I think of the Catholic body. Lately I think of the hobbies and pass-times at which people become excellent simply because of practice over sufficient time. To become excellent – at anything – is to be made better, made virtuous. That we’re made better by love –
I think of the body in the Catholic church and hanging in the Catholic church. And the body in the Catholic artwork and in the Catholic imagination. In Florence I am surrounded. In my own life, the martyr in the children’s book – the suffering body and the dead body, and the dying God and the dead God, on the wall and on the neck and called more habitually into thought than perhaps those who aren’t Catholic perceive. There is a museum-going practice which must be common to Catholics but which I never considered before now, crowded as I said I am at this moment by Florentine Catholicism: that of reflexively entering something like the Stations or the Mysteries in front of Catholic art.
Half-consciously fingering for a way into the scene, a habitual devotional exercise – habitual, and so distinct from the perfectly natural practice of deciding to imagine what an art-character must be feeling and distinct also from the transport one sometimes experiences caught up by art. This happens instead the way compulsive reckoning of floor dimensions happens to the carpet-layer in any new room.
Catholicism fosters this kind of habit more than the Protestantisms. The Protestants don’t have the practice of repeated prayers nor the kind of ritual which gets the body kneeling without processed consideration. I understand why this might seem distasteful or even immoral to a Protestant or moreso to a person without religion. I understand how this horror can exist in people who share some of my outlooks in part because I understand that my own Catholicism might put off other Catholics. My Catholicism may be heretical; certainly the basilica which asked to me to spend mass with a modesty-smock shoveled over my clothing would say I am in the wrong.
Habits run on honest circuits: I don’t think it’s possible to form a dishonest habit. There is a unique holy humility in habits, I think, since habits spring from the defenseless part of the mind which can only do what seems right for survival, and I am sure that the things which are least protected are the holiest. The circuit along which my religious habit runs is sensual and sexual, like the rest of my empathies. This is what I have and this is what I bring and this is the way I come in – by love into the dead God, by going again and again into the dying God made good at that kind of going, and by that excellence made better, refined.