My wife and I have been rethinking our parenting strategy lately. Not because our previous strategy was failing or ineffective, but because we realized we had two different strategies. We weren’t on the same page. That wasn’t okay because it put us at odds with each other; our children weren’t getting the cogent message they needed to grow in virtue.
How do my wife and I solve this conundrum? The solution isn’t expressions of love and devotion to each other, or kind words and gifts. Instead, the solution is a tough conversation about who needs to change where and how. It’s a tough conversation – one with many pitfalls to be avoided. We haven’t finished it, and I doubt we ever truly can, but God willing, we will continue to make progress as long as we both have breath. This is marriage after the honeymoon. It is analogous to a difference I have noticed in the worship styles of Protestants and Catholics.
I can’t speak for all Protestants, but my experience as a Protestant was that worship was characterized by a profound longing for God. Many of the songs we sang at church resembled love songs, or at least had a clear element of longing. In the charismatic movement, that longing can be taken to the extreme, being an indication of salvation or at least a valid spirituality.
This longing was found not just in worship, but in theology as well. Particularly, at least within Evangelicalism, it was found in eschatology. Everyone was waiting so expectantly for Christ that every headline in the news was a portent of his Second Coming. To doubt that one would see Christ bodily prior to death was to exhibit a troubling lack of faith. One was either immature or naive to think Christ would be much longer.
After I became a Catholic, I stopped seeing this sort of attitude. It wasn’t obvious until I began to reflect on my past experiences with God in an exercise of spiritual growth. I wondered at once whether this was a flaw in Catholic spirituality, or just a flaw in my own walk.
But Catholic spirituality is full of the longing for God. St. Augustine, writing in his Confessions in about 400 AD, says to God, ” You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (Confessions Book 1, Chapter 1). St. Thomas Aquinas argues about 800 years later that all people naturally desire the good, God is goodness itself, and hence all people naturally desire God (Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses longing for God as well. In Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 1 (a pretty prominent place, right?) it says, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (It is interesting to note that this is the 27th paragraph of the Catechism, and that 27 is 3x3x3.)
Clearly Catholicism recognizes and values a natural desire and longing for God. So why does this not seem to show up in its worship? I can’t speak definitively for Catholic spirituality, but it seems to me the answer lies in this. Every day the Son of God, the object of desire of both Protestants and Catholics, is made present in bread and wine by an act of grace through the instrument of the priest. Christ is truly present in the Eucharist: body, blood, soul, and divinity. Thus, the Eucharist is truly the object of our desire. So when the Catholic receives communion, he receives in actuality what the Protestant can only long for. It’s no wonder then that our worship takes a different tone.
While the Catholic still longs for God he also has him. His worship of God is not characterized by longing, but by having. This having looks much more like marriage, whereas longing looks more like courtship. And marriage, as most couples know, is work. The apostle Paul confirms this notion of spirituality as work when he commands us to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Being the bride of Christ, while we are yet sinners, is hard work. Catholic spirituality, in my experience, is about the hard work of becoming a worthy bride of Christ. In a sense, it is Christianity after the honeymoon.
Two additional points need to be made. First, the longing of Protestants for God comes from the Holy Spirit, and is an indication of his work in their lives. But it is also an indication that there is something more to be had for them. Catholics should be inviting their Protestant friends to consider, if the Holy Spirit produces in them a real, material, even bodily desire for Christ now, if he also does not also offer a real, material, even bodily consummation of that desire now. After all, it was Christ who said that he who eats his flesh and drinks his blood will abide in him and be abided in by Christ (John 6:56).
Second, many married couples will attest that courtship should continue, in some form, after the honeymoon. Likewise, even if we have Christ, we do not see him now except through a glass darkly. And so we should still long for him. St. Ignatius, who was a disciple of the Apostle John and consecrated as the bishop of Antioch by the Apostles themselves, said in his letter to the church in Rome:
My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, Ch. 7