August 2, 2008

Stuff counts....

George Weigel, from his excellent book Letters to a Young Catholic

...We've spoken before about the bedrock Catholic conviction that stuff counts. Chesterton fervently believed that, although it took him until age fifty-two to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Thus, even in his pre-Catholic years, GKC was an ardent defender of the sacramental imagination—the core Catholic conviction that God saves and sanctifies the world through the materials of the world. You've probably heard it said the Catholicism is uneasy in the world, that Catholicism demeans the world and the flesh. Don't believe it for a second.

Catholicism takes the world, and the things of the world, far more seriously than those who like to think of themselves as worldly. Water salt and oil are the tangibles by which sanctifying grace is conferred in the sacrament of baptism; bread and wine are the materials through which Christ gives his body and blood to his people in the sacrament of the Eucharist; in the sacrament of matrimony, the consummation of marital love completes the vows exchanged at a Catholic couple's wedding; oil brings healing in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, as it conveys the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation. None of this happens by Harry Potter-like wizardry, but because the world was sacramentally configured by God "in the beginning.".....The ordinary stuff of the world is the material God uses to bring us into communion with the truly extraordinary—with God himself.

The ancient enemy of this sacramental imagination is what we might call the gnostic imagination. Gnosticism, one of the first Christian heresies, is remarkably resilient, even protean. It crops up time and again, generation after generation, in slightly different guises and disguises: from the Manichees who once seduced Augustine, through the medieval Albigensians and Cathari, and down to the present. Whenever and however it appears, thought, gnosticism teaches the same seductive and devastating message: stuff doesn't count; the material world is a distraction (even a wicked distraction); what counts is the gnosis, the arcane knowledge, that lifts the elect, the elite, out of the grubbiness of the quotidian. Gnosticism can't handle the Incarnation—the truth that God enters the world in the person of his Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to redeem and sanctify us in our humanity, not to fetch us out of it. And God does that because, as in the beginning, God understands that his creation is good, even very good (Genesis 1:31)....

Posted by John Weidner at August 2, 2008 10:05 PM
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