Andrew Sullivan is a popular blogger and commentator with whom I find myself disagreeing at times. Recently though, I have been moved by his comments and expressions of admiration for Pope Francis. Today, he wrote a post about being Christian vs. Christianist. Make sure to go read the entire post. Below are two quotes that I found myself thinking about this evening.
I do not believe that adherence to doctrinal lines makes one a Christianist. A Christianist, like an Islamist, cannot rest until his view of the world is enforced by law on others through political action. A Christian can be a rigid doctrinal enforcer in his own faith community without being a Christianist. Let me give Rod an example of a doctrinal line I would not cross: the Incarnation. Or, in fact, the entire Nicene Creed, which I recite at Mass with conviction. But I have no desire at all to impose that view of the meaning of the universe on anyone else whatsoever – let alone backed by the coercion of the state. That is where I differ from Christianists.
The part that really struck me:
I discovered my faith as a joyful, wondrous, mysterious thing. When it came time for me to go to what Americans call high school, I was enrolled for a while at a Catholic Grammar school, until my parents took me for a visit. Its dourness, brutality, darkness and rigidity made me and my parents shudder and they mercifully placed me at a Protestant high school. I think I probably owe my faith to that decision. If I had been exposed more fully to the dark side of the Catholic church and its institutions – and you only have to look at the hideous history of the church in Ireland for how dark it truly was – then I almost certainly would have rebelled completely. I have authority issues, as some readers may have noticed.
I was so struck by that last paragraph because it is a fear of mine. As a priest, in a way, I help set the tone in a parish community. I have the privilege of encountering people at every different stage of life. My fear is that I would ever express or do anything that would turn someone away from the Church. We all have good days and bad days, don’t we? But as a priest, a bad day could turn someone away from the Church. I don’t want this to come across as my thinking that I have tremendous power or the like. But the reality is that if the tone of my homily or of my words in the confessional isn’t ‘right’ then I could have a negative effect. My hope is that I can help people to see that the faith is as Andrew says above “a joyful, wondrous, mysterious thing.” I know 99% of the job is just getting out of the way of the Holy Spirit. I think the greatest thing is to always know who I am and what God has called me to do.
I spoke last evening with the confirmation kids at my parish. I told them the main reason that I became an active catholic and eventually a priest. It’s because I fell in love not with an idea or an ideology or a bunch of rules. It’s because I fell in love with Jesus. And falling in love with Jesus helped me to find myself. And eventually, falling in love with Jesus led to embracing the Church’s teachings. Not as burdens, but because they helped me to truly be myself, the best way possible. That I think is the reason Pope Francis said no to Proselytization. Because it doesn’t work. Ours is a love story. And you cant force or convince someone to fall in love. Its all about the encounter.
I pray that I will always avoid the dourness and negativity that Andrew wrote Of and that so many people seem to complain of. If I don’t, then I ask for forgiveness in advance.
Please though, Pray for your priests. Pray that we may always remain joyful servants of the Lord and of His holy people. And pray for priests that may have lost that zeal. Pray that the Lord enkindle the flame of his love in their lives. Because it’s only when we have that fire alive in our hearts that we can truly share it with each other.