My mother gave the book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith by Robert Barron as a Christmas gift this year, for both my wife and myself. Though I’m not quite finished with it, the following passage really stood out for me:
Aristotle said that the best activities are the most useless. This is because such things are not simply means to a further end, but are done entirely for their own sake. Thus watching a baseball game is more important than getting a haircut, and cultivating a friendship is more valuable than making money The game and the friendship are goods that are excellent in themselves, while getting a haircut and making money are in service of something beyond themselves. This is also why the most important parts of the newspaper are the sports section and the comics, and not, as we would customarily think, the business and political reports. In this sense, the most useless activity of all is the celebration of the Liturgy, which is another way of saying that it is the most important thing we could possibly do.
My own total lack of interest in sports notwithstanding, this passage does a good job, I think, of capturing the heart of why I remain a devoted Catholic. Father Barron does a very good job throughout of showing the myriad ways in which our society’s values are not God’s values — that in many ways our world is upside-down and backwards; a mirror-image of what it should be.
And he does so not through the typical Conservative “Culture Wars” rhetoric, but through true Gospel values. He writes of Christ calling us to oppose “… the realm of hatred, racism, sexism, violence, oppression, imperialism, what Augustine termed the libido dominandi (the lust to dominate).” The church, he points out, is not meant merely to withstand these forces, standing hard and fast against the Worldly onslaught until such time as Jesus returns to rescue us. Rather, our calling is to actively oppose injustice.
Father Barron speaks of our mission to “invade the world” (a more timely phrase might be, “occupy the world”) with God’s transformative love. But Love doesn’t mount a frontal assault — the ethic of “turn the other cheek” is more about (to appropriate another timely phrase) “winning over the hearts and minds” of those we should see not as the enemy, but as fellow-victims of an oppressive power-structure.