In the column, Allen summarizes Fr. Ron Rollheiser's address to the Paulists, which he characterized as "Ten Commandments for Catholic Life" today, a way to "set our ecclesial gauges." It's worth a read, and is full of that sense of the Catholic both/and. These caught my eye especially:
3) Be for the Marginalized without being Marginalized Yourselfand
Sometimes, Rolheiser said, Christians who emphasize service to those on the margins -- the poor, those alienated from the church, and so on -- tend to end up marginalized themselves, stressing the need to "speak truth to power" to such an extent that they drift out of the mainstream.
In the end, he argued, doing so undercuts the effectiveness of one's ministry. The trick, he suggested, is to be an effective voice for the margins but from the heart of one's own community.
(6) Be Equally Committed to Social Justice and Intimacy with Jesusand
A balanced Catholic, Rolheiser argued, should be ready both "to lead a peace march and to lead the rosary." As an example, Rolheiser offered Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Too often, Rolheiser suggested, Catholics tend to choose between social activism and a deep spiritual life, when in fact the two belong together.
(8) Ponder as Mary DidOverall, I'd characterize it (at the risk of sounding rather impertinent), as a message the order really needed to hear. During my time with the Paulists, one question I found myself asking was whether the order had consciously taken a tack, in response to the direction the Church has been taking since the Pontificate of John Paul II, to be the "resistance" of a certain kind of "left wing" or "liberal" Catholicism that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. Many Paulists responded in the negative, and I am quite sure they were sincere. In one memorable conversation, a well known Paulist moral theologian said that this is something the order has just consciously started tackling, and they had not, at least not at a conscious level, taken such a "resistant" tack. My sense was that, conscious or not, this was the default mode of the community, and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life fighting uphill internal struggles. While this was not the only reason I decided to leave, it weighed a lot in my discernment.
Another way of putting this bit of counsel, Rolheiser said, is to "eat the tension that's around you."
Rolheiser warned that sometimes the Mary of popular Catholic devotion threatens to obscure the Mary of Scripture. He noted that Mary is the only figure in the New Testament described as "pondering" the words and deeds of Christ; typically, his disciples and the crowds are said to have been "amazed."
"Amazement," Rolheiser said, is akin to an electrical current -- all it does is transmit energy. "Ponder," on the other hand, he compared to a water purifier. It "carries, holds and transforms" what enters it, so that it comes out more pure.
At the foot of the cross, Rolheiser said, Mary wasn't simply "amazed" by the suffering of her son, a response that might have led to a lust for vengeance. Instead, she "pondered" it, so that hate was transformed into grace and love.
"We need ponderers at every level of the church," Rolheiser said.
I'd like to add some further thoughts on Fr. Rolheiser's first comment:
(1) Be Beyond IdeologyI can't emphasize just how important this is: the perception we give of always squabbling over internal ideological issues, or reducing people to their ideological positions and throwing charity out of the window in our dealings with them, we absolutely compromise our witness to the Gospel. We become like salt that has lost its taste. [An aside: see the Anchoress' coverage of the story of a non-Catholic DC journalist who wrote about receiving Holy Communion at Tim Russert's funeral. This sparked a rather acerbic (though predictable) response from the Catholic League. What kind of witness is acrimony?]
Rolheiser urged his audience to position themselves "beyond liberal, beyond conservative" -- in other words, to "have an unlisted number" with respect to the ideological infighting in Catholicism that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Instead, Rolheiser advised being "women and men of faith and compassion," going wherever those instincts may lead.
In that regard, Rolheiser noted the irony that two of the most popular, and most controversial, movies of 2004 were both from filmmakers with a Catholic background: Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." It's remarkable, Rolheiser said, that Catholicism can contain both of these ways of seeing the world, "though not often in the same person."
Setting one's gauges correctly, Rolheiser suggested, involves being able to see both the wisdom and the defects of each of the Catholic sensibilities expressed in those two movies -- and many others beyond them.
At the same time, I don't think we are yet at a position where accepting the fullness of the teaching of the Church on faith & morals, as it comes to us from the Magisterium, is simply a given. In fact, simply stating this places one in a particular "camp" in the internal culture war of the Church. This is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of post-Conciliar Catholicism. I would qualify Fr. Rolheiser's words a bit, or put them next to something John Allen said in his speech to the Catholic Common Ground Initiative in 2004.
Fifth and finally, we must foster a spirituality of dialogue that does not come at the expense of a full-bodied expression of Catholic identity. There is no future for dialogue if convinced Catholics sense the price of admission is setting aside their convictions. If dialogue means we have to go fuzzy on abortion, to take one obvious example, it is dead. To return to our earlier question, why didn't Common Ground work? It's not because it failed to respond to a real need. In fact, I sense a deeply felt desire among Catholics to overcome our internal bickering and divisions. That desire, however, is not the only, and probably not the strongest, trend coursing through Christianity. Today, I would assert that the strongest single impulse in the Christian community pivots on identity - the desire for a robust assertion of what it means to be a Christian. You can't explain the phenomenal success of "The Passion of the Christ" without understanding this impulse. It is perhaps most strongly felt by younger generations whose members did not acquire a strong sense of identity either in the home or in school, even Catholic schools. Hence the spirituality of dialogue needed is one that combines a vigorous assertion of identity, opening up our distinctive language and rituals and worldview to those who hunger for them, without ending up in a "Taliban Catholicism" that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.Speaking the truth in love -- always a difficult balance, and never achieved without humility and prayer.