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Gregor Samsa gets religion!
About a month before school got out (give or take a week) we were reading Gregor Samsa's The Metamorphosis in Literature class. At one point, I and various members of my family were having one of those random discussions about Catholicism, and I made an interesting connection in my brain between Kafka and the Church, or, more accurately, a connection between the bug-man Gregor Samsa and the Church.
As many of you may or may not know, The Metamorphosis is about a man named Gregor Samsa who puts up with the unpleasant job of traveling salesman, supposedly to help his rather ungrateful family pay off debts. His existence is rather humdrum. One day, he wakes up as a bug. Freaky. Anyway, as the days, then weeks, then months pass, he becomes more and more a bug, less and less a human and more and more distanced from his family. He loses his identity to his "bug-dom."
And, as many of you may or may not know, about forty years ago a council of the Roman Catholic Church called Vatican II convened and put into effect several reforms in the Church. For example, it was decided that Mass could now be said in the native language of a country; it did not necessarily have to be Latin. Vatican II was largely intended to make Catholicism more accesible to people; more easily understood and practiced. In many ways, this has helped the Church a lot.
But it has also had detrimental effects. As many people will tell you, the sugar-coated, watered-down, let's-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbayah version of Catholicism is becoming more common, as are ignorant Catholics, who don't appreciate or know their faith because their true faith has not been shown to them.
For example, liturgical music is now full of songs that make people happy rather than turn their minds and hearts to God. Yes, Christianity is a joyful religion, and happiness is good, particularly in, say, a recessional or entrance hymn. But when that "happiness" is manufactured at the expense of awareness of God (and really isn't happy so much as fluffy), you have a problem.
Another example: Christian artwork, such as that featured on the covers of hymnbooks, is often found going for an African-spiritual sort of motif that doesn't even look African, like so:
No, this is not racism. I've no problem with real African artwork; what bugs me is when it's faked for a non-artistic purpose, namely, the purpose of making the Church appear racially diverse and ethnically tolerant. And again, I've no problem with racial tolerance, but we should not make advertising it a priority.
Third example, in gleaming, perfect 5-paragraph essay format: Architecture. I know there have been beefs about this before. We have all, I'm sure, seen those churches that look less like a church than a mothership. Or, as a more recent example, churches that look like some sort of corporate headquarters. In these cases, the purpose of of the church seems to be to make a statement; to look modern and hip. What it is not trying to do is turn anyone's faces upwards. When you walk into a space-age church, you are less likely to feel God's presence than you are to think "So this is what a geodesic dome looks like from the inside. Fascinating, isn't it, Jeeves?" In the effort to cultivate a sophisticated, modern image, these churches are losing their beauty. I know beauty is relative, but how many people are truly moved by looking at a geodesic dome? Or a coporate headquarters?
Here are some examples of what I'm talking about.
So, where's my point? What the heck does Kafka have to do with anything?
It occured to me a while ago that The Metamorphosis could serve as a metaphor for these things I've been describing, though it certainly wasn't intended as such.
Gregor Samsa, thinking he's doing his family a favor, reluctantly slogs through an unpleasant job as a traveling salesman. In doing so, however, he gets lost (literally) in his boredom and frustration with life. He loses his identity and his humanity, and turns into a bug.
Similarly, various factions of the Church have been attempting to make themselves more accesible, more attuned to the culture, more hip, etc. They hide those aspects of Catholicism that they think people won't like, or will get bored with. But as a result of making themselves more accesible they are losing their identity; the identity of Catholicism. They are losing the inherent mystery, beauty, and counter-cultural persistence that make the Church the Church.
How do we fix this? Keep in mind the true ideal of the Church. It is an ideal contained in the Apostle's Creed, the Catechism and, above all, the words of Jesus. It's reverence coupled with joy; not joy compromisng reverence or vice-versa. It's beauty coupled with simplicity. It's an ability to identify with people, not to be more accesible to them. The truth will set you free, especially that of religion, which must never ever be hidden in an attempt to make it more attractive.
But what about those people for whom such great measures have been taken to make the Church more attractive? We have to bring things "down" to "their level", how else will they possibly be saved (notice the built-in derision of that statement)? It's pretty simple, really: They're big boys and girls. The Church doesn't have to "come down" to them. They can rise up to the Church.
Basically, all us Catholics should just follow the advice of all those wise mentor figures in all those Disney movies:
"Just be yourself."
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