Sunday Night Journal — September 26,2010
We now have a Catholic radio station here: Archangel Radio, AM1410. It’s the creation in part of my fellow St. Lawrence (Fairhope, Alabama) parishioner Joe Roszkowski and broadcasts from an office in the parish center. Joe is a partner in one of the more successful restaurants in the area, the Original Oyster House. (That’s not the original Original Oyster House; the original Original Oyster House was mostly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and the new one is a mile or so away from the old site, and on very high pilings.)
The station went on the air just last week. I don’t listen to the radio very much, and when I do it’s usually not AM, but I tuned in Friday afternoon. I was almost home, so I only had a few minutes to listen. It was some sort of call-in question-and-answer program, and when I tuned in the host (a priest, I think) was discussing with the caller the last days of St. Therese of Lisieux: the terrible agonies she suffered from the tuberculosis which killed her, and her effort to accept that suffering and offer it willingly to God.
It had previously housed another station which had also been badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina (like the Oyster House, it’s located on the Mobile Bay Causeway, which frequently gets flooded by hurricanes). But something went wrong with that deal, and the building went to another station. I pass the building most days on my way to or from work, and I had noticed recently that it now bore new call letters: WMOB, AM1360.
The Archangel program was winding up, and I thought of this other station. Since it was only a few clicks away, I tuned it in. I caught just a minute or so of the speaker making a concluding point having something to do with the Book of Life described in Revelation, and then his signoff: “This is Roland Dart, and you are born to win.”
What a contrast: agony, blood, sputum, suffocation on the Catholic side; on the other side, winning. I almost said “the American side,” which actually would be appropriate; I shouldn’t say “the Protestant side,” because the broadcast I was hearing was a very American form of Protestantism which is by no means approved by all Protestants.
There is a lot to admire in American evangelicalism, but this tendency to picture worldly success as a natural consequence of embracing the Gospel is not one of them. I had not heard of Roland Dart before that moment, and I don’t want to misjudge him, and perhaps his slogan is not meant to refer to worldly success. If he is any kind of Christian at all, he doesn’t mean only that. But at a minimum, it indicates a questionable emphasis. (Here is his web site, if you want to judge for yourself.)
One may hear, in evangelical circles, suffering viewed as a necessary trial and as something which makes one stronger, but I can’t recall encountering in any form of Protestantism the idea that suffering has a positive meaning in itself. That seems to me a mostly Catholic thing (I have to plead ignorance on Orthodox views).
Catholic emphasis on suffering can become morbid, and I can’t deny that a good bit of what I’ve seen in that respect—some of the art of the Renaissance, for instance—has struck me as excessive. But it’s an excess of something (paradoxically) healthy. Viewed simply as a matter of psychology, it’s a great benefit. We will all have pain in our lives, and the Catholic way of looking at it turns it into something we can give, a personal sacrifice that actually has an effect.
There is an element of sacrifice in every gift: in even the smallest, one has given up something of one’s own, a bit of time or money or effort, with the intent and hope of making someone else happy, at least for a moment. And in general a greater sacrifice is a greater gift (setting aside various forms of manipulation, which are not really gifts at all but attempts to control, or to purchase affection and gratitude). To be in physical or mental pain, and to offer that pain to God, as a gift and a prayer for not just the brief, but the eternal, happiness of those one loves...well, if there is another way of looking at suffering that could give it more meaning (for it is suffering that seems to be meaningless that is hardest to bear) and more assistance in bearing it, I can’t think of it. (I’ve written about this before; it’s something I often think about.)
As far as I know this idea is not found in Protestant thought generally, and that’s unfortunate. Perhaps it’s being rediscovered, as seems to be happening with some other Catholic ways of looking at the faith. It seems to me a very striking and significant difference. I don’t know that it necessarily involves in itself a serious doctrinal disagreement, but it certainly illustrates the way doctrinal differences can produce very different cultures of faith. Probably 80% or so of what Roland Dart believes is not seriously at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but that 20% can make a pretty big difference.