There's No Such Fing as Grace!

When my son was a toddler, he went through an angry stage. He would step out into the yard, where friendly butterflies kissed the sweet faces of daisies dancing in the golden sunshine. And he would growl, “It is NOT a bootiful day.”

Another time, he was having a temper tantrum in the car. We tried to distract him: “Look at the pretty trees! Oh, look at the cows! Look at the water!” and he would answer us, “I don’t yike the cows.  I don’t yike the water. It’s stupid water. There’s no such FING as water!”

He’s much happier now. But I think of that stage from time to time when I run across a certain type of Catholic. There are frankly heretical movements, like these fellows, who apparently translate “Gospel” as “Bad News.” Here we are in a post-Incarnational world, the gates of heaven are flung open, our Savior is here—and they’re basically growling, “There’s no such FING as grace. And it is NOT a bootiful world.”

You don’t have to be a tinfoil-hatted schismatic to talk this way. There was, for instance, the commenter who responded to my “buy your priest a beer” post. Signing himself “Fr. John,” he growled,

I’m sorry but many of us do not drink Beer. Wine was the drink of Jesus and is therefore my drink of choice (in moderation). Beer and the modern way of drinking it (out of the bottle ) is just a bit vulgar. I just can’t see Jesus and the disciples hoisting a bottle of beer. If you want to make your priest happy then go to confession on a regular schedule and give up beer for Lent and donate the money to the poor. Too much beer is not healthy for you and it is the reason that many men cannot look down and see their feet. How much money have you spent on beer lately?

First of all, I think it’s worthwhile to note—o, just in a very general way—that, on the Internet, anyone at all can claim to be a priest.

Second, I believe with all my heart that, if beer had been present in 1st-century Israel, Peter would have been all over it.

And third:

Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” (Luke 5:34-35)

It’s all about the timing. There is a time for fasting, and then there is a time for celebrating—for cutting loose—for cracking open a cold one, and even for being a little bit vulgar. A priest is an honored guest. He may not be acting in persona Christi when he’s chatting in your living room, but still, in some small way, the bridegroom is there.

There was some debate about cutting loose last Friday, which was the Feast of the Annunciation. The Annunciation “trumps” a Friday in Lent, and so eating meat is etymologically appropriate (and delicious) way to celebrate the Incarnation. When one woman mentioned her carnivorous plans on Facebook, a friend immediately urged her instead to “take the high road”—i.e., don’t eat meat just because you can. Stop cutting yourself so much slack. Don’t lean on a technicality—fast!

On the other hand: What was the Incarnation about? Taking the high road? I say it’s the ultimate example of Someone taking the low road, becoming a man. We don’t have to celebrate the Incarnation with a steak—but to refuse to acknowledge it at all, because we’re too busy fasting? That doesn’t sound like piety to me. That sounds like pure pride.

You may think that in these licentious times, we hardly need to be urged to have a good time, to celebrate.  I can’t be the only one who struggles hourly with sins of the flesh: The whole western world is like that. But if we’re too attached to the flesh, the remedy isn’t to persuade ourselves that the flesh is evil. That’s a heresy—some say the very one that caused Lucifer to rebel against God before Man was made. “God just wants us to enjoy ourselves” is false; but “God never wants us to enjoy ourselves” is just as false. It’s all about the timing, as Jesus said:

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me (Matt 26:11).

It’s not just an oversight that the Church gives us little oases of pleasure—whether it’s having a beer on a Sunday in Lent, or a juicy burger on a feast day, or just saying “yes, please” to the grace that God pours out in rivers all year long. In the liturgical year, there are times for fasting and times for rejoicing; and the same is true in a lifetime. We’re supposed to learn when to fast, when to deny ourselves, when to be detached. And, just as importantly, we’re supposed to learn when to rejoice.

The whole point of penance is to prepare ourselves, so let’s not get so enamored of the preparations that we don’t notice the guest when He arrives. Even in the middle of Lent, it’s fitting and good to acknowledge a bootiful day.