In Seminary I was taught how to gauge a person’s dedication to their Catholic religion by questioning which doctrine they truly held, which made the most sense to them, etc., as opposed to those doctrines they either did not understand at all, or had to admit that they truly did not believe. So, for example, a person might still be considered Catholic if he/she believed strongly in God, but had some reservations about the concept of Purgatory. I would invite him/her to reconsider, but meanwhile, the person is still considered Catholic. On the other hand, if a person was a staunch believer in Purgatory but did not believe in God whatsoever, this person essentially excommunicated him/herself. This person was simply not a Roman Catholic. Here, one would not even qualify as Christian. The lecture presented me with an interesting experiment. It allowed me to evaluate someone’s Catholic identity by how they prioritized their assent in those beliefs taught by the Church.
Such a concept of prioritizing what one holds dear is not new. Science fiction writers over the years have often invited their readers to evaluate their belief structures, which they truly held sacred, by means of various science fiction scenarios. It seems safer to mentally play with such choices for after all; if it is science fiction then it is all “make believe.” I am not actually threatened by such decisions. One such example here might include survival questions, based on situations found much like on the former TV show “Lost.” In this case, if you could keep only one of your possessions on a marooned island, what would it be? Likewise, if you could choose several people to be with you in this marooned situation, who would they be? By answering such questions, one is being compelled to prioritize what object would be most important to you; and along with that choice, which people would be most important to you. Choosing people would be the most difficult selection, I would think. Choosing objects would be comparatively easier. Without being compelled to make choices, we might naturally say that everything we own is important and everyone we know is important. Of course, we never had a reason to think of such questions before. Science fiction gives us the reasons, even if fictitious, and once again we can do so knowing that we are safe. We are not actually saying “goodbye” to anyone or anything. We cannot but find such an exercise helpful.
Take it one more step. If you are willing to play with this concept, why not do some prioritizing now? It’s always fascinating to learn about oneself, and in this case, to learn specifically what one holds dear. So, for the sake of increasing self awareness, what institution is most important to you? What institution is so important to you that you simply cannot imagine it not being there for you and your family? When I worked with such choices myself, I easily could imagine hospitals and food establishments on the list. But, wouldn’t we also choose schools and churches? As a clarification, these are institutions and not buildings necessarily. In a situation of war or any sort of calamity, one can get medical care and receive food in a tent. One can pray outside, if necessary, and over the time of rebuilding, structures would slowly and naturally go up. Meanwhile, we would still have the institutions that are central to our life, physically and spiritually. Basically, what these places are, and what they mean to you, represent the soul, the very life, of the buildings that they are in.
If you agree with my choices, if you know that you, yourself, would put these institutions on the list, perhaps you can also see how important it is to support these institutions now. This is especially true for our own parish church. What can you do to insure that our parish church of Our Lady of Peace, both as a meaningful institution as well as a beautiful building, can always remain strong?
Peace & Blessings, Fr. Walt