes me see the love of God in a way I can't fully express. I appreciate my friends more, my family more, and my time with each of them more. And in many ways, I have been softened to others who hold contrary opinions to mine. (Not the contrary opinions, but the people themselves.)

Following that thought, another thing it has done in me is it has given me a greater ability to love others. Love that is real, not just an imaginary figment or a smattering of brain chemicals bouncing around in my head, but actual charity. All of my atheist, agnostic, Protestant and Catholic friends and family alike no doubt will reap these benefits in my life. Where before I would be much quicker to find faults and place blame, to gossip amongst my friends, or become arrogant in the pride of my own glorious self, I now have this "charity twitch" that I didn't have before. For that we can thank not only Confirmation, but the Confessional. Placing my own faults (weekly) before God and forcing myself to do so has created this charity twitch.

So, in closing, if I am oppressed then it is a joyful oppression. I am more than willing to be oppressed like this for the rest of my earthly life. There is so much more that I want to say on the subject but its late and I'm not up to it at the moment. Suffice it to say, I have a long way to go to perfection, and I'll likely not get there until I die. So be it. As Mother Angelica once said:

"Holiness is a beautiful struggle."


Jennifer F. said...

I've gotten that a lot too, especially as a woman. You should see the looks on people's faces when I tell them one of the reasons I love Catholic teaching is because it's truly liberating to women. I used to be a "feminist" but now I've found real feminism.

Anyway, the response I usually give is that I've found it to be more like a prescription for healing and peace. When I go to the doctor I don't complain about his "oppressive rules" when he tells me what medicine to take when, and I look at Catholic teaching the same way. Church teaching is really more of a prescription given by the ultimate Doctor. :)

Matt said...


Thanks for the perspective. I can imagine that as a former atheist your friends look at you the weirdest. They probably remember the "old you" and figure you are just hiding her somewhere.

For me, I've always been a Christian (though marginally at times). So the transition wasn't quite as extreme for me, though it was radical nonetheless.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton