I've been Catholic for a little over a week now. Life as a Catholic has been a lot like life a few weeks ago, only different. I struggle to pray, I battle doubt, I succumb to temptation. In short, as the saying goes, I brought myself with me - my humanity, my inconsistency, and, especially my fear. That's the part that's the same; the different part is that it's all much more vague and terrifying.
In all areas of my life, I handle clearly defined projects with definite termination points much better than diffuse, open-ended goals with no clear termination point. For example, it's much easier for me to discipline myself to wash the breakfast dishes every morning than to use my time wisely on the multindinous projects that could fill the rest of the day. In the past week and a half, I have traded the clearly defined project of flinging myself into the arms of the Church for the open-ended goal of living a Catholic, i.e., Christian, life. This is the same goal that has loomed before me for most of my life (I just have a bigger toolkit now), and very quickly I have run up against the hurdle that seems to stand in my way, no matter which way I approach this goal:
Being a Christian terrifies me. Being a Catholic Christian terrifies me no less, and perhaps a little more, than being an Anabaptist Christian, a Confused Christian, a quasi-Episcopal Christian, and anything else that I have been. The toolkit may be biger, but the project, the goal, looks no easier.
Entering the Church has been a moment of hearing once again the call that has always frightened me, a call to total renunciation of self-will, in favor of following in the footsteps of our crucified and risen Lord. It's easy to get a little romantic about this call, and "taking up crosses" and "dying to self", but in reality this call scares me, because I am a wimp. I don't like pain. Having crucifixes all over the place does wonders to clarify in one's mind exactly what we're talking about when we talk about participating in Christ's death, and it's a bloody mess. But I'm making myself sound too reasonable. Most of us aren't keen on real pain and gory death, whether physical or otherwise. The thing is, I'm not even qualified for real pain yet - all that Christ requires of me in self-renunciation at this point is being uncomfortable. I hate being uncomfortable. And this wrestling down of my overgrown, grasping self, gluttonous of small pleasures and demanding of comfort, is a project of overwhelming size, lifetime length, and no foreseeable termination date. It makes me so uncomfortable. I wish that I could claim that I don't know how to go about it, but, of course, I do. Live life day by day. Do the next thing. Pray. Avail myself of the sacraments. It's like running, where trying complicated strategies for increasing time and distance mask the fact that all I really have to do is put one foot in front of the other one, and the reason that I don't want to do that is because it makes me uncomfortable. And, of course, there's the knowledge that if I manage, by the grace of God, to make any semblance of progress on this, it will quite likely be my privilege to be entrusted with some real pain. It's almost enough to make one feel sarcastic.
This is, of course, where it would help to keep a firm grasp on the End of all this. The point of it all is to find that perfect Communion that lies at the back of all human longing, and thankfully, the Church knows something of that as well. This is one of the shiniest new tools in my toolkit, if I would remember to use it - the way that the Church has shown me how our Future reaches back for us. Through the Eucharist, through prayer, even through the very service that is part of my discomfort, I am learning that it is not only pain and self-renunciation that we experience in this life, but also the tastes, the glimpses, of that joy that is set before us. And in light of that, I'm forced to feel rather ashamed of the direction of my focus in this past week and a half. I really did bring myself along, didn't I?