Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Over at Catholic and Enjoying It, somebody sent me a link to a new movie about the Algerian martyrs and then jokingly asked if I had seen the action-packed film Into Great Silence. (If you don’t know, Into Great Silence is a rich contemplative film that takes a long slow look at the lives of some Benedictine monks. For a really great review of the film, see the Register‘s own Steven Greydanus, who loved it).
As I confessed to my reader, I’ve never seen the film. However, I did have a small anecdote since a Dominican priest of my acquaintance had gone to see it and, with the cross town high school rivalry one sometimes sees exhibited among the various orders with their various charisms, had remarked of it, “There was all that beautiful, beautiful spiritual fruit—just sitting there, rotting.”
It’s a classic difference between the Benedictine and Dominican ways. Contemplation is an end in itself in the Benedictine way. For Dominicans, contemplation is ordered toward sharing the fruits of contemplation (particularly via preaching and writing). As a Dominican fan, my sympathies are with Padre’s critique, but I can also appreciate the fact that the film really captured the beauty of the Benedictine way. It’s a big Church.
There were two responses to this that I thought were notable. One was pretty reasonable:
Christian contemplation is never an end in itself. That’s spiritual navel-gazing and is very different from authentic Christian spirituality, which is always interpersonal. What may be different here is how contemplation is offered to God. For monks like the Benedictines, it is done within the cloistered environment of the monastery; for friars like the Dominicans, it is done in community, but while serving “in the world but not of the world.”
I suspect the saints enjoying the Beatific Vision might argue about that. I think it’s wiser to say that contemplation is not always an end in itself.
The second reply, however, I found both ridiculous and chilling:
There is one God, one Church and one path to salvation. It follows that there must be one way of following this path and that any deviation misses the mark. Any variation between one spiritual practice and another implies that the first is lacking in something that is found in the second; it is deficient, and having its good diminished in this way, becomes evil. That the Church is big can be no defense since the way to salvation is small, a narrow path, the door to salvation the length and breadth of which is akin to the eye of a needle. The conclusion is inescapable: variety is the province of Hell; a rationalization meant to excuse something that is incompatible with the nature of God.
“Variety is the province of Hell” is the credo of every Police State in the world. Meanwhile, we believe in a *Catholic* Church that is a riot of variety. The Good Lord has made a world that is utterly crazy in its variety. And there is legitimate variety in the Catholic tradition, which is why both Benedictines and Dominicans (as well as countless other forms of Catholic spirituality) have a place there. The absolutely crazy notion that “variety is the province of Hell” is one of the nuttiest, most unCatholic things I’ve ever heard. It’s the sort of mania that produces Protestant sects by the bushel, all convinced that their little obsession with some tiny facet of revelation constitutes All God Ever Had to Say. The whole point of the Catholicity of the Church is that God is too full for us to contain him in one tiny human life, or in 7 billion human lives. Yes, the Church is one and salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. But
there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:4-26)
“That which is not forbidden is compulsory” is neither a biblical passage, nor a quotation from the Fathers, nor an teaching from an encyclical, nor a quotation from St. Thomas, nor a conciliar decree. If “variety is the province of Hell” then St. Paul was an emissary of Satan. My inclination is to trust St. Paul and think that some Catholics are, under the lash of reaction to false notions of “diversity” in pop culture, misled into thinking of the Church as a Police State than as the Body of Christ with many members, gifts and charisms.