My uniform is pretty simple. In summer it tends to be shorts and indestructible Chacos. In winter I put on long pants and black sneakers. Perhaps I picked up the simplicity from Christians I admire. The Amish have a uniform from the late 1800s which continues to turn heads in Lancaster Co. And I love the Franciscans, especially the Capuchins (after whom cappuccino was named), who returned to the brown (hooded) robe of St. Francis in the 1500’s, including the rope belt with three knots to remind them of their vows.
But the Capuchins sent me the worst tract in the mail the other day! (We are on innumerable religious mailing lists). I don’t really want you to see it because you might believe it. I just want to complain. Complete with a picture like the one at the right, they intended to “comfort those who mourn” with a prayer from the “Roman Ritual.”
Almighty and most merciful Father, who knows the weakness of our nature, bow down Your ear in pity to your servants, upon whom You have laid the heavy burden of sorrow. Take away out of their hearts the spirit of rebellion, and teach them to see Your good and gracious purpose working in all the trials which you send upon them. Grant that they may not languish in fruitless and unavailing grief, nor sorrow as those who have no hope, but through their tears look meekly up to You, the God of all consolation. Through Christ Jesus Our Lord.
Since we don’t know how to pray, and since the Spirit of God is praying for us, we can say a lot of dumb things when we talk to God and it will be fine. So I am sure many people have prayed that prayer with no great adverse impact. But I want to object to two things in the tract that I think have driven many people right out of their faith, instead of comforting them.
1) As you saw in the prayer, their logic is: God laid the burden of sorrow on you, so you should stop rebelling against that and see your grief as something good.
God does do great things for us when we are grieving. Our losses are primary places where we change and grow and learn to trust God. But our sorrows are hardly God’s plan, like we should spend our days meekly looking up to God though our tears, waiting for him to send a trial! So many people I know have understood this logic and see themselves as the perpetual rebel and God as the perpetual sender of trials to keep them on the track of meekness. It is not a good relationship. If the Lord wanted to send me burdens it was kind of odd for Jesus to become like me to bear them with me and on my behalf.
2) In a part of the tract I don’t even want you to see, the friars tried to comfort those who have lost a loved one by convincing us that when people die we have not lost them, they are watching us from heaven and waiting until we join them. Considering that they are watching us from bliss should encourage us to live a good life so we can join them. They are praying for us, even if they are in purgatory.
I can only complain so much, since I know very little about the structure of the afterlife. But I don’t think my dead loved ones leave their bodies and become like angels in heaven or whatever they are in purgatory to pray for me to leave this life of tears and join them in happiness as soon as possible. My hope is in a restored creation, not a disembodied eternity. It is OK with me if God works this out any way he chooses (I’m sure he’s glad I’m OK with that!), but I don’t think he is populating heaven with the ghosts of my loved ones to haunt me. The friars want me to find comfort in the “real and continual presence of our loved ones.” No, I think they died. When the Lord says the word, they will rise to eternal life if he chooses. How the timing and physics of that works out is not my concern (at least not my prerogative).
I wouldn’t bring all this up, except that a lot of my friends have a secret: they don’t believe a lot of the stuff their religion teachers crank out, especially when it comes to heaven and hell. The Catholic Church, in particular, has accrued so much nonsense in their theology over the years that you have to shut off your brain to go with it; it’s like Mormonism. Just rebelling against the nonsense is kind of a cheap way out. So I thought I’d validate the process of trying to think things through a bit rather than just closing our hearts completely. So what if the Franciscans sent me a dumb tract? – they were trying to comfort me. They’ve got a lot of other things going for them, like St. Francis. Let’s keep talking.