The Church needs teachers and healers, not defenders

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Recently I found myself exposed to a number of what I would call conservative Catholic blogs on Facebook. I have done what I can at this point to shield myself from any further impositions - they tend to bring out some of the worst in me.

What I have found about "right wing" bloggers and many of their participants is that they invariably see themselves as "defenders", and these defenders of what they regard as orthodox Catholic understanding speak and write with an identifiable rhetoric of certainty and within a spirit that is unmistakenly triumphalistic. I have yet to detect in their discourse anything like a healthy sense of skepticism regarding the possibility of error or even the slightest awareness of the tentative nature of theological and philosophical discourse.

Christ is saviour, he is the Lord of life. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and so he alone heals (1 Pt 2, 24). The Church is the body of those who move through history and through the entire world (kataholike) carrying his life within them, a life that brings life to those who are dead. It is because the Church is "of all nations" and moving through history that there cannot be any such thing as a single "Catholic culture". When looking at a Giotto or a Fra Angelico, which have to be some of the most beautiful art in the history of art, we cannot help but notice the Italian architecture and style of dress; this is not 1st century Palestine. In other words, Christ is expressed within the framework of what was then a contemporary culture, and this is fitting because Christ lives and moves in history, for the Church is his body. Christ is seen, interpreted, and expressed through the eyes of a people situated in history and within a well established culture, with a language that houses a myriad of thinking habits. It is, however, a culture that develops, as all cultures do. What is contemporary eventually ceases to be so. The result is that in some ways Christ will be seen, interpreted, and portrayed differently as history unfolds. Compare any Baroque Virgin and Child with any one from the early Renaissance; not only is the development manifest, some of us might even be moved to question whether all development is really progress.

Nevertheless, there is a real distinction between love of the Church and the love of a specific cultural expression of the faith. It has been my experience that traditionalists do not seem to grasp this. We can study these cultural expressions from the past and certainly we ought to revere them as heirlooms, but I would have to argue that any attempt to "conserve" a cultural expression or to resurrect and perpetuate one within the 21st century, is simply childish. The Church needs teachers, but not defenders, at least not ones whose return to the faith has been relatively recent, which seems to be the case with many of the staunch "defenders" I have encountered. The Church has an advocate (Jn 14, 16) who will lead her to the complete truth, which is a truth much larger than any single individual or group of individuals of a particular period of Church history will ever be able to grasp or fully articulate. What we need today are those who can bring a spirit of healing and joy to the world. Catholicism is not primarily about "being right" and evangelization is not about "correcting" others; it is about Christ, who is life itself.

When a person returns to the Church after a long absence, he or she brings into the heart of the Church unique gifts and talents, but we also bring old habits, vices of which we are for the most part unaware. And as any psychologist will testify, there are hidden wounds within that we carry around with us, and these wounds are the drive behind much of our behaviour that is deficient. It is easy for us to convince ourselves that such behaviour is virtuous. Defenders are ready to battle, like some of the young wounded adolescents I teach who are motivated by hidden anger and who are thus inclined to fight; for despite its futility, it is their way of coping and trying to heal. Our task is to allow Christ to heal us so that each one of us can be a source of healing for others.