Monday, March 24, 2014

So. Just How MANY Sins Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

I knew it and I dreaded it.  But it's turned out to be more of a nightmare than I could have predicted.

Being a perpetual screw-up, I've been saying the rosary according to the Mysteries allotted to each day of the week.

Very nice.

Except it's Lent.  I should have been saying the Sorrowful Mysteries every day except for Sunday.



The Sorrowful Mysteries, as you can guess, are about the Passion.  They are also all about the forgiveness of sin.  I don't have this stuff memorized.  I even have to read the Apostles' Creed, which is a little humiliating.  But I have a good guide that breaks the five mysteries of the day down into a sort of playlet.  Every single damn Sorrowful Mystery ends with a version of "have mercy on us and on the whole world," whether it's from the precept of Gethsemene or the crowning of thorns.  In the third mystery, we are told Jesus underwent the crown of thorns "to make reparation for our pride".

I underline my script as I go so I can make notes on what I don't understand or remember or disagree with or, occasionally, am touched by.  There's a lot about picking up our own crosses and stuff that I find genuinely moving but today it seemed to be all sin, all mercy, all the time.  

Kind of like the Military Channel and Hitler.

At the idea that Jesus was mocked, tortured and humiliated for "our pride," I had to pause.  I usually fill in that blanks as "sins," a generic collective noun for stolen gum, gossip, grumpiness and gluttony.  I hadn't thought of filling in the blank with the one specific sin, pride.

So I looked up all the New Testament references to pride and came up with lots of letters from the apostles that admonish us to be humble, not to compare ourselves to others, and to not be "lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy".

The sin of pride, according to Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory and a few other guys, is the daddy of all the other capital or deadly sins: pride is the separation of man from God and is the wedge in the door for sloth and covetousness, et al.  Bishop Sheen defined it even further, thus humbling me because I didn't really know what "vainglory" means ("ostentatious pride especially in one's achievements;vain display or show: vanity).

If pride is so wedgey,  is it, I wondered, the Original Sin?

The Second Edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not helpful.  It says, "Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command."

Is disobedience the first human sin?  Greed or curiosity for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?  Or the pride that Aquinas describes as that withdrawal of one's fealty from God to the self?

This is the problem with Catholicism: ask one simple question and you will get no definitive answers. 
Worse, the nondefinitive answers will produce a mild anxiety attack because, whether you believe all this or not (and there is so, so much I do not believe), the secular humanism that produced the world we know of democracies, constitutions, human rights, regimes and et cetera is, in fact, based on the Bible, Aquinas, Roman Catholic doctrine and tradition.  And in all that Roman Catholic seething mass is the notion of sin.

The rosary mentions it sin 64 times.

Case in point: my anxiety takes me away from my better self.  I takes me away from the world, from good acts, from God.  Every day is a quest for oblivion and oblivion is the opposite of self, selflessness, and, if you like, God.  I fight my anxiety every time I leave the house or sit down at my computer to do anything more than play a game.  And some of the stuff I do at my computer virtually begs readers to say they love me.

Is anxiety a form of pride, a form of sin?  It may not make me feel superior to others -- in fact, quite, quite the opposite -- but it does make me feel apart, special.

But what is meant by taking up one's own cross if not the faults that are, according to both parts of the rosary and the Catechism, the vestiges of Original Sin?  So am I good to go because I went to the bank today and started looking up stuff the rosary is bringing up?

Which is another problem with Catholicism: you can't trust anybody with information unless it's from the Pontiff's mouth.  I could ask a priest, ask on a discussion board, take a theology class, but the only real answer is in the Catechism and it doesn't give very good answers on this subject.  (If you want to know about in vitro fertilization, however, it's quite explicit: no.)

I'm back to blogging as part of my Lenten promises.  It cuts into my oblivion.  It's a communication from someone who hates answering the phone (I got cussed at for asking to be taken off the wounded veterans' call list today).  And I know the anxiety, Horrors, reclusiveness, depression and agoraphobia are extremely self, rather than other, oriented.  So there's some ecumenical connection here, if you've stayed with me this long and suffer from these maladies as well.   It's not a very far reach from loss of self to loss of God -- and an infinite reach, of course, when one is filled with doubts.  

But the question of what it means to truly desire to lose one's self is pertinent and important, even leaving God out of the question.  It's not, quite, voluntary.  But it can be fought.  And losing self is depriving the world of something valuable.

If you hide your light under a bushel, you'll only succeed in burning the bushel up.


Hilary said...

You tell this cradle Catholic a lot of stuff I don't know. I didn't know that you were supposed to pray the sorrowful mysteries every day during Lent except Sunday. I can't and won't do it. I love the glorious and joyful mysteries. I'm not giving them up for Lent!

I don't think a lot about the questions you posed. I think one commandment says it all, "Love your neighbor as yourself." You have to love yourself which means doing all kinds of good stuff for you and then, of course, doing what you can for your neighbor whether it's being friendly to store clerks or refraining from swearing back at those horribly annoying telephone fundraisers, or even cleaning up a dog's crap when it's not our dog! We don't all have to be Mother Teresa! Did you hear that Mother Teresa had depression? Sometimes she'd doubt whether God existed.

It's wonderful that you're saying the Rosary and you got me doing it again (that's doing something for one's neighbor). Keep talking to God--tell him all your concerns. I've been doing this more lately. As I think I said before, I have on occasion spoken to him while in the throes of anxiety (not pretty). I figure he's God--he can take it.

Unknown said...

I always thought that pride was the original sin. I looked up an online version of the King James bible for the passage I remembered:

" For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

So I would interpret that as Eve, and then Adam, wanting to be like God or take the place of God.

I've never been a great Catholic, though, so I'm no authority.

Loved the post about your playdate in Chinatown. Being part of the world instead of separate from it seems important.

"Have mercy on us and on the whole world" does seem like an important place to start, given the state of the world and the difficulty of living as a human in it.

Meliss said...

i guess i think in the opposite. instead of the sin of pride, i think about the beauty of humility. i don't beat myself up for my pride, but i strive in every way to learn humility. simple, but not easy!