It always surprised me that people thought Catholics were so weird. I’ve always been Catholic and I never thought I was weird. Moreover, I was pretty sure that my non-Catholic friends didn’t think I was weird, or I’m sure they would’ve made it known. Yet there it was, an impression that came out in conversations about religion, newspaper and magazine articles, even in movies and TV shows: the general consensus is that Catholics are weird.
And then it hit me—people think Catholics are weird because they meet weird Catholics! I personally have met some weird Catholics. Not just people who are weird and happen to be Catholic; no, I mean people whose style of Catholicism makes them weird.
Now, I can’t call someone weird because they don’t do the things I do, so let’s be objective.
Every field of learning, whether it’s biology, chemistry, philosophy, or even an experiential learning situation like cooking, gardening or rearranging the furniture has one essential element on which everything else hinges—the common factor of chemical equations, planet orbits, nuclear fallout and chocolate chip cookies. Balance.
Balance is what makes the difference between a birthday cake and a pancake. It’s what keeps our cells from exploding from too much water or shriveling up from not enough. Balance allows us to walk from points A to B every single day, without tipping over. Without balance in the world, everything would be lopsided. Everything would be weird.
But the tricky part is that I knew—I have always known—that Catholicism is the most balanced religion out there: no human sacrifice, no rivalry between jealous gods and goddesses, no empty promises of perfected states of existence in return for repeatedly chanted incomprehensible syllables.
Catholicism has doctrine that makes sense, thousands of years of historical support, devotions based on that doctrine and strengthened by that history. You want balance? Catholicism is balanced, and the Church, the representation of Christ on earth, is a balance of human and divine elements.
But for all that, we must admit that the human elements sometimes obscure and weigh down the divine. Our Faith is perfect because it was given to us by God Himself. But a person’s faith can be imperfect because humans are imperfect. The Faith is balanced and healthy, but the way it is present in and practiced by a person might be unbalanced if there is something that person hasn’t quite understood or acknowledged.
Let’s take an example. We have all heard the stories about the value of a small sacrifice for the souls in Purgatory. Usually it has to do with depriving yourself of something small, like a glass of water, with the thought of how much the souls suffer while they are cleansed in order to enter heaven perfectly purified. Balance. A sacrifice by a member of the Church Militant helping a member of the Church Suffering.
So...the more water you give up, the more you help the souls in purgatory, right?
This is where we start to go off track. It’s true that greater and more frequent sacrifices help more, but that is no reason to throw multiple handfuls of holy water on the church floor every time you pass a holy water font for the souls in purgatory. (Why holy water?...because they need a sacramental? Why on the floor?...because purgatory is underneath us? Why so much?...because it touches more of them?) That’s the sort of thing that draws people’s attention. That’s when they think you’re weird.
But if you are doing that sort of thing, I am sorry to tell you that you are, in fact, weird. Why adhere to a balanced religion if you practice it in an unbalanced way? Faith and reason work together. So your faith shouldn’t make you do something that is opposed to reason. Likewise, devotion is built on doctrine, so your devotional practices shouldn’t undermine the doctrine, or be so excessive that you lose sight of the doctrine.
It is not always an easy line to walk; the Gospels recount some difficulties that even the apostles had in finding balance. Remember when Peter went from refusing to let Jesus wash his feet to insisting that He wash his feet, hands and head? Or when he threw himself out of the boat because he saw Jesus walking across the lake? Or when Paul had to rebuke Peter for expecting converts to pass through all the Jewish rituals before becoming Christian? It took the apostles some hard lessons and Divine illumination to learn Christ’s balance.
But for us, we have over 2,000 years of learning from their mistakes and the examples of people who did comprehend the necessity for balance. Fathers and Doctors of the Church, holy monks and nuns, converts and cradle-Catholics have all given witness to a sound practice of the Faith.
Some are even more believable because they were once in error. Think of St. Augustine and that paradigm of imbalance, Manichaeism. The Manicheans, imposing their own idea of balance on Catholicism ended up throwing the scales off-kilter with their good-god, bad-god schema of creation. According to them, all that was spiritual was good and all that was material—even our own bodies and food—was bad. Luckily for us, St. Augustine saw the imbalance and now we have some of the strongest, most balanced pages of Catholic doctrine to help us find our own balance.
Catholics of the world, unite! Let us live our faith the way Christ intended. Let us show people that Catholics are not weird. If you make room for your guardian angel on the subway, throw holy water on the floor on purpose, or kneel down to kiss the ground whenever you hear the name of Jesus, please—stop being weird, and find the balance in the Faith that really is there.
Be reasonable—or go ask a reasonable person—to find the middle ground in your practices. Devotions are great, but they should be the ones that the Church encourages, not some exaggerated practice of your own creation. Strengthen your own judgment by reading. Follow Our Warpath’s program to tone your soul, mind and body. Balance is necessary in everything, especially the Faith.