Last June I wrote this post on cult-like behaviors in society and within religious groups. One of the reasons I appreciate the Catholic hierarchical infrastructure of diocese and parish is that we are thrown together as a family with people and leadership that we would not necessarily choose.
This is difficult because I naturally want to join a group where everyone thinks like I do. That feels good. Instead, if I am Catholic I have to put up with people I may violently disagree with and dislike. The wheat and the tares grow together. We have to put up with one another and learn from one another. Should we expect it to be any different? In the church there is corruption and sin. Should we expect it do be any different? In the church there is conflict and disagreement. Should we expect it do be any different? This is what life is like. It is through conflict that we learn and through conflict that we often come to new resolutions and new discoveries.
Sometimes I don’t like certain groups or individuals. Sometimes they don’t like me. The way of maturity is to face this reality and deal with it. The sooner we accept that life is a battle and following Christ requires conflict the sooner we will learn to choose our battles wisely and learn to fight nobly. Once we accept that there will be conflict we will also accept that the conflict will be messy. That’s okay. It’s the beautiful struggle.
What I must avoid most of all is the temptation to beetle off to form my own little group and hunker down in a holy huddle which is nothing more than a mutual admiration society. When we do that we are taking the path of weakness and pandering to our own sense of righteousness. Whenever we hive off into a little group of our own choosing we are in danger of sect and cult-like behaviors starting to develop.
On the other hand, we also need strong support and fellowship of like minded people. That’s why within the Catholic Church there are so many sub-groups–one can become a third order Franciscan, a Benedictine oblate, a member of an ecclesial community or a service organization, but what one must not to is set up a church within a church. The parish and diocesan system helps us to belong to the wider church and pressures us to learn how to live together — struggling to establish unity while recognizing diversity.