Anyway, I'm in there, and I'm awkwardly stumbling through the whole thing, saying things like, "Uh, do you want me to say the Act of Contrition now?" You could tell he was getting a little frustrated. Anyway, so I'm leaving, and I get really casual. Probably because I'm relieved it's over with. And he says something really nice, like, "Have a Blessed Easter." And he really means it, you can tell. He was a wonderful priest. And I just say, casually, sort of in a whatever-sounding voice: "Oh, you too..." while walking out. No, "Thank you, father." Not even "You too, father." Just an after-the-fact, rude-sounding, insincere automatic response. I felt like such a jerk.
It's not that I am insincere. I think confession is one of the most sacred things we can do as human beings. And I cannot emphasize enough how much it helped me to kick the masturbation habit. The idea of going in there and saying "I masturbated 8 times this week," or whatever, makes me even more uncomfortable. I just get so nervous, and I feel like I have nothing to say. Don't read this as me saying I don't commit sins, or whatever; just that I have to strain things to make them sound confession-worthy. I personally don't like to treat confession as like a session with a psychologist, where I go in there and discuss my personal progress as a person, etc. I like to treat it as a confession, where I divulge my deepest and wrongest sins and ask for forgiveness. If I don't have something really weighty, I feel like I'm just wasting everyone's time. I should just start telling lies. "I ran down four schoolchildren for fun on the way here." And then confess for telling the lies. At least the priest might get a laugh out of that. But no, after I left, I felt awful. I still feel embarrassed by it. I should have thrown a "bro" at the end. "Oh, you too, bro..."
Anyway, I hope everyone had a good Easter. A blessed one even! What I want to write about is the notion of inclusion and Christian love. I think it's actually one of the most difficult things Christians deal with. What do I mean? I'll use an example. My family has a new baby in the family. My brother's son is about 8 months old now, and everyone wants to spend time with him. Anyway, my immediate family is really serious about Easter. That is, we are very close on Easter. We have spent every Easter together ever as a family, and it's probably more familyish to us than Christmas. Accordingly, it's my favorite holiday. We have tons of traditions, we have special foods we make, etc. It's not that we keep it that religious even. It's just an important family time where we're always, always together and do things as they've always been done. Anyway, because there is now a grandchild in the mix, we've been combining families more often to give everyone fair access to him. As such, my brother's wife's family was invited to Easter.
This upset everyone in my family. Easter is really separate and special from everyone for us. And it doesn't really work when you add outsiders to it. Anyway, throughout the whole thing, you could feel the tension. As a child, I never really understood why people hated holidays. I loved all the holidays, because it was just my immediate family there, and I was always so comfortable. Not the case when you mix families. Anyway, throughout the whole thing there was a sort of desire to include, but also a need to protect what we don't want to change. It was very difficult. And, from what I could tell, my sister-in-law's family, which didn't really have any Easter traditions (or even beliefs, probably), did not feel particularly included, and our traditions were diminished.
I think this story very much represents the problems Christians often face. And not just because this took place on Easter. That is, for any genuine Christian, there's a call to be inclusive, the help other to redeem themselves. A Christian, like Christ, needs to say, "This infinity is open to you; don't be afraid." At the same time, Christians need to protect what they have, to keep it good and pure, else the outsiders they are letting join the table may soil or ruin the thing that was the object of the outsiders' desire in the first place. If Jesus asked a prostitute to join him and his followers, it would be no good if Jesus then allowed prostitution in the group. Then she wouldn't really be leaving anything or joining anything. He would have to keep his thing pure in order to change her, not the other way around.
This balance is almost impossible, especially in the modern world where nuance means nothing. You can see this all the time in Protestant churches who want to do a good thing by inviting homosexuals to join and be open to their message. Eventually the churches end up supporting homosexual behavior. Their genuine good desire to help and include gets perverted into the thing they were trying to fix in the first place. And then I see stories like this: 'I love you, too': Cardinal Dolan says Catholic Church must embrace gays and lesbians. Anyone with a little bit of nuanced thinking would know what this means: the Church has to be open to homosexuals in the sense of not keeping them out of the Church as lepers. I agree with this. A modern thinker might think, though, that this means the Church should allow or even encourage homosexual behavior. But the Church, for reasons I've tried to explain on this blog, could never do this. And the same goes the other way, really. If you don't allow or encourage homosexual behavior, you must be against homosexuals. Obviously you must want to keep them out. No matter how much you say the opposite, it doesn't matter.
I think this issue, this inability to really know how to balance inclusiveness and sacredness, is the biggest stumbling block that any Christian faces. It often feels like the more you include, the more watered down and meaningless the thing gets. It's no longer separate or special. The more you try to keep it special and separate, the more you're keeping people from touching the divine: something a Christian should never keep anyone from. With respect to homosexuality and the Catholic Church, I don't think this could be more true. I see the Church as one of the last bastions against sexual sin, the only group really left on the planet who has its mind straight. As such, it is seen as the most hateful of the groups. It's not, of course (it's probably the most charitable group on the planet), and most of this is unjustified in reality, but it's still clear why people view the Church this way.
The ability to balance these two things, to be able to open up someone to truth and the divine, all while keeping that truth true and that divine sacred, is one of the most perfect ways in which a person can love. I obviously, as anyone can tell from what I've written on this blog, lean in favor of keeping the divine sacred and true, where we clearly explain ourselves and delineate ourselves from the modern world. But that has a lot to do with the fact that the modern world is so far the other way down the inclusiveness path that the Church has a duty to stand strong and shine like a beacon in the fog. And sometimes just standing strong as an individual is enough to encourage people to seek truth. Other times, though, it needs to be clear that a door is open to the eternal. There's no quick solution to all of this, of course, and there will be a lot of awkward dinners, both literally and figuratively, but something, surely, has to be done about it.