Line by Line

A Little Problem With the Little Book

posted April 21, 2011

Tags: religion

Over the past few days, I've been trying to catch up in my Little Black Book and I've been noticing some disturbing things.

First, let me explain what I'm talking about. The Diocese of Saginaw (or rather, "Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw, Inc.") in Michigan puts out these little books containing meditations for the different seasons of the Catholic Church (except Ordinary Time, which gets no love). The books covers are solid colors, depending on the season: White for Easter, blue for Advent and Christmas, and black for Lent (or purple for the kids' version). Each day of the season gets a two-page spread, with the left page usually being trivia about some religious practice, person, or event and the right page being a reflection on a reading from the Gospel. You can buy them at their Web site, but my local parish has been mailing them out for the last few years.

Sounds great, right? Well, I thought so, too. In fact, there have been a number of observations that have rung very true and made be think about my spiritual life and relationship with God. But for every baby there must be a little bathwater.

There have been a few times that I thought I smelled a sort of free-thinking, open-minded liberal kind of a slant. For instance, the reflections like to paraphrase Jesus' words into modern, casual language, and (despite being about Lent) it has a lot of focus on the more positive/happy aspects of Catholic life. I thought my misgivings were mostly just my scrupulosity acting up, but then I came to the entry for Sunday, April 3:

If asked the question, "At Mass, who offers what?" some might respond that the priest offers Christ. Actually, the more correct response is: The whole Christ (all of us joined to Christ) offers the whole Christ (all of us joined to Christ). The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: The Church's intention is that the faithful not only offer this victim but also learn to offer themselves . . .

Did you catch that? It seems to me quite a leap from saying that we must offer ourselves as well as Christ or that we're joined to Christ to saying that we are Christ. It sounds not only like a problematically us-centered view of what should be a Christ-centered (by which I mean Jesus Christ-centered) event, but even dangerously New Age. (Centering Prayer, for instance, emphasizes the idea of us becoming God.)

But wait, there's more! On March 22-26, the book talks about the Transfiguration and mentions that the Transfigured Christ was "A human being when seen with eyes that see the whole person" and that "if people could see me with the same eyes, they could see a similar light" (Mar. 22), then implies that Peter, James, and John were "transformed" because they "find themselves enveloped in a lustrous cloud, and they hear the voice of God" (Mar. 25).

Call me crazy, but I thought the main point of the Transfiguration was pretty clear from the Scripture cited on the page for the 24th: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." Moses and Elijah are right there, but God the Father Himself speaks out of heaven and says that listening to Jesus is the priority. Peter's own plans were of little consequence, which would seem to undercut the Little Black Book's thesis. This is sort of handwaved away with some talk about how stuff like the Transfiguration isn't just for people who are already saints (Mar. 26) and how good this stage of Peter's life was (Mar. 23).

The last straw for me was the entry for April 4. The reflection talks about how "Some people see faith and religion only as a fixed set of truths, boxed in, a pat hand." This time, the example is the healing of the blind man (clay over the eyes, pool of Siloam, you know the drill). In this scene, "the Pharisees stand pat. [...] They are not open to any new discovery, any new insight, any new way of looking at things." In contrast, "The man who was blind from birth is the only one who can say: 'I don't know.' [...] he is open to discovery and to the eye opener that Jesus is." Sound okay so far? It goes on to talk about "the temptation to approach faith and religion only as something fixed and finished. It seems to involve less risk and pain. That's the attraction of fundamentalist religion."

I'm reminded of the Chesterton-ism about how the point of an open mind is to close it on something solid, which admittedly fits what the Little Black Book may have been getting at (Jesus being the "something solid"). I'm also reminded of the old joke (whose origin I don't know) about having such an open mind that your brain falls out.

The problem with the reasoning being used here is that it could just as easily apply today in a way that completely undermines the same faith that the book ostensibly supports. Christians, and Catholics in particular, are often being called closed-minded, even compared to those same Pharisees, just for upholding the same truths Jesus taught. To make this about open-mindedness, rather than humility and trust in Jesus, is to miss the point--the point of all these Scriptures, in fact.

Now put this all together: You are part of the whole Christ. Your soul shines as brightly as the Transfigured Jesus. You don't claim to have a fixed religion with all the answers, but instead keep your mind open to new insights and discoveries.

Doesn't sound so Catholic now, does it?

Am I reading too much into this, or is this a serious problem? What do you think?

Hmm... Until I rig up a comment system, I guess that'll have to be a rhetorical question. In the mean time, you can always E-Mail me at the address on the About page.