By Sarah Walas, Hope College ’15, Japanese Major
As I snuggled into my seat in the Martha Miller auditorium, I was prepared to get one of my Catholic Christianity requirements safely out of the way. As it was February 2, a full month into the semester, I decided I had better get trucking. I had heard that a priest would be giving a talk on Augustine, so I waited patiently to see this holy man come in to talk about hating yourself.
When Father Meconi walked in, I did my mental check list of priestliness. Salt and pepper hair? Check. Black shirt with plastic collar? Check. Perfectly polished way of speaking, complete with that priest cadence? Check. Story about beer for breakfast? Check. Wait?!! I better pay attention, something different with this guy.
Fr. Meconi’s talk focused on the universal nature of humanity, and the universal problems it causes. In this case, self-loathing. Isn’t that a cheerful topic? You can see how I was drawn to this lecture. Luckily for everyone involved, he didn’t linger so much on the actual process of hating ourselves as I had expected (we’re all pretty good at that already), so no one left needing a trip to a psychiatrist or something stronger than beer. Instead, he focused on where it comes from and why. Most people who have grown up in a Christian household have already had the basic gist of this taught to them since childhood: we mess up, because Adam and Eve did first. Often times it stops there, just like it did for me. Father Meconi took that idea, and set it off to the corner in its nice little box where it deserves to be, because this tells us almost nothing about our species. Recognizing that all sin starts because of original sin is great in theory, but in practical application it’s like trying to put a single bandage on a burn victim – it makes nothing better.
We don’t sin just because two ancestors ate an apple that was off limits, but because of what that did to us. Adam and Eve tried to be like God without God. They tried to make themselves God. This broke their relationship with God, and each other, and with all of us.
So we’re not just dogs, but what does that even mean? Well, essentially it means that we are like God, and that can be dangerous, because once we knew that, we started wondering what exactly keeps us from BEING God. This is what makes things so hard on us now, not a bite out of some bad produce. We pull away because we don’t know why we would need someone hanging over us, and devote little pieces of ourselves to different parts of our life. It’s that, that feeling of being pulled in twenty odd ways by magnets so strong they almost tear you to bits that leads to self-hate. We can’t handle all that we’re putting ourselves through and we just can’t stand that.
Father Meconi, in that awesome voice accompanied by some well-prepared slides, said that wanting to be many things at once is not necessarily bad. That threw me off guard for a second. I had gotten all comfy and cozy in my seat, and had even closed my notebook, because I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to say. And then out of nowhere, a priestly condolence. I almost scoffed. Was he going to let us off the hook that easily? We’re Catholics, aren’t we? Where is the message we sometimes hear about never being good enough, but persevering through the grace of God?
But that’s not really what being Catholic is about, is it? Like Father Meconi, it’s okay to want to be many things, because it is in our nature. The problem starts when we try to do that AWAY from God. If we live through Him, we can be connected to everything because He is. On our own, we just get chewed up by all of the different pulls. That is why Father David Vincent Meconi seemed so Catholic to me, because understanding our own nature and learning to work with it so that it becomes an understood part of our daily life is what great Catholics do. Having that drink in the morning, telling us (facetiously) the story about using beer as a substitute for coffee reminded me that he’s doing what a Catholic should do: embracing the idiosyncrasies of being human, and going with the flow.
So, despite the gloomy title of the lecture that managed to include two incredibly depressing words, I left feeling uplifted and more optimistic.
Salt and pepper hair? Check. Black shirt with plastic collar? Check. Perfectly polished way of speaking, complete with that priest cadence? Check. Meaningful message, all wrapped up in a Catholic package? Check.
The video of his talk is available here.
Fr. Meconi also spoke in Chapel earlier that morning. His Chapel talk can be heard below.