Reasons and Habits of the Heart
I recently met a young man from an Evangelical Christian background who is in an RCIA program, preparing to be received into the Catholic Church. I asked him what attracted him to Catholicism and his response was twofold. First, he found that Catholicism set his relationship to Jesus in the deeper and fuller foundation of Trinitarian theology. Second, he found great sustenance in the sacramental life of the Church, especially, of course, the Eucharist.
I was reminded of my conversation with him when I read a review (subscribers only) in the current “Commonweal.” The author of the review, Nathaniel Peters, is a doctoral student in theology at Boston College. The book under review is a sympathetic study by a psychologist of the evangelical movement known as the Vineyard churches. This part of the review I thought especially worthy of note. Peters comments:
For Christians who grew up thinking that God was distant and irrelevant to their lives, a Vineyard church may offer a kind of intimacy they’ve never experienced. For some Catholics who feel burdened by church doctrines or bored by stale liturgies, this may seem an attractive option. But Vineyard churches also show the danger of do-it-yourself religion, of private religious experience undisciplined by a larger—and deeper—theological tradition. You can’t simply “name it and claim it” if you take your cues from St. Francis. Yes, both Ignatius of Loyola and the Vineyard stress an affective spirituality that engages the imagination, and both value intimacy with God and a sense of his presence in the little things of life. But Ignatius also believed firmly in sacraments whose efficacy did not depend on emotional response. Faith was not reducible to feeling, and the way to intimacy with God was not by diminishing the role of doctrine, but by rediscovering its source. For Ignatius, it was a mistake to try to tether God to one’s own desires; discipleship required radical availability to God’s will.
“Rediscovering its source” — or, as I’ve suggested before: a radical re-Sourcement. In this, we can all continue to learn from Dorothy Day (with many thanks to Patrick Jordan for his splendid remembrance). Jordan writes:
For her faith, she had given up friends and what she called a “life of natural happiness” with the man she loved, Forster Batterham, the father of her daughter. He had refused to marry Dorothy and derided her conversion to Catholicism. Still, years later Dorothy was able to say, “It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child thirty-five years ago; and that joy is constantly renewed as I receive Our Lord at Mass.” As a result of her wrenching personal sacrifice, she considered the loss of faith “the greatest of disasters—the greatest unhappiness.” She found daily Mass to be an antidote to apostasy, calling it the most important work of the day. “If I can just remember to do that well—as well as I am able—everything else will take care of itself,” she said.