Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pope: being good not boring

Is it just me, or is it kind of sad that the wy B XVI has to reach audiences these days is to tell them that being good isn't boring? I mean, I agree with him, but it's sad that that's the way we're reaching out to people. He's totally right--people often feel like they're "missing out" by living a virtuous life, and that they're missing some sort of fundamental human experience. Well, as we used to say in my English classes, there are three fundamentally universal human experiences: birth, love, and death. That's it. Everything else is up for grabs. But I can totally relate to the people who think that because I'm a virgin, I'm never smoked or tried drugs (well, unless hospital staff were giving them to me...wink), and I've only consumed very modest amounts of alcohol in my life and do not drink to get drunk, that my life must be somewhat boring. But let me tell ya, after watching several of my compatriots at beer parties in college, I can say that hanging out in a bar and playing "beer pong" or something equally obnoxious also gets boring. As Mary in Pride and Prejudice says, "I would infinitely prefer a book."

Thomas Howard, one of my favorite authors, has a lengthy discourse about this in his wonderful book On Being Catholic (which you must, must read). He compares being a good Christian to being good at anything else, say, a virtuous pianist or singer or ballerina. In order to reach the level of perfection, of real freedom of performance and expression, years of what could be termed "denial of freedom" must happen. The singer must forgo the ice cream and milk to sing. The pianist must forgo going to the movies every night to practice the Mozart piece again and again. The ballerina must give up fatty foods and lazy afternoons to practice piles and bourees at the barre . All of these artists do this because they know that their efforts will be rewarded by true freedom; that is, the freedom to sing, to play, to perform the way they want. They wish to achieve perfection. Howard says that the same thing is required of Catholics (indeed, probably of all Christians). If we want to be godlike, if we wish to become saints, then we must forgo some things that could be "fun" and make us less "boring". We are trying to be more like God. Only by completely submitting to His plan and His will for us can we, like the ballerina, truly be free to express ourselves the way God intended.

As a singer, this makes perfect sense to me. I've had boring vocal exercises, the dreaded Italian aria book, the scales, the warm-ups, the diction exercises....all so my voice can become supple and strong and so that I can bend it to my will, so I can "mount the challenges of the score", as Howard puts it.

I would much rather be considered "boring" on Earth and have God be happy with me. We've all seen what the fun can bring--unintended pregnancies, drunken arguments, even deaths from drunk driving or drug use. We can see it in the suicide and depression rate, the sense that we're always wanting something "more". Perhaps the more is found behind the bar's marquee--if we only have the courage to be "boring".

(NOTE: I'm not saying be a Puritan. I'm saying there's balance...and that God's laws aren't meant to take away our "good time". Rather, they are to help us attain the ultimate "Good Time"--living His will on Earth and working for His kingdom. It can be a lot of fun. Trust me. )

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