Easier than you might think...
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” So says legendary basketball coach, John Wooden. I disagree. I think that more often than not, tests of character come when everyone is watching.
Wooden’s insight is not new. In Book 2 of Plato’s Republic (2.359a–2.360d) we read of the “Ring of Gyges," which allows its wearer to become invisible. Plato uses the story of the ring to ask whether any intelligent person would be moral if he had no fear of getting caught (thanks to the invisibility conferred by the ring). At the risk of putting myself at odds with the great Plato, I insist that especially in our time, the tests of character will most often come when everyone is watching—via streaming video, social media, etc. Let me offer an example.
Lately, there’s been lots of talk about the definition of love and marriage. Most recently, Ireland voted in a national referendum on the re-definition of marriage. One of the rallying cries for those arguing for “marriage equality” is, “All love counts!” That seems hard to argue against, doesn’t it? Everyone everywhere seems at least to pay lip service to the supreme value of love—so how can one intelligibly accept some loves while rejecting other loves?
Before we capitulate to such sloganeering as “All love counts!” or “NoH8!”, we would do well to steer clear of some sloppy thinking. Can “love” truly mean condoning the sin of another? Would anyone respond to my condemnation of child abuse with “NoH8!”? Of course not. Love, properly understood, is more than just warm feelings and outbursts of mutually-convenient esteem. True love is “amor benevolentiae” which is a supernatural wishing/want/willing/desiring the best for the beloved. What is the best for the beloved? Disciples of Jesus Christ, even after a cursory reading of the Gospel of John, know that what is the best for the beloved is eternal union within the heart of Our Heavenly Father. Christians know that real love gets us to the heart of Our Heavenly Father, and nothing else does.
So, what does that real love, the unique path to human fulfillment, which is our heavenly home, look like? To understand real love, we must consider four words: Cross, Altar, Confession and Communion. While doing so, we must remember that Satan desperately wants to confuse us about these, because if we get these right, then we can escape his designs for us and come to rest in our Father’s House.
Real love, amor benevolentiae, requires the Cross. Why? Because of our fallen human nature, we are too selfish to love as we should. We need the power of the Cross to smash open the hard shell of selfishness that surrounds the human heart. Poet John Donne knew this when he cried out, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God…” Where are we best able to find the full power of the Cross? At the Altar of Sacrifice.
We would do well to meditate on the Cross, pray the Stations of the Cross, pray before great artists’ depictions of the Cross, but nothing compares to being at the foot of the Cross at Calvary, as Our Blessed Lord offers Himself in sacrifice. That very sacrifice on the Cross is made present to us again at the Altar during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There we can see perfect love, the love that clears the way to Our Father’s Heart. There we can take our poor gifts and all of our imperfections and unite them to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. We must join Christ in His perfect offering. If we do not, then whatever we withhold from the Altar of Sacrifice will be devoured as plunder by Satan.
Now I will say something that perhaps very many people will find shocking. The purpose of coming to Mass is