this blog post was delayed in the blog network
perhaps awaiting some sort of verification
of which it of course has no need
these posts are always welcome
it's just that I looked at the archive of posts
and saw this as a DRAFT from May 2
so now it is published
the co-administrator is exceedingly grateful
let it be known
This was the title of the third workshop session I attended Friday at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. It was presented by Mr. David O'Brien, a lay minister with a master's degree or two from Notre Dame.
One source of division he pointed out was simply personality differences between those who prefer order versus those who are more comfortable with ambiguity, and between those who are rule-followers versus those who are not.
One thing that prevents us from reaching out to the "other side" is that it is simply less work, less stressful to be around people who are similar to us. This is understandable. We need to have times when we can be around others who support us. The problem is that in today's society, people are isolating themselves more and more into groups that only think like they do. When we do this, we lose touch with others, and our own views become more and more intensified and entrenched. (As I reflect on this now, I think another thing that makes us more entrenched is when we are with others who differ from us, and we perceive that we are not being heard or taken seriously. This only makes us state our claims more emphatically in an attempt to be heard).
David told a story of a friend of his, studying for the priesthood and recently ordained as a deacon. His friend said that when he is given his own parish the first thing he is going to do is to lock all of the doors to the church. When parishioners arrive on Sunday morning, some will find the locked doors, look at each other in confusion, wonder what has happened that has led to Mass being cancelled, and then go out for breakfast. Others will try every single door of the church, and then check all the windows, looking for a way to get in, because they know they need to be there. They know they need the Mass. "Those are the people with whom I want to start my church!" said David O'Brien's friend. After letting his story sink in a few moments, David said, "There is something seductively attractive in that view, isn't there?" How wonderful to have a church filled with people who are as fully committed as we are. "The problem is," David continued, "that it's not very Catholic. There are plenty of churches that are only for 'the saved', but the Catholic Church is 'the big boat.' Everyone is welcome. In the Catholic Church, if it takes someone 85 years of living within the witness of the Church to finally come into personal relationship with God, that's ok."
Another reason we aren't always ready to listen to others is our assumption that what "works" for us will work for others, whether it be Eucharistic adoration, Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, charismatic renewal, social justice work, Bible study, pro-life efforts, etc.
Another barrier to reconciliation is overconfidence in what we know. He quoted John Wooden: "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."
Another reason we don't reach out to others who differ from us is that we think we already know what they are like. To illustrate this point, David told story of going to a social justice conference. During one session, the speaker asked the group to break into pairs to discuss what was important to them about social justice. David paired up with a young woman about his age and they had a lovely conversation, finding so much that they had in common. At the end of the conversation, he asked the young woman, "So what do you do for living?" She replied "I work for Planned Parenthood." David turned white. She then asked "What do you do?" and David replied, "I work for the Catholic Church." Then she turned white. David's point was that in his mind, he had thought he knew what people who work for Planned Parenthood are like, until he got to meet one of them and find out how much he had in common with this person. Likewise, she probably thought she knew what people who work for the Catholic Church are like, until she met David.
After this introduction, David made three points that he thinks we can learn from Pope Francis regarding reconciling polarizations.
1) Pope Francis challenges the "scarcity" approach--the idea that there are only winners and losers, and that in order for me to win, someone else must lose; the idea that if I am right, then you must be wrong, and vice versa. An example of Pope Francis's approach was displayed at the recent Synod on the Family. Although no change in Church teaching emerged from that synod, the process was very much a new approach in that the Pope did not give the bishops an agenda of what they should discuss and what they should not discuss, and all perspectives were allowed to be expressed.
David used the example of personal preferences in musical styles. Most of us appreciate and enjoy more than one musical style. So why can't there be room for diversity within the Church? According to Pope Francis "Variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel." (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 41).
Pope Francis suggests a goal of reconciled diversity:
“Unity does not imply uniformity. It does not necessarily mean doing everything together or thinking in the same way. Nor does it signify a loss of identity. Unity in diversity is actually the opposite: it involves the joyful recognition and acceptance of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each one and the placing of these gifts at the service of all members of the Church.”
According to Pope Francis, pluralism is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is not the same thing as relativism.
As an example, David mentioned the pluralism of religious orders within the Catholic Church, each with their own distinctive charism, and sometimes prone to vigorous debates between them.
As another example, David pointed out the differences between religious sisters who choose to wear the habit and those who do not. Both have excellent reasons for the choices they make, and both groups should be supported in their choice. Those who wear the habit are a visible witness to the world that there are people who choose to devote their lives to God in poverty, chastity and obedience. Those who don't wear the habit do so out of solidarity for our common humanity; they don't want an 85 year old woman to give up her seat on the bus out of deference to "sister".
As a practical measure toward fostering reconciled diversity, David suggests promoting quotes from a variety of authors and perspectives within church bulletins, preaching the broad spectrum of church teaching, and using a variety of styles in liturgy.
“It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions…Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 100).
2)The second thing we can learn from Pope Francis is to lead with the pastoral.
As a holy priesthood, we, the people of God, should engage the world as a pastoral people. We should engage the world with mercy and compassion, seeking reconciliation, rather than leading with doctrine or ideological options. We should focus on the joy of the gospel, and not on the faults of those who try to live by it."
"Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have 'the fragrance of the Gospel'." (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 39).
Unfortunately, Pope Francis points out, “We speak more about the law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”
If we lead with the pastoral, then when we are confronted with a contentious issue, we focus first on the person in front of us, who may disagree vigorously with us. But we train ourselves to look at them as a person first, rather than immediately diving into the business of who is right and who is wrong. Discipleship is not about being correct, but about being connected to others in caring relationship.
We each need to ask ourselves, on which issues or problems do we have strong opinions, but little connection to people?