I have a sneaking suspicion that everything humans have ever created has been subconsciously conceived to distract us from the inevitability of our death — both personal and as a species. Literature, the economy, political factions, video games, family values, theater, punk rock, basketball, academic institutions, the whole shebang are all fictions that we made up so we could convince ourselves that there were things to worry and care about other than oblivion. They are all just distractions.
My favorite distraction is the only fiction I hold to be nonfictional: my Catholic faith. It keeps my attention focused on something other than dying — Heaven, which is complete communion with God, Who is Love. I do not mean for this piece to be an exercise in apologetics where I convince the reader to believe in the same “nonfiction” as I do; I just want to explore the implications of my teleological belief in the Catholic Heaven.
A friend once jokingly asked me what my biggest sin is. I gave him an honest answer, the answer I have known since I first learned what sin was in my first communion classes. My biggest sin is, in fact, a range of habitual sins: I pendulate between pride to the point of arrogance and insecurity, to the point of self-hatred. Insecurity, after all, stems from pride, or more often, broken pride. In short, I struggle with loving myself in the proper, ordinate way outlined by my Catholic faith. I fail to recognize my worth as a human being, all of whom are created in the image and likeness of God.
I fail to recognize my worth as a human being, all of whom are created in the image and likeness of God.
At the risk of sounding too on the nose, I think there is something special about my brand of narcissism. It finds some way to invade every interaction and meaningful relationship I have. It finds a way to make me both worship myself and hate that which I worship. It is often hard for me to discern at any given moment whether or not I like myself. This “root sin” is known as vanity in the Catholic faith, and it is an easy habit to pick up when you spend your whole life determining your worth based on your utility rather than your identity. To me, it is the source of my imposter syndrome.
I remember sitting in Mrs. Alvarado’s eighth-grade classroom hearing for the first time that the highest honor bestowed to the angels is that they get to surround the throne of God and praise Him for all eternity. This, I was told, is what Heaven is. I was also told that it is the angels’ song that we sing at Mass every Sunday, which is “Heaven on earth,” according to Pope St. John Paul II. Heaven, as described by Mrs. Alvarado, did not appeal to me; I did not want to partake in the infinite adoration of He Who is not I. The idea of eternal worship sounded boring to me because I did not think I could have any value if no one was singing my own praises. As a young, straight-A student who was full of promise and “a pleasure to have in class,” I fed off of the affirmation I received from friends, parents and peers. It would take a while for me to realize how destructive this kind of thinking is.
Six years later, I am at Mass — witnessing Heaven, surrounded by it, participating in it — in a candlelit chapel, and I find myself drifting off. I am thinking of David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water,” in which he claims that living a fulfilling life is about learning how to deactivate our own hardwired self-centeredness and empathize with others, especially strangers. In the speech, Wallace urges the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College to break free of “operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that (they) are the center of the world, and that (their) immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.” I wonder how this could be possible; I’ve been wondering about this for years since I first read the speech in my freshman year of high school. At this point, I have put my woke goggles on and have realized that I actually don’t want to lead a life in which I am the center of it in that lonely American way.
At this point in the Mass, we are singing, and we are told that at this moment, our voices echo the angels’ voices in Heaven.
So I am pondering this question of how to escape my own mind without neglecting my own needs when the priest lifts the Body and Blood of Christ. At this point in the Mass, we are singing, and we are told that at this moment, our voices echo the angels’ voices in Heaven. My attention is snapped back to where it ought to be: Jesus. It becomes clear then.
Heaven is the perpetual adoration of the only Person(s) worthy of adoration. In Heaven, we vacate the thrones of what David Foster Wallace refers to as our respective “tiny skull-sized kingdoms” in order to flock to the cathedra (the throne) of the Lord. In Heaven, we are released from the natural human tendency toward self-centeredness, and Christ becomes our new center as all of creation surrounds Him.
I cannot wait for the day when I will never have to think of myself again. I live in the hope that when I die, I will be freed of my egocentricity. I live in the hope of that space beyond space, outside of time, where I can join the angels and sit at the feet of my Lord and sing Him a sleepless lullaby. There will be no death, nor fear of death. On that day, I will be enough because God thinks I am enough, made me to be enough. And I will gaze into the eyes of God for all eternity, coalescing into one another, endlessly distracted, not by fiction, but by the Truth: I am eternally loved.