When It Comes to Building a Community, Choose, Don't Drift
The other day, I did something I'd been trying to avoid: I took a swipe at Catholics who just don't like Francis. I regret this -- not because I was wrong, but because it wasn't helpful. Furthermore, among the people who don't like Francis, there is a wide range of motivations. Some people are just plain ignorant, and aren't interested in remedying that ignorance. It's easier and safer to just say, "Well, he's just naive and/or a commie, so don't listen to him. Now, who wants to buy my newsletter?"
I regret the three minutes I lost getting upset over stupid stuff like that. But I actually have more sympathy for people who don't like Francis because of of the fight they're fighting.
Here's what I mean. We Fishers are lucky because all three of the priests in our parish are faithful. The liturgy is reverent. No heretical groups are touted in the bulletin, and I never have to tell my kids to plug their ears during the homily. But if I were in some horrible diocese where I had no good options, my attitude about the state of the Church would surely be different. If I were a refugee from a dissenting parish, and drove two hours every Sunday just to go to a Mass that I could rely on to be valid, I would be hypersensitive to certain phrases. If I were from a community where the word "social justice" was really code for "free abortions" and every time I heard "feminine genius" I knew that a womynpriest was waiting in the wings, then it would probably set my teeth on edge to hear the Holy Father using those same words and phrases.
So when you are constantly having to fight off real heresy, it's understandable to be hypersensitive about it -- to see it where it doesn't really exist. Your surroundings make it very difficult to hear the Pope's words with an objective ear, and impossible to hear it with a generous ear.
But here's the thing. After a certain point, you can control your surroundings. You may not be able to choose your geographical parish, but more and more people's community of faith is in the media -- through radio, TV and the internet -- and you can most certainly choose that. In fact, it's very important to intentionally choose that, because what you hear all day will affect how you hear what you hear.
So who do you surround yourself with? Do you constantly go back to feed at the trough of one of these Catholic "news" sites whose entire worldview is, for instance, "Today in gay news, the gay gays are gaying at us again with their gayness, and if you are Catholic, you better make sure you have your affairs in order, because here come the gays!" Look at the headlines and identify the theme. It's one thing to cover stories that no one else will; it's quite another to see a story that isn't there, or to see nothing but one story over and over and over again. So, go ahead and read about the Rose Bowl parade; but also read Eve Tushnet or Steve Gershom. Getting all your information from one source guarantees a bias.
Or maybe you have abandoned Catholic media altogether, because you are sick of the infighting? Well, what do you think you're getting in the secular media? A steady stream of disinformation, contempt, and outright lies about the Faith (and these lies are even worse they're dressed up in Francis-love). If one of the devil's greatest tricks is to persuade people that he doesn't exist, then his second greatest trick must be this: to persuade believers that they can take it -- that they can remain a strong, impartial observer. Even mighty Odysseus, who had reason to be impressed by his own strength and determination, had his shipmates lash him to the mast before he got too close to the Sirens' song. He knew his weaknesses, and so should we.
This is why my Facebook feed is full of people whose opinions make me a little itchy -- and that includes people who are keeping a running tabulation of the various ways that Francis the Destroyer is deliberately demolishing the Faith, and people who are buying tickets to the Dan Schutte concert in honor of Francis' anticipated reform of patriarchal heteronormativity in the Church. I know I need variety, because I know I'm just a little too eager to hear that subtle music of millions of heads nodding in agreement with me. I won't be doing my mind (or my soul) any favors if I feed it nothing but its favorite yummy treats all the time -- or if I think I can hang out in a wasteland constantly, and continue to be nourished.
So here's a good New Year's Resolution for everyone: seek out some company that really nourishes your soul. You'll warp yourself if you surround yourself with people who agree with you all the time -- or with people who disagree with you all the time. We all drift into reading and listening habits that appeal to our emotions or intellectual egos, but we should not be content with drifting. We should be deliberate and intentional when we build the community that affects our understanding of the world.