Sunday, October 6, 2013

Unlinked Thoughts on Catholicism

St. John of God
1. The 'of God' religious name, as in St. John of God, etc. What went into choosing this religious name? It's equivalent to having Jesus as your confirmation saint. Kind of reminds me of that passage from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 1:12, where he rebukes people who say "I belong to Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and Christ." I think the Christ-people beat the others. I like those Protestant churches you see here and there, with the titles, "Church of God" or "Church of Christ," as if all the other ones are somehow not. If I were to start my own church I would name it: "The Only Real Church of God, Every Other Church that is not this One is not as Good."

Back to the case of St. John of God. Perhaps it was never a formal title at all, but a title given by the people who observed his lifestyle, like St. Christina the Astonishing - now that's a religious name!

St. Christina the Astonishing
2. Catholics and health. Ever notice that the perfectionism of serious Catholics spills over into other, secular aspects of their lives that kind of makes you question the consistency of their outlook. I was thinking about the title of Tolstoy's short story, "How Much Land does a Man Need?" How much health does a man need? Health is a great thing, of course, but there is something rather counter-intuitive in the germaphobe-Christian, of course, but, I suppose, not any more than the obese or alcoholic Christian, but then of course, we don't customarily think of the later two as problem free. Or, what about Christians obsessed with health who put so much stalk in what they eat? I mean, generalizations are not worth all that much, but are there not some aspects of the health food craze that are rather unchristian? I shouldn't talk, of course. I don't obsess over what I eat, but I do spend a lot of energy exercising. In the end, whether it's running your best mile, benching 300 lbs, beating the other team in hockey, integrating one's health goals into one's spiritual life is a peculiar thing. I mean, praying for a cure for someone's cancer, praying that someone find a good Catholic wife, a good job, etc., all of these things are qualitatively different from praying for ripped abs, aren't they?

A more important question is, how fear-driven is our quest for perfect health? Why do I hear so many Catholics talking about stomach flora, gluten and artificial flavouring? Is health-obsession part of a larger obsessing that powers one's life as a whole? Many people in the pro-life arena didn't care for Pope Francis' reference to obsession with the abortion issue, but is he wrong - cannot people actually become obsessed with something like this? I mean, I am married and I dearly love my wife, but could I not actually become obsessed with marriage? I have met people, I think, obsessed with protecting their children from harmful influences. Met them indeed. People obsessed with the mass, Latin or otherwise. Saints are often pretty one-dimensional, but I wouldn't say that they are obsessed. An authentic obsession with God is, I think, a broadening, rather than a narrowing force. Think of St. Francis, who saw in God a reason to love all of creation. St. Benedict loved God enough to want to do work well in the fields.

Catholics can get pretty obsessed with sex too. Yeah, it's important, but ever read any spiritual masters? Sex occupies so very little of their writing. I have heard about people enrolling their kids in purity leagues or pledges or some such thing. Why not wisdom leagues or courage pledges? A person who grows up sexually chaste is awesome, but what if he's a coward or lazy?


  1. So many thought-provoking points here! I definitely am perplexed by the (over) emphasis on health by so many Catholics. Certainly being good stewards of our bodies means feeding them well. But what I think makes me particularly uncomfortable is the petty bourgeoisie attitude that can accompany it. Like, I have the means to eliminate about 6 different common food items from my diet, so I will. Undoubtedly these people probably feel quite healthy --- if my family and I subsisted off organic meat and organic vegetables, I am certain we would all feel tremendously better. But, money being what it is, starches and (gasp) gluten take a place in our diet.
    So I suppose what the problem is taking North American standards of food choice and applying it to a restricted diet. That is, still eating out, but now only at the more expensive restaurants, still eating desserts frequently, but needing incredibly expensive ingredients to do so (as opposed to plain old white flour), and the 'need' for variety from meal to meal. While, you know, people die of hunger. Or at least subsist on a diet comprised of 3 or 4 items.

    I guess this isn't a spefically Catholic problem, but when being a good steward of one's body/health becomes a priority, which it should, people begin to treat certain food choices as sinful and yet I see a trend of eating so decadently that it becomes sinful, too. Being a "foodie" isn't a virtue, it's snobbery.

  2. "Many people in the pro-life arena didn't care for Pope Francis' reference to obsession with the abortion issue, but is he wrong - cannot people actually become obsessed with something like this?" - Well yes, I'm pretty sure he is wrong, insofar as he gave the impression that we must focus on essentials... and thus, one could reasonably infer, the abortion issue - i.e., the loving-thy-neighbor issue! - is not essential (and I guess it's not, IF you buy into post-modern and/or fideistic conceptions of morality and of Christian faith). His reference was also wrong in that it attacked a straw man (the Church obsessed with a disjointed presentation of out-of-context moralistic doctrines), one that most of his audience is quite happy to believe in. It is wrong to reinforce caricatures of what the Church is and in what her typical pastoral practice consists.

  3. Interesting post. Obsession in all its forms is a kind of blindness. We as Catholics are not immune to it, to be any of the areas of human thought and interest. Food for thought.