Friday, March 7, 2014

Good Pain

Why is lent hard to grasp? We don't seem to get the concept of what is good. The secular idea of what is good is often framed in what causes the least pain and the most pleasure to the most people. There is a Christian version of the same thing. You first ask about salvific impact. That is whether this action is likely to cause people to go to hell who might otherwise go to heaven or vise versa. Then if that is negligible then revert back to the secular, pain and pleasure answer.

Now it is not quite equivalent to secularism because Christians trust the bible when figuring out what will make people happy. Still long term human happiness is the driving force. Eternal happiness and divine revelation are factored in but the secular notion of pain and pleasure still rules.

That is not actually what Christian theology teaches. Human happiness is not the center. Loving God and loving our neighbor is the center of what it means to be good. We know that yet we don't really. We are so immersed in secular culture and often don't understand our faith as well as we should. We end up buying into the secular notion of goodness to some degree.

That is why we can't make sense of lent. Lent is about pain as a good thing. That makes no sense if your central notion of goodness is minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. Well, maybe your pain is designed to benefit someone else in some way. Maybe, but we are not supposed to try and make that happen. We need to keep our penance a secret. So what is the pain for? It is to make us better lovers. Better lovers of God and better lovers of other people.

Doesn't it boil down to the same thing? If we pursue love won't that make the world the best place it can possibly be in terms of happiness? Eventually it seems like it will. Still in the short term there are no guarantees. Jesus was the greatest lover and they killed Him. So we need to accept sacrifice. Not just short term sacrifices for obviously greater goods but long term sacrifices for goods that we only see by faith.

We find so many reasons for prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In some ways love is not meant to be rational. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. So if we love God and He wants us to give up some of the pleasures of this world then we do it. The fact that the benefit to us is not clear means our motivation is going to be love. That is why fasting to impress other people is so strongly condemned. Then it stops being love and starts being pride.

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