Is Catholicism 'Faith in a Box'?
The non-denominational temptation
If you’ve ever had the experience of living or working in an environment where the rules, regulations, disciplines, and norms seemed as utter nonsense, you likely began to feel as though your creativity, sense of identity, and motivation was being suppressed. Being micromanaged by a taskmaster has a tendency to demoralize the autonomous agency our dignity seems to demand. Liberty, or freedom, itself seems to be a value of our culture that is automatically considered as an absolute good that enables growth and personal development.
Theologically, putting faith into a box seems contrary to the biblical message of Jesus to many protestants. Such a box tends to be considered the law or merely human tradition. Removing spontaneity, and liberty would inhibit the Holy Spirit’s work which often thrusts us outside of our man-made concepts, structures, and relationships.
But there are traps to this notion that are likewise left unconsidered: namely lawlessness. It is the case, that as sinful creatures, we tend to like liberty not simply because it can aid us in growth, but also because it aids us in sinning. Liberty or access or availability to pornography, drugs, gossip, and various types of misinformation doesn’t lead to growth, it often becomes a cause of temptation or the prompt leading to addictions.
But there is another aspect of all of this that is left undisclosed. When we consider worshipping God, are we aspiring to some notion of worship that is personally preferred to what God himself would prefer to be the case? It seems to me that in the spiritual order of things, this is really the first question we should be asking: What does God want?
It’s upon this question that the Catholic faith is built - her norms, sacraments, Divine-Traditions, and Canon of Scripture are ultimately rooted in what God wants for us. This disposition keeps us humble and detached from human tradition that would incline us toward a worldly gospel.
For Catholics, this principle is important not only in matters of the bare fundamentals of the Catholic faith. It applies to all aspects. Any ministry, any protest, any devotional, any vocation, and so on are not to be self-prompted, unless that self-prompt is ultimately caused by God’s movement. And humility demands that such self-prompts be tested, lest we make our own intuition and preferences automatically equivalent to the Holy Spirit.
Are we seeking mercy without the confessional? Are we confessing without honesty? Are we worshipping in the way we’d prefer rather than the wayGod has established? Are we pushing agendas where we’ve never asked if God wanted us (particularly) to push?
A Church that is in good health is one who begins its work with God as its first principle, its first cause, its source of mission. And this begins by us simply asking: “What do you want?”
And so we return to the notion of faith. When we ask God to determine how the works of our faith manifest, are we putting them into a box by allowing God to determine them? I suppose if the term “box” implies that there are thou-shall nots and thou-shalls. But if God is asking us to do it this way, we must believe that there is a reason, and it involves giving us “life to the full.” So in the sense of its fruits, there is growth and freedom, but perhaps not liberty to do as we please at any given moment. In reality, if we allow our own impulses, judgments, and passions to guide our judgment of how we are to worship God, we’ve put ourselves into the box of our own fallen nature. But if we are willing to allow God to place limits on our liberty, we find out what true freedom is. True Christian freedom is the ability to do what is good, which is defined and limited to what God teaches.
For this reason, we conclude, as the Church always has, that the 7 Sacraments were instituted by Christ. The Church is itself built by Christ, and is His body. These things immediately remove liberty from our own wishful and sinful addiction to liberty. But they free us, to be like Christ who said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Much to ponder deeply by being honest with our own self!
Paul tells us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who of his good pleasure works [Gr. energeō] in you both the will and the performance” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Who is in a position to test whether this energeō from the Holy Spirit is even within us, and that we are not making our own intuition and preferences automatically equivalent to the Holy Spirit? Do we wait for someone to give us an answer before we act? Are we even required to wait? I think that it is best to give the Holy Spirit the benefit of the doubt lest we end up doubting God and not making use of the supernatural discernment that we are supposed to have. No one can be a replacement for this, anyway, whether we have it or not.