My friend, Fr. Johnathin Choiri Seraiah, over at The Maccabean has this to say:
Pope John Paul II:An increasing number of Christians seem to have a reduced sensitivity to the universality and objectivity of the doctrine of the faith because they are subjectively attached to what pleases them; to what corresponds to their own experience; and to what does not impinge on their own habits.I could write volumes on this quote, and talk for literally hours on end about it. It focuses into one concise statement the root of the majority of problems that exist in the Church today. Especially in what is, at present, plaguing the Church throughout the world. This "individualism" (for want of a more comprehensive term) is the cause of priestly sexual abuse, poor (or nonexistent) episcopal oversight, apathy among the laity, carelessness in liturgical celebrations, and the list could go on. Meditation on each of the phrases would do all of us a world of spiritual good. I am not about to try to improve upon the words of Blessed John Paul II, but I would like to comment on them. In doing so, I hope to enable you to apply what he said to your own personal spiritual state. Let me break it down into three basic points.
First, the subjective attachment to that which pleases self. In itself, it is not wrong to seek to please self. After all, this is at the very core of what we are doing when we seek salvation in Christ. We want to be saved from damnation and granted a place in the presence of God (because Hell is not a pleasing place to go). Yet, when our attachments become subjective they get clouded. It is not easy to find an objective attachment to things that please self, but it is worth it. Think of the simple act of eating. Objective attachment to the pleasure of eating would lead one to recognize that food is good for health, and necessary for survival. This allows one to appreciate the enjoyment of certain flavors; nothing wrong there. Subjective attachment to food, however, leads one to see the enjoyment of the taste of the food as a good in itself. Thus, the individual can quickly degenerate into gluttony (as well as a host of other culinary sins). Subjectively, the person thinks of his enjoyment of the food as "I like it", and that alone. That leads to other subjectivist problems.
Consider the following subjective errors: "I attend a traditional liturgy because I enjoy the way it feels"; "I watch that movie because I like the characters"; "I listen to that music because it has a nice beat". I could add many more to the list, but it should be obvious how the subjective nature of these attachments is centered on the person's pleasure, and thus excludes the more important questions. To use the examples above, we need to ask things such as, "is the traditional liturgy inherently better, even if it makes you feel bad?" (I think it is, but that is the subject of another post); "does the movie teach a philosophy that is contrary to the Christian faith?" (many do); and "what is the message within the lyrics of the music and what does the morality (or lack thereof) of the musicians say about the music they write?" (they are related subjects).
Second, the subjective attachment to that which corresponds to personal experience. In Protestant circles, if one studies deeply enough, it soon becomes obvious that the vast majority of splits and divisions (often called denominations) resulted from one person saying that his experience is the only right way, and that this is what everyone else needs to experience. "The way that it happened to me is correct [determined by personal choice] therefore it must be correct for everyone else also." Yet, this is not only present in Protestant circles. I have met more than a handful of Catholics and Anglicans who have the same perspective on their personal experiences. "If it is not the way I am used to it, then it must be wrong." Something other than what your experience is may very well be wrong, but it is not wrong merely because it is different from your experience. The subjective attachment to one's personal experience makes this hard (if not impossible) to see.
This attachment is seen in many of the different particulars of life that we are used to. I am very eclectic with the music that I listen to; from rock, to classical, to soft jazz, to Celtic folk music. Yet, there are some styles of music that make me wish that I was deaf. So the question would be, is the attachment to "personal experience" here one of objective quality or a subjective comfort zone? Another example can be seen in ecclesiastical matters. Married priests are not the common "personal experience" of most Latin Rite Catholics (though common to all Anglicans). Yet, Eastern rite Catholics are very used to the concept of a married priesthood. This (by itself) does not make it either right or wrong; it merely shows that not everyone's personal experience is the same. Thus, for a Catholic to reject the married priesthood based on the fact that it is not his own personal experience is a grave error; and in the same way, for an Anglican to demand the married priesthood because it fits with his personal experience is equally errant. Meaning, therefore, that the person's attachment to the personal experience is subjective rather than objective. An objective attachment would sound like this, "This is what I am used to and I appreciate it, but I acknowledge that my experience does not represent the totality of what is good and right in the world."
Third, the subjective attachment to that which does not impinge on personal habits. We get used to certain things, and those things influence greatly how we look at the world. I am used to a certain routine in the evening; children's bedtimes, time alone with my wife, time for work after everyone else is asleep. Those experiences influence my emotions and thoughts. When those things are disrupted, it changes my attitude. Are they disrupted for normally expected things (like a call from a parishioner in need), or are they disrupted for extraordinary occurrences that are unexpected (like children getting sick)? How we respond to the disruptions shows the type of attachment we have. If I were subjectively attached to what my personal experience is, then I will get very defensive of those things, and even angry when something changes.
What are your habits in regard to personal or family prayer? Are there things that can impinge on those habits? Which habits are "untouchable"? The time of prayer? The words of the prayer? The quantity of the prayers? Similarly, if there is a habit of watching or attending a football game, how do you deal with disruptions? What happens if a solemnity falls on that day and the service is at the same time as the game? Many today would choose in favor of the game and skip Mass. What happens if God throws a wrench into your life and your personal habits are completely disrupted? If you come unglued as a result, then you likely have a subjective attachment to your personal habits. In this state of mind, it is easy to attach oneself to those things that do not touch that which you are used to doing, but when something comes to that "no-man's-zone", there are problems for all involved.
Subjectivism occurs. We cannot avoid it perfectly (and in some areas it does not matter--like flavors of ice cream), yet we are called to be careful of it. Surrendering to it is exactly what the Apostle Paul warned us about in many ways (e.g. 1 Cor 6:12). Seeking to understand the world more objectively helps us to avoid the horrible temptation of individualism. We are individuals, but individualism makes us see our individual nature as an ultimate good that is incorruptible (as the Enlightenment heresy that "man is the measure of all things"). Where do we go for objective truth then? Protestants are forced to go to a subjective determination of what is objective (often called "private interpretation"), and pagans will often go so far as to say that there is no objective truth (which is a self-contradiction). Only in the infallible magisterium of the Church can we find absolute and reliable objective truth, and only by Christ is that truth protected perfectly, for He Himself is that very same Truth.
Fr. Seraiah is rector of St. Aidan's Anglican Church in Des Moines, IA. Soon, he and the entire parish will be accepted into the Church. Please pray for them.