Different, Not Outside

Image result for Ships at Sea 19th century ArtAudrey Assad’s interview in the NCRep struck me. Almost the same hour a friend in ministry reported her pastor (a pro-Trump anti-vaxxer) refused a visit from his own bishop, leaving the man at the unanswered door. The fear of new ideas, of moving from one’s comfortable surroundings, and the idol-making of continuity at the expense of the conversion opportunity in rupture.

As for my friend’s pastor, he sounds like one of those foamy-mouth pandemic deniers. The kind who yell at masked people, what are you afraid of? I don’t think we’re fearful of anything, but I would certainly think that crowd is trying to gaslight the sensible portion of humanity who sees the importance of making changes in the face of society’s upheaval. Classic psychological projection, from the antivaxxers, the stolen-election crowd, and even some traditionalists.

When I first heard of (Richard Rohr), I remember mentioning him to this priest. He said something to the effect of, “You can’t read his work. You can’t go to his retreat center. He’s dangerous. He leads people away from the truth by using Catholic language. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

At the time, I took that very seriously. I said, “OK, I’ll stay away. I trust you. I won’t do that.” That same year I ran into a friend at a coffee shop who had recently begun deconstructing his own Christianity. He was reading Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. I looked at it and I asked him how he liked it. He said he loved it, and it was really helping him. He said, “Have you read this?” I said, “Oh I can’t read that.” He kind of cocked his head and looked at me, and said, “What do you mean you can’t read it?”

What do you mean, indeed.

I found the interview at once discouraging and congruent to my own experience. The only time I’ve separated myself from the Eucharist was last year during the pandemic. My parish was initiating remote liturgy for people at home. I found I could not go to Communion. I think my wife was worried. But I knew of the sense of loss our parishioners felt, and it seemed my privileged position as a staff member was insufficient for me to remain in physical unity when the best others had was spiritual unity.

It didn’t affect my beliefs. It was a matter of congruity with people who were most in need of prayer, sustenance, and unity.

More from Ms Assad on her “what do you mean” moment:

It was a moment for me of awakening when I realized what I was saying, and how it sounded, because I was saying it in front of someone else. And I thought, “I can’t believe I’m afraid to encounter ideas that are different than the ones I’ve been taught. I’m actually afraid to. I am afraid of this because it will expand my view.” And it suddenly became clear to me that that was inevitable in one way or the other. That I had been holding back from doing the inevitable, out of fear.

I think that congruity can be an important value in faith and even liturgy. But it pays to look at the signs. When the hermeneutic of subtraction surfaces, that would be a sign to me that something not of grace is at play. The quantity of people in traditional Catholicism who dismiss the grace and fruitfulness in the reformed Roman Rite is decidedly a subtraction. And that is the key to my criticism of their avoidance of rupture. 

When a person is troubled, challenged, and urged to move beyond a comfort zone into new territory, it can be a time to embrace the rupture and move forward. Without fear. We heard from of this from Pope John Paul II, his clarion call to set out into the deep. I think Pope Francis has actually managed to get us out a bit more to sea.

Moving a bit farther off from shore doesn’t mean we are outside the Church. It only means we’ve moved past shallow baby water. It’s a different place. 

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Hermeneutic of Subtraction. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Different, Not Outside

  1. Liam says:

    The wisdom of two millennia of Christian spiritual journeys is how little the *seeming differences* may be IF the false ego is wisely and compassionately shepherded in the discipleship of Christ. I know that’s something of a word salad, but allow me to deploy the famous example of early Christian monasticism:

    Early Christianity was first rooted in urban civilization (which included rural areas oriented towards chief regional cities). Some early Christians, anxious about the backsliding temptations of remaining rooted in urban civilization, sought out monastic life in the desert/waste areas – first eremetically, then cenobitically. They discovered that, while there was value in this difference, the “city” came with them, in what we might today call their false ego. So, “difference” could yield very similar vexations in the end, because of the false ego as a companion on pilgrimage.

    A flip side to this I recently was discussing with a dear friend: the spiritual examen in the form of the chapter of faults in conventual life of religious. For example, some readers may be familiar with the scene in “A Nun’s Story”, starring Audrey Hepburn. To many of us today, such a minute inspection of spiritual faults by accusation by self and others seems instantly to reek of scrupulosity – even of a certain pride ruddered by the false ego. But that’s not the entirety of the reality. In truth, an examen of this type was purpose built from an understanding of the false ego – how, in trying to serve God, we could instead be serving that ego, at least in part. The shepherding by a more practiced disciple firmly rooted in wisdom and compassion is part of the necessary dialogue.

    Whether we stay in inshore waters, or cast out for deeper ones, whatever truths God wishes for us to encounter will likely come across our course – because Love is a persistent wooer.

  2. Agreed, certainly.

    Hearing these stories such as Ms Assad’s just leaves me so discouraged, and more than a bit angry. In an earlier century such people stayed in the fold and naysayers longed for their own false vision of a smaller purer church. But we had that sense of varied people seeking together. Of being surprised, even.

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