Titian's Christ Carrying the Cross
Did you know that there is a connection between your child waiting for the prayer of blessing before meals and his ability to avoid premarital sex?
Yes, it all has to do with delayed gratification. When we sit down at a meal, it is just and right that we first thank God and ask His blessing upon the food that we are about to enjoy. Then, and only then, do we pick up our forks and eat.
Little children are usually tempted to sneak a bite from their plates while mother is turned around getting the last dish on the table. It's the duty of parents to stop this. The children must learn to wait. Why?
Well one day their appetites will include not only food for preservation of the human body, but they will have an intense appetite for the preservation of the human race. Will they be allowed to nibble a little bit here and there before the blessing? In case you're not following the analogy:
hungry child > dinner blessing > fulfillment of hunger appetite
young person > matrimonial blessing > fulfillment of sexual appetite
You see if Timmy learns that he can eat before the family is assembled and father leads in the religious blessing, well then, Timmy will not likely wait to have sex until after his family is assembled at church and Father has pronounced the religious blessing on Timmy's bride and Timmy at the altar.
And this isn't just about family meals. It's about everything. School, jobs, Advent, Lent, the Eucharistic fast, fish Fridays, penance, sacramental preparation, childbearing, childrearing, illness, natural death, and so on and so on. Catholicism is the religion of delayed gratification. This life is a test run to determine our eternal gratification. If we live only to have pleasure in the now, we won't have beatitude in the future. Christ has instituted His Catholic Church to provide us with small mini-trials every day. The Eucharistic fast is one obvious example. Humbling one's self in the confessional before receiving the Holy Eucharist is another. It's learning how to do something difficult or inconvenient for some other greater good.
Let's go back to Timmy. If Timmy learns to break the Eucharistic fast or cheat his resolutions during Lent, what will he do in other areas of life? He'll push the boundaries, but ultimately he'll fail because he does not understand that all success derives from delayed gratification - both temporal and eternal.
Look at all these hipsters in America. They have college degrees. They vote. They are somewhat intelligent. They even own an interesting collection of vinyl records. Yet they do not have jobs. It's now being reported that our Hipsters are becoming dependent on state subsidies. They hang out in coffee shops discussing Renoir, Radiohead, and Rousseau, but they buy their groceries with food-stamps! It looks like they've fallen for the hipster trap. What's going on here?
These young people have been raised to reject delayed gratification. They are the products of society that glorifies immediate gratification They want meaningful jobs...right now. They want to be art gallery directors, professors, CEOs, non-profit directors, film-directors, Facebook creators, authors, actors, and poets. What they don't see is that it takes a helluva lot of hard work to ascend to these professions, actually to ascend to any profession.
This is why we must realize the value of Catholicism for our culture. Catholicism, in this regard, helps us in two ways. The first way is supernatural and the second way natural, temporal, and social. First, the Catholic theology of waiting confirms that the honors and accolades of this world are vanity of vanities. The Faith is what led the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to resign his power and live his remaining days in an obscure monastery. The smaller natural pleasures of this life are not worth trading for the enormous supernatural beatitude to be attained in the next. This life itself is a prolonged wait for something better and beyond.
Secondly, the theology of waiting or delayed gratification is not one of passivity. You are active and waiting. Unlike the ideology of hipsters smoking hand rolled cigarettes and complaining about those faceless stiff-shirts belonging to the "one percent," the theology of waiting calls for sacrifice now for something better later. So if you want a meaningful job, get up and produce something. Contribute. Nobody cares about your thoughts and feelings unless they contribute to something. If you're an artist, it may take you 20 years to actually sell something. If you can't accept that, then don't throw a tantrum and complain about the world. Learn a little delayed gratification. Write down your goals and realize that it takes a long time to reach important goals.
Contraception is the perfect example for our society's desire for instant gratification. Contraception is the idea that you can have lots and lots of immediate pleasure without committing to one person (a sacrificial act), and without committing to a pregnancy (a hugely sacrificial act), and without committing to raising a human person for eighteen years (an immensely sacrificial act).
Back to Timmy for one last time. From the time Timmy is born, he will be maintaing his "threshold for waiting." He will observe the "threshold of waiting" in his parents. Do they live on a whim? Do they go into debt to have fun now? Are they penitential? Are they religious hypocrites? Then he will begin to see how the standard for the "threshold of waiting" is applied to him. Is he allowed to throw temper-tantrums when he is not immediately gratified. Will he persevere in household tasks? Will he finish homework? Will he keep the Eucharistic fast or will he sneak a cookie before Mass? Will he maintain simple customs such as not eating before the Blessing? You get the idea.
If Timmy does not learn this Catholic principle of delayed gratification, what will he become? He'll become a contracepting hipster with a B.A. waiting for that $60,000 job to fall into his lap. Regrettably, he'll be a nothing. Worst of all, he won't live the abundant life that Christ promised for those who would take up their cross and follow Him.
Of course, it's not easy to assume this theology of waiting. It is the most difficult teaching of Catholicism. As the Blessed Virgin Mary said to Saint Bernadette: “I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.” Those words terrify me. However, it is a sure promise. None of us will be perfectly happy in this life. It's just not going to happen. C.S. Lewis once speculated that if God gave us perfect happiness in this life, it would be unjust since we would then stop seeking after God Himself. Saint Thomas Aquinas would say it is impossible to find happiness anywhere else since our Summum Bonum is none other than God Himself.
So don't get down in the mouth about delayed gratification. Life won't be perfect. Embrace this truth. There is freedom in it. There is joy in realizing it. Here the verse that wraps it all up nicely:
"But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved." (Matthew 24:13)