Spoiler: If you haven’t read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and don’t want to know anything about it that might take away from your initial experience, please be aware this post might not be for you. I discuss elements of the story, but I don’t give it all away.
I recently finished reading The Shack and I found it to be, as a whole, a beautiful story of how God desires to enter into our most painful situations and transform them by His presence. The way Young depicts the interactions within the Trinity caused me to stop and consider more deeply the perfect communion found within God Himself. In fact, as soon as I finished The Shack, I picked up Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book The ‘One Thing’ is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything. After reading about the communion of the Trinity in intimate detail, I was filled with a desire to learn more about our Trinitarian God.
The general story line of The Shack is about a man named Mack who has experienced great suffering and loss. He receives a note from God asking him to come to an old shack to spend the weekend with Him. When Mack does this, he enters into an incredible encounter with the living God and grows in an understanding of each person of the Trinity.
The main aspects of Young’s story I found to be edifying. It was simply some of the side details or conversations that made me wonder if he was critiquing Christianity as a whole or specifically Catholicism. Or, at least, his perception of what the Catholic Church teaches or is. There are a handful of elements that struck me as a direct rebuke of Catholicism. The two I want to focus on are ritual and institution.
There is a beautiful section where God involves Mack in “devotions” after a shared meal. Rather than producing a Bible to read from, Mack is surprised when Jesus reaches across the table, takes the Father’s hands, and speaking honest, loving words of adoration. It reinforces the reality that devotion is entering into a loving relationship with God, not something that is merely rote or filled with words. After another meal, Mack expects the same thing to happen.
“What about devotion?” asked Mack.
“Nothing is a ritual, Mack,” said Papa…
What is so wrong with something being a ritual? There are a couple other places where ritual is portrayed as unsavory and in conflict with God’s desires. I could agree with this if ritual meant that something was insincere or done merely out of habit. However, that is not what a ritual has to be. Sometimes rituals are the best way to enter into something that is far above us. Like the Mass or marriage, we follow a religious ritual because we are connected to something bigger than just ourselves.
The Catholic Church is known for saying the same Mass over and over and over again. My students will sometimes question why they need to go to Mass each week when it is simply the same thing they heard the previous week. But if we understand the sacrifice of the Holy Mass as it actually is–the priest in persona Christi re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus at the Last Supper and consummated on the cross at Calvary–then we would realize that nothing else would be a fitting memorial.
Yes, it is a ritual. But Jesus also said “Do this in remembrance of me.” Why reinvent the wheel every Sunday when Jesus has given us His very self and asks us to share in this sacrificial meal? More than new praise and worship songs (which I appreciate in a specific context), the Mass prayed throughout the ages unites us to the earliest followers of Jesus Christ. This isn’t a bad type of ritual, but rather a ritual that unites Christians across space and time. Continue reading “The Shack: A Catholic Critique”