Personal Failure linked to and responded to a post about religious devotion. Her response understandably focused on the slight the post made against atheists. I wanted to explore this post a bit more myself though as someone who is also a strong believer in religious devotion*
After giving his speech about the importance of piety — a word I might have personally avoided, given the immense negative connotations that have gotten attached to it and even made their way into the dictionary definitions — and offered his patronizing disapproval of those who do not follow (his) God, Fr. Zuhlsdorf offers a quote from Pope Benedict:
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves
totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away
from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant,
something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not
then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?
I’ll note that, in my opinion, this underlines the problem with many Christians’ understanding of piety and morality in general: It’s about giving things up and refraining from things.** When morality, piety, and devotion become nothing more than avoiding those things which are deemed bad, it’s bound to feel restrictive. It’s also bound to leave people wondering what they should do.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf goes on to talk about sins of omission, recognizing that morality, piety, and devotion do require positive action, but he still speaks in negative terms, in terms of failing to act:
That is where we ferret out our negligence in regard to the virtue of religion, negligence in respect to God and to neighbor.
The problem with this approach is that if you’re thinking in terms of what you should have done and failed to do, you started a good thing way too late. It would have been far better to go throughout your day asking what you should be doing, what good you can do. This enables and encourages positive action rather than guilt over negative action or a failure to act.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf finally gets that idea, but only at the end. And he glosses over it but briefly.
Second, during the day, silently to yourself, perhaps say a brief
prayer. Pick one. How about, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart: Make my
heart like unto Thine.”
His blog post would have been much better if he had started his missive on personal devotion with this prayer, especially if he had expanded on it. It could have been a post on what it means to have a heart like Jesus, and what kinds of acts such a heart leads to. Effectively, it could have led into something very similar to my own Prayer for Living Worship. Such a prayer, written with passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and Galations 5 in mind, would have been a perfect lead in to a sort of devotion that any person — even one of those “awful atheists” would have trouble finding fault with.
* My own. Whether or not anyone else is religiously devoted is none of my business, let alone subject to any actual judgment on my part.
** I’ll note that this is a problem I have when many Pagans seem to reduce our ethics to nothing more than “don’t hurt anyone” as well.