Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Catholic Diversity

Many people (including some famous philosophers) reject the Christian faith because they believe it entails unhealthy, unnatural constraints that will steal the joy out of their life.  Nietzsche certainly thought this (his father was a dour Lutheran pastor), and there is no doubt that there have been grim Christians and deformed christian cultures since the beginning.  But the true faith gains everything, and only surrenders to God our sin and its ugliness.  Similarly, many contemporary people forgo having children out of the same fear of constraints (never mind how unnatural this is), and rather than having more freedom and more life they actually have less.  Little children, like the faith, open up the rich tapestry of life and it's possibilities.  Each child brings with him a new world of insights, talents and adventures, something his sister or brother did not see or understand or pursue.  The author Jennifer Fulfiller has described this: that in the Catholic home you are "surrounded by so much life".  In fact, it is really a foretaste of Heaven.  Everything in Heaven brims with life--even the colors seem to share in the very life of God.  We know from scripture that Heaven is a feast, and in their little way, children are a feast as is the Catholic life with its abundance and great diversity of delights.

On our honeymoon, my wife and I enjoyed an amazing feast every morning at the Hotel Cavallari in Rome

In a similar way, the very life of the Church--with all of its diverse vocations (lay, religious, consecrated virgin, widow, married) and religious movements and charisms is a great feast for the honor and glory of God.  It is "man fully alive" as St. Ireneaus described it over 1800 years ago.  In fact, our diverse patrimony and history across cultures and time is a feast to study and contemplate.  If you read about different saints in every century of the Church, you will witness them come to life in your imagination as they descend from Heaven to kindle your soul.  Every saint was different because they had their own bundle of experiences, their own formed character, and because God had a unique call for each of them. This "call" was often to do one thing but not another (even if the other thing was praiseworthy and needs doing).  

We often fall into the trap of following something we haven't been called to do, or trying to shoe-horn other people into our pre-conceived idea of what they should be doing.  I once had a fellow prayer witness at 40 Days For Life become angry with me when I resisted her notion that God had called me to be a professor, and so evangelize in the university.  But that wasn't my call (though at one time I hoped it was) and we must honor the diversity and singularity of God's call.  As another example, here in Portland there is a good Catholic man, a former protestant pastor, who closely attends to the homeless population and lobbies for them in courts and state benefit offices.  That's what he has been uniquely formed and called to do.  It is not my calling, and my apostolate is not his call.  This difference in "calls" reflects the beauty and wisdom of God's plan, and we should marvel at it instead of nosing about and wondering why other people aren't doing what we think needs to be done.  Many people have criticized Mother Theresa for not building hospitals and massive infrastructure for the sick, marginalized and dying, but as she simply responded: "That's not my call."

Don't Quench The Spirit

In the past few years I have been troubled as faithful, vibrant movements in the Church have been suppressed for dubious reasons (Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, Fraternity of the Holy Apostles, and now a priestly exorcist society founded by Fr. Ripperger).  This is nothing new in the Church as we know from reading the lives of founders of religious communities.  It has also been common for holy men and women to be misunderstood and persecuted by the Church (Sts. Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Jean-Marie Vianney, Padre Pio, Mother Angelica immediately come to mind, though a full list would number in the hundreds).  Padre Pio's main opponent, Fr. Edoardo Gemelli, did God's work in founding and steering the Catholic University of Milan, and yet he wrote awful things about Padre Pio.  It is a terrible thing to die--even in sanctifying grace--and then have the Lord show you that you have been persecuting some of his chosen souls. One of the Vatican monsignors who was sent to evaluate the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate was over-heard in a restaurant mocking their penances and lowly lifestyle.  He remarked in a humorous tone, "You wouldn't believe it, but at night you could hear the echo of lashes throughout the friary.  All night long!"  Now I don't take the discipline (unlike Blessed Charles de Foucauld, our patron), or lash myself, but I have a tender fear of disappointing God, and so would never mock those who do.  Who knows what God has called them to?  If it is orthodox and comes from our lived faith tradition, then tolerance is the better part of wisdom.

One of my former professors at University of Michigan, Scott Page,  wrote a theoretically rich and wide-ranging book on the unique benefits of diversity in different institutions.  As a secular academic, his jump-off point was a famous passage from Aristotle, but it might as well have been St. Paul on the Body of Christ.  Even the ancient pagans and the new pagans get it!  St. Philip Neri certainly got it as he assembled his great oratory full of talented and holy young men.  The great saint had the grace to see each man as he was, and wisely drew from each the unique talents and vocation that God had given them. Each person has gifts and a calling and we must not stand in the way of it because we have cramped views on liturgy, or mortification, or the modern world, or ecclesiology.  There has often been a confounding diversity in the life of zealous Catholics, and this comes from the very hand of God.