Saturday, April 30, 2011

Confiteor and Fight Club

At Mass recently, I've been in the habit of hitting myself during the Confiteor and whenever we ask for God's mercy. I found out this is a thing we traditionally have done because when I went to the Extraordinary Form Mass, I read in the red guidebook (Little Red Massbook, lol) that we are supposed to. I started doing it in the OF too and may have gotten carried away.

One day, when I was participating in this ancient gesture of humility and repentance, I thought "If we were REALLY hardcore, we would punch each ourselves in the face." Naturally, this led me to thinking about Fight Club, which I saw for the first time a couple months ago. I go to Mass each day, and every day I hit myself, and every day I think about Fight Club. My time would have been better spent actually working up some real sorrow over my sins. In that effort, I have stopped beating my chest like an angry gorilla and have tried to do a more slow, pressing motion.

This always happens to me when I try to do nice liturgical gestures. Taking communion on the tongue leaves me terrified like I'm at the dentist. I so much prefer receiving in the hand, but the hosts we use here are crumbly and I got tired of licking them up.

If I had tassels on my cloak, I would so totally lengthen them. I would then think about the bell-pull scene with Eeyore's tail in Winnie-the-Pooh. Good thing I don't have a cloak.

On one level, my idiotic thought about "improving" the ancient gesture by having us all imitate the totally awesome scene where The Narrator sends himself through a glass bookshelf is just one more example of me failing to concentrate well during the liturgy.

I could blame others. I could say that the lack of holy images for me to look at during Mass means I have to make up my own images in my head, and my head is mostly full of pop culture, and whatever mess floats up from my subconscious is not likely to lead to holy reflection. It is true that my local churches don't have much in the way of sacred eye candy, and it is also true that when my attention wanders and I can actually look at something like an icon or statue, it really helps bring my focus back. Speaking of which, I really think my Magnificat subscription is maybe the best thing I've ever bought. I can focus better on the readings if I get to actually see the dang words, and I like looking at the cover picture and the extra art in the booklet! Whenever there is a lull, like during the Collection, during the bit where the readers have to get up to the mic, during the bit where the announcers have to drone on about what I'm going to read anyway in the bulletin, during the bit where everyone else gets communion or the priest washes up, or any of the other numerous bits where nothing much is going on, I can read a prayer, look at a picture, or read an alternative homily. It is so great and it basically solves 95% of my concentration problems at Mass. The remaining 5% are for things like the Fight Club notion that just pop into my brain.

On another level, I think that Fight Club is actually a pretty good movie for one aspect of my approach to the faith, if you ignore all the violence, swearing, and graphic sex. And ladies, there is a lot of all 3, so don't go watch it with your Rosary group thinking it's going to bring you closer to Jesus. It will probably just gross you out. It's rated "R" for a Reason!

Spoiler alert! The movie is about dudes hitting each other because they feel stifled by a society that crafts status and identity out of material goods. The main character explodes his own apartment and goes and lives in a filthy, abandoned home that becomes an oasis for disturbed men looking to find masculinity through aggression. The obviously crazy person is their hero and they put all their confidence in him. There's a lot here that ladies won't necessarily relate to, but I did relate to the anti-materialism message of the (wildly successful) film, as described by its (rich) main actors. Buy your Fight Club poster today!

From the wikipedia article:

Edward Norton said, "I feel that Fight Club really, in a way ... probed into the despair and paralysis that people feel in the face of having inherited this value system out of advertising."[12] Brad Pitt said, "Fight Club is a metaphor for the need to push through the walls we put around ourselves and just go for it, so for the first time we can experience the pain."[14] Fight Club also parallels the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause; both probe the frustrations of the people that live in the system.[12] The characters, having undergone societal emasculation, are reduced to "a generation of spectators".[15] A culture of advertising defines society's "external signifiers of happiness", causing an unnecessary chase for material goods that replaces the more essential pursuit of spiritual happiness. The film references Calvin Klein, IKEA, and the Volkswagen New Beetle. Norton said of the Beetle, "We smash it ... because it seemed like the classic example of a Baby Boomer generation marketing plan that sold culture back to us."[16] His character also walks through his apartment while visual effects identify his many IKEA possessions. Fincher described the narrator's immersion, "It was just the idea of living in this fraudulent idea of happiness."[17] Pitt explained the dissonance, "I think there's a self-defense mechanism that keeps my generation from having any real honest connection or commitment with our true feelings. We're rooting for ball teams, but we're not getting in there to play. We're so concerned with failure and success—like these two things are all that's going to sum you up at the end."[14]

Got all that?

This stuff, this idea that our identities and characters have been crafted in large part by vendors, hit me like a ton of bricks 7 years ago. And I hadn't even seen the movie! I was contemplating various things about the Church that drove me crazy. I had been confirmed in college, and while I believed in the teaching power of the Magisterium and had decided I would obey all that the Church teaches regardless of whether it made sense to me, there was still a lot that I found distasteful. But I read a lot in the hopes of better understanding. It occurred to me, however, to question where I had gained the idea that (for instance) it was horribly unfair for women not to be priests. I realized that it was just from television. Every kiddie show that had said "You can be anything you want to be!" as its main message left Catholics like me feeling frustrated because obviously if a girl wanted to be a Catholic priest, she couldn't be. I already understood intellectually the historical arguments that Jesus established the priesthood the way he had, but this emotional side, which had been established in me at an early age, was still getting in the way of full acceptance. Not that it really mattered, because I have never felt a call to any sort of ministry, but ideas do itch at me. What I realized was that the nice kiddie shows about self-esteem and fairness, etc, may or may not be true, but that they were designed mostly to get kids to bother their parents for toys. The makers of the shows may love children, but they love the parents' money just as much. I felt like the man who built his house on sand. My moral foundation had been a mix of Catholic piety AND a mix of secular piety, and some of it had to go. You can't be anything you want to be, or in the words of Tyler Durden, "You are not a special snowflake."

I am not a PC. I just own one.

Of course, Tyler Durden gets it wrong too. The Christian view is that we are beloved in God's eyes and that He died for our sins and rose again to redeem us. The brutal truth is only this, that by his stripes we are healed.

Confrontation with our sins actually makes us want to beat ourselves up. Accepting God's mercy and forgiveness can be so much harder and more humbling. Taking emotional distress and turning it into physical pain makes the emotional pain temporarily go away. "Rend your hearts and not your garments," says the Lord. In conclusion, I was wrong. It would not be more hardcore to give ourselves concussions every Mass, because it is actually more hardcore to limit ourselves to a couple of gentle taps and prepare our hearts for the mercy and love of the Lord.

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