We are “peculiar”. We have chosen not to go with the majority. We shall pray and reflect on the life of Christ: most people don’t do this. We shall worship and receive God’s gifts in His sacraments: most people don’t do this. We shall be in a minority: we shall be odd. There will be no danger for us in that, as long as we don’t begin actually to like being odd. We can see there, of course, the danger of wanting to withdraw into the small group of like-minded people, and to build the barricades to keep out those who are not sufficiently odd in our variety of oddness. That is the way to create sects and divisions, in which each is sure of his own chosenness and pours scorn on that of the others. In fact, we have to find a balance. It is our faith that God loves all, and all to Him are welcome. But there has probably never been a time in history when the majority of people were seriously seeking Him.
I ran across this passage in Celtic Daily Prayer. The author, Kate Tristam, was one of the first ordained women in the Anglican Church. She was the Deaconess of the Church on the island of Lindisfarne, one of the earliest Christian monastic communities in the British isles. (St. Aidan founded the monastery there in about 635 A.D.)
I think this passage contains two terribly important messages for the Church. First, the Church must, of necessity, seem “odd” to the world. Our values are not the same as the values of the world. The Church values prayer, contemplation, and spiritual growth. The world values power, and wealth, success. The world calls for clarity and certainty ; our faith calls us into mystery. Thus, St. Paul cautioned, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
The Church’s message must always remain counter-cultural. Ever since Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire (in 380 A.D.), the Church has struggled with the lure of culture. The problem wasn’t that the Empire began to take on the attributes of Christianity; the problem was that the Church began to look a lot like the Empire.
Our church’s must recover their focus on spiritual growth and discipleship, rather than budgets and average Sunday attendance. The world compels us toward comfort; Christianity pushes us toward change. The world calls us to love those who are good or kind or pretty; Christ calls us to love those who do evil, those who are cruel, and those who are scarred. Thus, C.W. Lewis wrote, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly wouldn’t recommend Christianity.” Conversely, when we’re feeling really very much at ease in our churches, and when our churches are feeling really comfortable with themselves, we need to question just how authentically Christian they are.
The passage then offers us another admonition. Amma Tristam cautions us against withdrawing into “small group of like-minded people, and to build the barricades to keep out those who are not sufficiently odd in our variety of oddness.” In other words, she rightly warns us against the schismatic impulse, teaching about the danger of dividing into ever-smaller groups until our churches become echo chambers where the only voice we can hear is our own.
The Church must constantly welcome new voices, new insights, and thus the ancient virtue of hospitality becomes so critical. We need the constant reminder that our idea of sanctification, of holiness, does not offer the exclusive path to God. The Spirit works through us, but can work through those who differ from us, too. Here, we learn the virtues of patience and forbearance.
I welcome this wisdom, and hope you do, too.
May the peace of Christ disturb you profoundly,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis