Do as Jesus Said or as He Did?
Fr. Thomas Weinandy’s “Toward Overcoming the Spirit of Resentment in a Polarized Church” (Nov.) makes a very eloquent and obviously heartfelt plea for healing the division between the conservative and liberal elements within the Catholic Church, and warns of the consequences of the hatred, resentment, and intolerance bred by that division.
Of course, he’s absolutely right — as he properly points out, if carried to extremes such intra-Church struggles can result in serious, long-term schisms, e.g., Eastern/Roman, and Protestant/Catholic.
Weinandy recalls his personal battle in attempting to overcome all the negative thoughts, emotions, and actions common to the more zealous souls on either side of the disputed issues. And he makes a very persuasive case for “love and forgiveness of enemies” as the only solution to the dilemma of opposing theologies and ideologies existing within a single institution. He does this, of course, by citing numerous New Testament passages.
There can be no argument that love and forgiveness are central to the message of Jesus as contained in the Gospels. But, as is so often the case when citing Scripture in support of a given position, one runs the risk of unleashing a paradox. Yes, Jesus taught and preached forgiveness of enemies; but he also railed against the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and legalism with a vehemence, disdain, and anger that bordered on rage. He called them snakes and rotted bones in whitewashed tombs — not exactly the language of moderation. And his approach to the Temple money-changers was something short of loving and forgiving, at least at that moment.
My point is this: If a person, after honest reflection and examination of conscience, is sincerely convinced that his or her opponents, no matter how noble their motives, are in reality doing violence to truth and justice, do they not have a duty to make every attempt — sometimes employing even anger and ridicule, as Jesus often did with the Pharisees — to expose the falsity and inherent dangers of such a position?
Should one do as Jesus said, or as he did? Should I be meek and humble of heart in all situations? He wasn’t. Should I be gentle, loving, and forgiving in every case? He wasn’t. He chided, ridiculed, insulted, and practically cursed the Scribes and Pharisees because he obviously believed they were enemies; they were dangers to his message. But what if I see others as enemies of the truth or dangers to Jesus’ message? Should I obey Jesus, imitate him, or both?
Weinandy admits that he could never be truly one in mind and heart with his adversaries “unless I (God forbid) or they (God be praised) change.” I would submit that implicit in that remark is the very essence of the original problem: the absolute inability to recognize that for all one’s goodwill and faith, one just conceivably may not be the repository of truth, whether that one be layperson, priest, or magisterium.
Unlike Weinandy, my own journey has taken me through the legalism of dogmatic religious conservatism to the freedom and “humanism” of the so-called liberal position, and I still don’t know with any certainty which vantage point provides the better access to truth. What I do know is that to the degree I ever become absolutely certain that I and those who share my opinions alone possess the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at that moment I become a potential danger to myself, to others, and to whatever objective truth may actually exist. I’m sure the innumerable historical examples of the tragic fruits of unbridled zealotry need not be referenced to support the point.
In any case, if forced to choose between only two poor options, I’ll take the open mind/sharp tongue, as opposed to the closed mind/soft word, approach every time.
The Tale of an Alienated Catholic
I write to thank you for publishing Fr. Thomas Weinandy’s “Toward Overcoming the Spirit of Resentment in a Polarized Church” (Nov.). In addition, I want to explain why NOR is so important to me. I cannot recall what moved me to subscribe to NOR, other than a vague feeling that, as a cradle Catholic of Irish “Calvinist” persuasion, I needed to find out more about the Church into which I was born and from which I was alienated. I believe I saw one of your splendid advertisements, one that reflected the language and style of thought I remember from my college days when the Christian Brothers tried to convert me into being a thinker. Weinandy’s essay reflects that spirit as well, and strikes to the core of my alienation. By exposing me to Weinandy’s thoughts, NOR provokes me to write about my journey from resentment. I falter still, but my course is set.
NOR alone hasn’t been enough to bring me to where I am today. After reading a few editions, I subscribed to other magazines, liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant. Among these are the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, America, The Tablet, The Christian Century, The Other Side, Weavings, and Crisis. Each of these publications provides information I evaluate, often to the degree that I wish I never began thinking and reading to find out why I remain Catholic. It would be so much easier to shuck it all and go with the flow. But I can’t, no matter how much sleep I lose, no matter how much confusion thinking causes. Weinandy’s essay rewards me greatly, and makes the process seem worthwhile. It also makes NOR a premium publication.
Weinandy proves NOR is a vehicle for exchanging ideas, not just a platform for demonstrating intellectual erudition. (Many of the articles NOR publishes are beyond me, but they open doors.) More importantly, Weinandy’s essay shows NOR has soul — an orthodox soul, but such a civil soul.
Accordingly, in the spirit of Weinandy’s essay, I want to recount an event from my own evolution from knee-jerk liberalism to patient, even doubtful liberalism (not to conservatism, mind you). It happened at Sunday Mass and came from the lips of my liberal pastor, at the end of a soul-searching homily about the shabby treatment the Vatican leveled at Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. Bowing his head, my pastor asked this pregnant question, “How can I expect perfection from a Church that would embrace an imperfect man like me?”
In that scintillating moment, I began to see that at the heart of my alienation was resentment — shallow, emotional, pain-filled resentment. I’m aware of the surface causes of my resentful mindset, but I’ve not yet ventured into the deep, unfathomed caves of my soul where the frightful fears abide. However, in explaining how resentment ravages us as individuals and affects the whole Church, Weinandy encourages me not to worry too much about my inexplicable resentments. He encourages me to say to hell with them because in sharing the depths of his resentments he’s helped me understand my own. I’ve grasped his witness, and I’m encouraged to say I’d much prefer to end my days as a tenderhearted man than continue on as a resentful man.
Interestingly, while researching an article for another publication, I discovered a quaint Irish way of explaining how I telegraph my resentments without even knowing it — I walk around with a face that looks like a plate full of mortal sins. That’s enough to make me laugh. Which is part of the solution I’ve found for resentment troubles. In the intensity of my concern about so many things, I’ve never paid much attention to love’s great corollary, humor. If the angel that visited Solomon had visited me, I’d have told him/her not to give me wisdom. I’d have chosen humor. What a joy it is to find a laugh in one’s own imperious pomposity! What a blessing it is to learn how to restrain arrogance at the pomposity of others when you can see your own!
Another Irish saying helps me restrain my fierce tongue. I learned it from my mother. “Boy,” she said, “when you get full up with yourself, remember when you burn your arse, you’ll soon be sitting on the blister!” Resentments have scarred my arse thoroughly, and the only balm I know is putting love in my heart.
The civility of NOR, my pastor, and Weinandy embolden me to believe that by working for it I’ll find the internal civility I yearn for so much. God bless all who contribute to NOR! I need you very much.
All this from a struggling magazine that charges only 19 bucks for a year’s subscription? Absolutely! Keep up the good work. This world needs tenderhearted truth-seekers.
It was disappointing to see the usual Protestant argument used by John Pearson (letter, Nov.) to refute Catholicism — that is, he knows some Catholics and they don’t have a deeper faith than anyone else. This is simply a variation of the atheist’s argument against Christianity in general — that the atheist knows some Christians and they are not any better than anyone else. Thus, the claims of Christianity cannot be true. It is like meeting some confused people on the streets of a great, old city and concluding that the city is therefore not great.
The best way to investigate the claims of any city is to read the city’s history and the works of its prominent citizens, especially its immigrants like John Henry Newman or G.K. Chesterton. One might also tread the city’s less traveled byways by going to daily morning Mass and observing those Catholics who start their day the way Christians have always started it for 2,000 years, with the Eucharist. All this would require some investigative effort, a path not recommended to one who has already decided that he is not really interested in finding the low door which leads to the enchanted garden which lies at the heart of the city.
Falls Church, Virginia
The Nature of Community
The fourth New Oxford Review Forum of Los Angeles was held on October 6 at the Loyola Law School. The subject was the nature of community, and the speakers were Fr. Gregory Elmer, a Benedictine from Saint Andrew’s Priory (Valyermo, Calif.), and Sister Mary Phyllis McCarthy, Director of Clinical Services for Catholic Charities in L.A. The panel presentation was followed by small group discussions.
Fr. Gregory, a theologian who has participated in much inter-religious discussion, began the seminar by describing a genuine community as one which opened all horizons for the persons involved. A community comes into being to meet all human needs and addresses every human dimension, especially the need to know and love God. In this sense, Christ is the root of community.
Fr. Gregory presented an historical overview. He cited Judaism as providing the matrix of community, but, like most ancient societies, it was one based upon kinship and “duties.” Western societies since the Enlightenment have, in contrast, stressed a competition of individual “rights.” In the tradition of the Enlightenment, the American idea of community seeks justification in reason and “good ideas.” But Fr. Gregory pointed out that Christianity is not a philosophy, but a Person, and “post-Christian” society, in reducing Christ to an abstract theological category, breaks the link between the human and the divine. Lacking Christ, non-Christian communities may well be the work of God but inevitably tend to become “collectivities” rather than communities.
True communities must always seek the “well-springs” of God’s love. Monks are “guardians of the springs,” while others do valuable work “down river.”
Sr. Mary Phyllis posed the question, why do we need community? She answered primarily as a psychologist, speaking in terms of personal growth. The literature of psychology suggests that community meets fundamental human needs and goals by providing the means of personal development. Freud described these goals as the “ability to love and to work.” Community is also closely linked to the idea of the family.
Sr. Mary Phyllis described community as an experience that happens in many places and takes many forms. It can happen in silence or among a crowd of noisy kids. It can happen wherever people are genuinely nourishing each other. But the nourishment of community is, in part, a mystery.
The danger to community is artificiality, or “pseudocommunity.” This became an issue in many religious orders after the Second Vatican Council. Full human needs had sometimes been ignored and this recognition led to experiments and, in some cases, to split communities.
What about the hermits? How do they fit into this idea of community? Sr. Mary Phyllis told of her private experiences at Ephesus, and concluded that, in a mysterious way, there can be community in solitude and contemplation. We are linked spiritually and in prayer to people we don’t know.
The subject of the next New Oxford Review Forum will be “Sex, Life, and the Kingdom,” an exploration of the links between sexuality and spirituality.
Studio City, California
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