Monday, February 28, 2011


A few weeks back, I spoke of a young man who had written me several times with the following concern:

"You seem to avoid some of the tense battles among Catholics on left and right. Issues like the Latin Mass, abortion in the health care bill, what the Church did, should have done in regards to sex abuse scandal, etc. Do you think the hot button issues of the day are important for the average Catholic to engage in and fret about? I have and it's making me so upset, angry, stressed, etc. I wonder if I am losing my focus on the real spiritual battle?

Should I be e-mailing, discussing, lobbying, debating people, friends, family on the wrongness say of abortion or gay marriage or the culture of death, etc. or should I be inside a church praying, doing small acts of penance, works of mercy that don't seem to amount to much while the whole world keeps moving in the wrong direction...?"

In particular, this guy had spoken of his frustration with Facebook, in which he apparently gets involved in doctrinal discussions, sees it as his duty to take a stand, and tries to set people straight, at which point they more or less turn on him.

My response had basically been: If the discussions frustrate you, DON’T ENGAGE IN THEM. Figure out what you’re for, not what you’re against. The road to Christ is lonely, long, and almost unbelievably rocky, and though it takes place in community, we have to also walk it alone, often in great anguish and distress, often for decades if not our whole lives.

But obviously a whole movement is afoot among young people in the Church—which they unfortunately learn from us older people—that is based on vitriol, grandstanding, contempt, finger-pointing, and the drive to “win,"  because this earnest young seeker wrote me several more times expressing his  frustration. So by way of a kind of open letter, I thought I would try to make it a little clearer why I “avoid some of the tense battles among Catholics on left and right.”

The first thing to keep in mind is that following Christ is not a career move. The mark of authentic conversion is that it costs you something, not that it gains you something. So if you’re trying to become, say, a “pro-life” or an anti-war or a convert celebrity, that is something, but it is not Christianity. That is to bring the world into the temple; that is to be a money-changer in the temple: to make a name for yourself, to cultivate a reputation, to strive for notoriety based not on your love, but on your “views.” Both the right and the left are simply variations on “the world” in which the goal is power, prestige, efficiency, triumph, and the goal is to shame or bully other people into changing without changing one iota yourself. The Catholic media that traffic in this sort of incessant "opinion"-driven "discussion" seem to me to have very little, if anything, to do with Christ. Keep your own side of the street clean and pray--pray for us all--is more my idea.

To write some snarky “opinion” doesn’t cost anything. That’s cheap grace. Nothing infuriated or repulsed or grieved Christ more. The people who wear their five-inch aborted-fetus buttons, to take one of the more unfortunate examples of the religious right, remind me of the Pharisees who prayed loudly on the streetcorners and wore their phylacteries long. "We care," they proclaim; they insist. 'We care more than you do. We’re more outraged than you are. You’re wrong and we’re right."

I’ve had abortions. I feel deeply that abortion is wrong. I have gone on record and I will go on record again as saying I believe abortion is deeply wrong. But the reason abortion is wrong is that it’s a failure of love, and  if you're not converted by the sight of an actual child, you're certainly not going to be converted by seeing an aborted fetus; just as, if you're not converted  by Christ's person, teachings and life, you're not going to be converted by watching a fetishistically violent film of his crucifixion.

So I don’t show my sorrow by wearing a button of an aborted fetus—or actually any fetus—who by the way could not possibly have been in a position to give his or her consent to be plastered all over my chest in order to make a statement about my political/religious views.

I show my sorrow by changing my life. I show that I care by changing my life. By looking at my own sexual baggage, wounds, behavior; by looking at the ways I use and discard people as objects; by ferreting out my resentments, fears, character defects; by a more or less constant examination of conscience; by sharing those things with another human being—a spiritual director, a confessor—and trying to do better, knowing I am mostly bound to fail. The spiritual path doesn’t consist, in other words, in pointing out to others the ways they might be contributing to the suffering of the world, but in searching out the ways I am. That’s why I steer clear of the religious right.

The religious left is all about faux love.” Two gay people “marry,” that’s supposedly an increase of love. Two people sleep together to see if they’re compatible, thereby (supposedly) saving the world from a ton of unhappy marriages: that’s an increase in love, the thinking goes. But it’s the “love” that urges people to take a shortcut to avoid suffering. It’s the “love” that says I think you’re too delicate to face and live out the truth. I don’t think you’re strong enough, or mature enough, to take in the whole picture, to hold the full tension of the suffering of the world before you; to admit that every time you take the shortcut, you are contributing to that suffering, not relieving it. So if a kid you conceive might be “unwanted”: abort it. If an old person strikes you as no longer serving any “useful purpose”:  help him or her to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, the underlying idea, if you follow it through, and you don’t have to follow the idea very far, is “Exterminate or annihilate people who are suffering,” because suffering always stems from or is exacerbated by a lack of love, and love is grounded in family--mother, father, if possible, children--and the holiness of sex, and the sacrament of marriage, and making our life’s work, no matter what our station, to welcome, support, rejoice in, marvel at, and support new life and all life: in charity, in integrity, in truth. Which requires sacrifice, on everybody’s part: married, single, straight, gay, young, old.

So much sacrifice, in fact, that I, for one, am way too busy to get overly exercised about whether to, say, bring back the Latin Mass, though I’m sure I would welcome such a move; or lobbying against (or for) abortion in the health care bill; or calling for reform in the hierarchy. As it is, I look at these people who are always railing against the Church (from the right and left) and think: How in any way is the Church impinging upon your freedom? How is the Church in the smallest particular preventing you from performing the works of mercy, from trying to figure out how to love your neighbor as yourself, from taking the beam out of your own eye before you take the mote out of your own eye, from not casting the first stone? Are the Papal police coming to your door and arresting you? Is Rome telling you anything other than at the last day, you will be judged by how you treated the least of these, which includes not just the unborn, or the illegal immigrant, or the prisoner on Death Row, or whoever else you’ve adopted as your cause, but the person on the other side of the fence: your “enemy”? If the Church started saying You can’t pray, you can’t go to Confession, you’re not allowed to be emotionally or sexually responsible, hate your enemy, I’d start to worry.

Instead, I’m always a little taken aback by the complete lack of affection, often within her own ranks, for the Church. To me, the Church is kind of like having an alcoholic mother: majestic one minute; engaging in some cringingly  non-Christ-like behavior the next. But no matter what, she’s your Mother. No matter what, you love your mother. And the way you love her is you notice when she goes wrong, you grieve for her, you mourn for her, and then you silently resolve to help her do a little better. You don’t pretend not to see her faults and get all self-righteous and militaristic if someone attacks her—but you also don’t kick her when she’s down. I think the way we feel about the Church is very much an indication of how we feel, in our hearts, about the least of our brothers and sisters. In one of her letters, Dorothy Day quotes a priest who said, “You love God as much as you love the person you love least.” And by extension, I think we love God about as much as we love His Church...

To be a follower of Christ is to accept to hold an almost unbearable amount of tension: to accept bottomless imperfection, brokenness, woundedness; to consent to any number of extremely unpromising people and situations. But this is where things get interesting. I mean we're given all kinds of signs to let us know when we’re onto Him, and almost the first sign is that the Way, the Truth and the Life are interesting. You start to change; that’s interesting. You forgive someone you thought it was impossible to forgive; that’s interesting. The MOST unpromising person, or situation, the seeming catastrophe, turns out in the end to have helped you along in some way you could never have imagined on your own: that’s interesting. You forego a slew of money and security in order to pursue work you’re passionate about: that’s interesting.

Listening to a bunch of people try to shout each other down, especially in the name of God, is not only corrupt and depressing, but deathly boring. I once signed up for a day of “community discussion” among a group of artists where, simply in the course of the introductions, I was attacked, twice, for being a Catholic. At the break, I simply left. Not so much because my religion had been attacked but because I knew the conversation would not be interesting. I went home and worked and had a rich, lovely day.

So to be a follower of Christ is not a career move, and it’s not a social move either. It’s not about having a bevy of supportive, admiring, we’re-all-on-the-same-team friends. I can hardly imagine anything worse for a person’s spiritual development than to be told, “Whoa, dude, that was a killer pro-life polemic!” or “You really nailed those pederast priests!” No-one, to my knowledge, has ever become a saint on the basis of his or her political views.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t know exactly where we stand, and why. But we stand with Christ. Christ himself neither endorsed nor supported any causes. His cause was love, his cause was truth, his cause was beauty. His cause was to lay down his life for his friends. Being a follower of Christ is not about convincing, it’s about converting. And the heart you should be most concerned about converting is your own.

Here’s how, in my experience, you know you're becoming a follower of Christ. You begin to want to be seen less, not more. You begin to want to be quieter, not louder. Knowing you’re on the right track doesn’t come from scoring points among your “friends.” Knowing you’re on the right track doesn’t come from winning  useless arguments. You find yourself making tiny sacrifices. You find yourself experiencing tiny moments of joy. You find yourself mysteriously drawn to the Gospels, to Confession, to Mass.

A few years ago, I found myself in line at the confessional at a church in Atlanta, Georgia: a moment I didn’t realize would be seminal, but since then has come back to me again and again. At the time I was in a real dark night of the soul, struggling with a certain obsession, and a shattered heart, and a bunch of other difficult things. I’d tried everything I knew, I'd run out of ideas, and in desperation, I’d decided, in a kind of self-styled pilgrimage, to get in my ’96 Celica and drive from L.A. to the coast of New Hampshire, my childhood home, going to Mass every day. Every day for weeks, wherever I was, I’d been to Mass. All I knew was: Try to get close to Christ. Stay close to Christ. I’d made it to Atlanta, where my brother Joe and his wife Mimi lived, I was staying on their couch, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and I had a deep urge to go to Confession.

It was a Friday and I looked in the Yellow Pages and found a nearby church that had Confession just before noon Mass. So I walked from my brother’s apartment down Peachtree to what turned out to be this dear, dingy little neighborhood church, and I found myself standing in line with all these not-very-prosperous-looking gay guys. I didn’t know what they were about to confess, but I knew they were human, and like me, had a body, a heart, a will, a longing to be loved, to love, to be good. I knew they were as weak and fragile as me; as prone to succumb to temptation as me; that, like me, they probably approached Confession with a mixture of humility, reverence and dread. I’m a citizen of the 21st century. I’d seen the billboards; I knew the score. I did not need to be told how futile, how pathetic, how meager, how seemingly useless it was to stand in a shabby church and sit before an overworked priest, as I did a few minutes later, and tell him the ways I was broken, and then go out to kneel in a pew behind an aging drag queen and say three Hail Marys and a prayer for peace.

But we do not come as people who strive for efficiency, for results, to swagger and preen and lord it over the rest of the world. We come as sinners. We come as beggars. We come hungering and thirsting. We come: the lame, the blind, the deaf, the halt, the leprous, the demoniacs, the desperate, the lost, the lonely. We don’t have our political views to give each other; we have Christ. We don’t have convincing arguments; we have our wounds, our holy longing, our groping in the dark. We don't have clever op-eds; we have our bodies, our puny love, our lurching, guaranteed-to-fall-short striving for purity.

And I’m not sure I have ever felt so close to the heart of reality, so certain of my seemingly utterly ineffective and irrelevant faith, so proud to be a member of the human race as I was that afternoon, standing in line with my brothers in Christ--aching, hoping, against all odds trusting--at that dingy church. If I did not believe that to stand in line at that confessional was in some sense saving the world, I would blow my brains out. Because to believe that is to believe in the Resurrection. And if Christ did not live, if he did not vanquish death, there would be no reason, no possible way to go on.

So we walk alone, and yet we walk with Christ, and that means we walk with, are inextricably bound to, every other human being who lives now, ever has lived, and ever will live. To believe that we are all deeply, intricately connected, and that our actions have eternal consequences, is to operate from an entirely different basis than politics. We operate from a basis of redemptive suffering, which was what MLK, Jr., operated from and why he was assassinated. It was why Christ was tortured to death. Redemptive suffering subverts every possible order. It upsets people terribly. It enrages and unsettles. It’s radical: gets to the root of. We like to think of ourselves as radical but when push comes to shove, we’re not radical at all. We’re lost sheep. We want things to be pleasant. We want to be “ok.”

But to quietly, more or less hiddenly, consecrate our entire selves to God and the teachings of the Church is an entirely different matter. That is why we go to Confession. That is why we struggle to refrain from our lust, our pettiness, our hardness of heart, our compulsive, frustrated desire for fame. That is how I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my gay brothers and sisters, with the unborn, with the prisoners on Death Row, the sick and suffering, my next-door neighbor and his irritating music that makes me want to kill him: in line at the confessional, on my knees at Mass, and then by bringing what I experience there, what I am given there, out to the world. We strive for purity because someone else needs us to be pure. We strive for love because God loved the world so much that He gave us His only-begotten son. We strive for charity because, as Léon Bloy wrote in Pilgrim of the Absolute, “A charitable act, an impulse of real pity sings for him the divine praises, from the time of Adam to the end of the ages; it cures the sick, consoles those in despair, calms storms, ransoms prisoners, converts the infidel and protects mankind.”

My friends are well aware of my religious affiliation. I would not dream of informing them that their views on sex or abortion or gay marriage are wrong. What I do instead is live my life in such a way that if, for example, a woman friend comes to me and says “I’ve had an abortion and I’m in terrible sorrow and grief,” I don’t say some asinine thing like, “Well that’s not a healthy reaction! You need to go to a shrink right away and get some antidepressants! You need to find a guy and have yourself a little fling. You need to go on and take a bubble bath.” No, I get to say “Oh my sister! I have been there!” I get to say, “Thank God someone is still alive enough to feel her own heart!” I get to share my experience, strength, and hope, one human being to another. I get to listen. Or if a gay friend comes to me (I'm not holding my breath, but you never know) and says, "Am I crazy to want to stay with this person I love with all my heart, but to not have sex?" I get to say, "No, dear friend, you are not crazy. That is toward love. That is toward the highest. That is toward all of humanity. That is one of the most beautiful sacrifices I can imagine." 

“The saint has no “fads” and you may live in the same house with him and never find out that he is not a sinner like yourself, unless you rely on negative proofs, or obtrude lax ideas upon him and so provoke him to silence. He may impress you, indeed, by his harmlessness and imperturbable good temper, and probably by some lack of appreciation of modern humor, and ignorance of some things which men are expected to know, and by never seeming to have much use for his time when it can be of any service to you; but, on the whole, he will give you an agreeable impression of general inferiority to yourself. You must not, however, presume upon this inferiority so far as to offer him any affront, for he will be sure to answer you with some quiet and unexpected remark, showing a presence of mind--arising, I suppose, from the presence of God--which will make you feel that you have struck rock and only shaken your own shoulder. If you compel him to speak about religion…he will mostly likely dwell with reiteration on commonplaces with which you were perfectly well acquainted before you were twelve years old; but you must make allowance for him, and remember that the knowledge which is to you a surface with no depth is to him a solid…I have known two or three such persons, and I declare that, but for the peculiar line of psychological research to which I am addicted, and hints from others in some degree akin to these men, I should never have guessed that they were any wiser or better than myself, or any other ordinary man of the world with a prudent regard for the common proprieties. I once asked a person, more learned than I am in such matters, to tell me what was the real difference. The reply was that the saint does everything that any other decent person does, only somewhat better and with a totally different motive.”
--Coventry Patmore, The Rod, the Root and the Flower

Strive to be that kind of person.

If you’re wondering whether you’re being called to witness, consider how eager you’d be to “witness” if you stood to get killed for it: as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Edith Stein, and St. Maximilian Kolbe and so many others have been.

True witness is life-and-death. So write this in blood, on your heart:

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
--Cardinal Emmanuel Célestin Suhard, Archbishop of Paris 1940-1949


  1. Amen! Thank you -- you have articulated beautifully what I've been fumbling towards for ages.

  2. This was so beautiful. So very beautiful!

  3. One of the reasons I like your blog is because you don't get political. Being Catholic is not a political move either. It doesn't fit neatly into either "conservative" or "liberal"
    There's enough Catholic blogs that delve into political punditry and I usually skip over those because it does nothing to deepen my faith or understand my faith.

  4. Really beautiful and challenging... amazing. Thanks so much.

  5. If it were feasible, Heather, I'd have sections of this post tattooed on my forearms so I could refer to them as needed. Thank you.

  6. Reading this essay has been an utter blessing for me. Thank you, Heather, for writing this, and showing me what Christianity and holiness are really about. I know what they are about, but I need your kind of witness. And I'll take your advice to the young man and quit ENGAGING in those frustrating discussions.

  7. How is the Catholic Church impinging on my freedom?
    As a citizen of an overpopulated world creaking toward a complete exhaustion of resources, not to mention AIDS, I would say a Church that takes an official position discouraging use of condoms very much impinges on the well-being of the entire planet. (I could care less about gay marriage, being against official recognition of relationships--straight or gay-- by any institution.)
    The Church's teaching's against homosexuality, likewise, have helped create generations of guilty and self-hating gay men, many of whom have been rejected by their families and/or committed suicide. There are two examples of how the Church very much impinges on many lives.
    To cast euthanasia as a decision on the part of the caretaker instead of the sufferer is a deep distortion of assisted suicide. Many of us believe if someone is living in intense, terminal suffering, they should have the right to deliver themselves from that suffering and receive help if they need it. If someone wants to hang on to the bitter end, it is equally their perogative.
    I think it is just as arguable that there is anything inherently redemptive in suffering. Thinking so may just be a way to make us feel better about enduring pain and heartache, but Hitler was beaten murderously by his stepfather and certainly there was nothing redemptive about the results. Many people derive deep spiritual benefit from living through suffering, many people just devolve into bitterness and self-pity, even hate and vengeance.
    By the same token, no one is "pro-abortion" because one is "pro-choice." There is a legitimate philosophical and scientific opinion that a tiny clump of cells is not the equivalent to a human life, and does not have the status of, say, a woman in an abusive marriage who cannot feed the children she has. The Church believes they are equivalent. That is a moral conclusion with very political consequences.
    I don't understand why the institutional Catholic church should be able to take political stances and yet its adherents should shy away from it. Conflict may be uncomfortable, but it is indispensable to progress.
    Christ didn't stand for any causes? The idea that we were all equal in the eyes of God was a deeply revolutionary concept, and it still is. Standing for that idea means making real world political choices that reflect it. Access for healthcare for all, for example, how is that not fundamentally standing in the cause of Christ?
    I no longer consider myself Catholic, but if I was, I'd stand with the liberation theologists for sure.

  8. While my mother wouldn't vouch for her own sanity, one of the greatest examples she set while I was growing up was that people don't need to ask our permission for what they do. Her friends ran the gamut from pious family members to zealous lesbians to drug addicts to my sister's lonely teen-aged friends. Everyone knew that what she believed ran counter to their own behaviour, but they all loved her to bits because she always welcomed them in love. Here's hoping that's not a recessive gene.

  9. Beautiful, Darren! That is exactly it! In fact, the more deeply we believe what we do, the MORE we should be able to invite in, welcome, accept everyone EXACTLY AS THEY ARE...Your mother sounds just wonderful...

  10. So what's to be done with Dennis' comment or something like it? Respond? Ignore it? Argue? Respond with your actions not words? Stay strong in your beliefs but do not force them on anyone?

    Just kind of using this as a scenario. Should we even engage?

    1. Did you mean Mark? I'm wondering the same thing. He brought up some interesting points. My view is that shying away from discussion isn't the answer. I think when it comes to engaging with others, there is a time when words are necessary, however to speak in love and trying to follow what the Spirit is prompting you to say. Each situation calls for discernment..

  11. This sounds very sappy. I will say it anyway. While reading, I felt full of love for you. Your words, your articulation of your -- our -- beliefs brought tears of relief. I am thankful for you and your blog.

  12. I read this in small bites. I'll be re reading it. I may try to comment later. I may not. I need space. Certainly this confirms my decision to step away from the contentious 'discussions' had on so many blogs. It's a month plus now since I made that step. The healing is slow, very slow and incomplete but...

    You keep writing like this and you are going to make it impossible for me to observe what I have been thinking should be my Lenten sacrifice; giving up blog reading.

    P.S. I'm still reflecting on the last post you wrote that I commented on and that you replied too (and thanks for doing that). I still want to respond...

  13. P.P.S.Here's hoping that gene of Darren's mother is not only not recessive but is somehow universally communicable.

  14. Beautifully articulated. Thank you for writing this

  15. Sorry why did I say Dennis? I meant Mark.

  16. I think no need to engage. I have said about all I can or want to say on the subject in the post and he is eminently entitled to his opinions (however much they seemed based on a wilful misinterpretation of practically everything I said)--and btw Mark is (or perhaps was) a friend of mine! Who has a wonderful practice of picking up trash every morning on the streets around his apt. in L.A...

    Judy, I am all for ANYONE who "feels love for me"-if that is sappy, bring it on!

    And many thanks to everyone else who weighed in. I have to say my heart was in my throat most of the day, bracing for hate comments, and that so many of you responded positively means a lot...

  17. The True, Good, and Beautiful, all in one essay. Thank you.

  18. Amazing...I wish this would be distributed as widely as possible.
    I think there are many people doing valuable work defending causes. The problem is often that those who are most publicly devoted to the causes are either not particularly intelligent or particularly holy, so they either get laughed at or not taken very seriously/accused of hypocrisy.
    If you are going to choose to engage in discussions or work for a particular cause, strive to ensure that your commitment to love those to whom you are speaking is as strong as your commitment to the truth. Ask yourself and others - people who are intelligent, not just nice - honestly if that is the work you should be doing.
    Look to those who have been effective at this as examples - look at the saints. There are so many different kinds of them! Some were outspoken and "political", some were not - what made them saints is that they were close to Christ.
    I know that I will not stop engaging in important discussions just because so many people do it badly - besides, it's one of the works of mercy to instruct the ignorant :)
    I do not believe the polarization that exists is an excuse to just be silent. Rather, it is a sign that the system needs transformation: which means we have to busily build God's kingdom where we are.
    (This polarization does not exist everywhere in the world. As a Canadian, the religious right business is just weird to me. I have values that fall in both the conservative and liberal spectrums. The genius of Catholicism is that allows for this - having a preferential option for the poor, provision of basic health care for all and yet being staunchly prolife is not impossible.)

  19. Thank you Heather... I needed to hear this today!

  20. Yes, Alisha! To avoid the right and the left as a way to IDENTIFY myself, as a human being, as a Catholic, doesn't mean not having convictions and opinions--quite the opposite. A preferential option for the poor, the promotion of universal health care, the elimination of abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, war, the prison industry are to me deep concerns: again, as a human being, as a Catholic. Having been a lawyer, I have a perhaps more than ordinarily dim view of the ability of politics or the law or any outside organization or institution to change people's hearts. But the idea is not to avoid DISCUSSION (obviously, or I wouldn't have written such a long piece!), but to avoid putting ourselves, rather than Christ, at the center of it...

  21. This is one of the most captivating and compelling things I've read in years on conversion of heart and mind. Thank you for writing it! This will be effecting my prayer and causing me to reflect for sometime. Fr Dave

  22. This touched me very much, and has given me much food for thought and prayer. Thank you. I was reminded of G.K. Chesterton's contribution to the London Times' by-invitation essay contest. The subject was "What is wrong in the world today?" Chesterton's reply:

    Dear Sirs,

    I am,

    Yours sincerely,
    G.K. Chesterton

  23. Came here from Vox Nova's link. Very well said.

  24. You have given me a sense of peace that I have been searching months for. Thank you for writing what you did. It gives me a sense of freedom to go on believing and acting how I did, amidst the naysayers and faux-lovers. Way to channel the Holy Spirit :)

  25. wow Heather, everytime I think I've read one of your best posts along comes another one like this. You are indeed a vessel that Christ speaks through, God Bless.

  26. Heather, this piece made me realize how much hate I actually carry around for other people, hate which often appears to me entirely justified, but entirely contrary to the Gospel. That is a difficult thing to realize, but necessary. Thank you.

  27. Heather, Like you I have find the old divisions and stale arguments largely irrelevant and so caustic these days that I don't engage as much as I once did. When I do, I invariably wish I hadn't bothered. Richard Rohr says there is a fundamental difference between a spirituality based on relationship with God (grace-based) and spirituality based on rightness before God (shame-based). In grace-based spirituality, we become intimately aware of our own smallness, and the largeness of God’s capacity to love and like you say that puts Christ at the centre of any arguments we make. In shame-based spirituality, we are caught in the cyclical struggle to maintain control of where we stand with God, to maintain our position as keepers of knowledge about God. The former can accept unknowns and gray areas. The latter is often defined by black and white thinking…

    I guess what I’m saying is that a more contemplative Christianity… a spirituality of Christ defined by prayer and lack of duality and polarised opinion is an answer to fundamentalism and its shame-cycle. I read an article a while ago about conflict in an Islamic country, where the fundamentalist Muslim majority was seeking to silence and control the Sufi minority. Sufis are the contemplatives, the mystics, of the Islamic worldview, and have historically been peace-seekers, where the majority has continued to wage war and control. Its interesting to see the same dynamic play out in so many contexts whether liberal, centrists or leftists. Mysticism challenges black and white thinking, just as Christ challenged the black and white thinking of the religiously certain of his time. The reaction to Christ was violence. We see the same today.

    When your world is built upon tightly controlled rules and systems, then you fight to protect your control. The story of the prodigal son illustrates the dynamic beautifully. The oldest son had his world fairly well under control…he had earned his fathers love and respect with hard work and dedication. When the prodigal son returned home and was received with such joy… the love given away for free… the brother’s response was anger. We cannot control God. Yet, when the worldview of conservative Christians is challenged, even if challenged by undeniable logic (such as proof the earth is older than 5000 years) the response is anger and defensiveness…if you’re not with us, God is not with you…

    Richard Rohr writes:
    Both Jesus and St.Francis, by their lifestyles and by their words, expose and undercut the superficial “honour/shame systems” that define most human cultures. They both refuse to live inside of such a falsely constructed world, where the private ego is the primary reference point for what is called morality.

    Almost all of the unwritten rules of behaviour in any honour/shame- based society are meant to protect and enforce social class and social order, and to properly humiliate and exclude those who do not conform. It is much more about love of self-image than love of God. Both Jesus and Francis are about inclusion and not exclusion, about protecting the indwelling divine image more than any superior self-image.

    (adapted from Francis: Subverting the Honour/Shame System Richard Rohr.
    Hope this makes some sense; it's a bit hurried.

  28. This is really beautiful, Heather. Thank you for a much-needed reminder in an increasingly divisive and angry world.

  29. This was a good post and it reminded me of St. Francis of Assisi's admonition to "preach, and, when necessary, use words."

  30. @eaucoin it's an apocryphal saying that appears nowhere in St. Fancis's writings or in the earliest biographies about him.

    "In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had received the proper permission to do so. Then he added, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds."" [source

    The point is the same. I just wanted to clarify :)

  31. @Alisha I'm Canadian and the Canada I know is not as egalitarian as the one you present. The polemical religious-far-right is no less alive here and is largely informed by rfr of the USA.

    On this statement we are agreed: "If you are going to choose to engage in discussions or work for a particular cause, strive to ensure that your commitment to love those to whom you are speaking is as strong as your commitment to the truth." I've often said, love without truth isn't love and visa versa.

  32. Love this post -you articulated what I've been trying to for some time. Gives me peace regarding the more general political arena as well. Thank you so much!

  33. This is the most sane and loving thing that I've read in a long time. I am learning that the Church is a family, with all the crazy uncles, spinster aunts, weird cousins and loving grandparents that any family has. I was thinking of going to confession today because, well, I need to! But this reminds me that I should also go because "God is love."

  34. Dear Heather -

    Beautifully stated from a beautiful soul and person. What a treasure you are. I will read this again and again.

    Peace, Bonnie

  35. Really outstanding blog, Heather. Thanks.

  36. While I agree with much of what you've said (and definitely agree that it is probably best for most Catholics to avoid FB disputations), I think there is a serious problem with one of your central claims:

    "My friends are well aware of my religious affiliation. I would not dream of informing them that their views on sex or abortion or gay marriage are wrong."

    Why should speaking the difficult truth plainly lie beyond some uncrossable boundary? Is there no circumstance in which it is appropriate to say the difficult thing, even (or especially) to a friend?

    I believe that it is necessary at times to give more direct, verbal witness: if no one should preach to them, then how will they believe? As the Apostle says, faith comes through hearing.

    It is precisely because of our insufficiency as human beings to convert hearts of our own power that we must be willing, at last, to preach openly what we believe. When we do so, God will offer the person to whom we speak the grace to believe.

    The message that most of our preaching should be by our lives rather than our words is an important one, but we must use words when necessary, including the most difficult words. As for telling friends difficult moral truths, I would never tell someone that they are wrong about such a matter without also giving testimony about Christ and His Church and the need for repentance and faith.

    This isn't to say anything about what one should immediately do with one's non-Catholic friends. I am just calling into question the claim that speaking difficult truth is unimaginable.

    1. I agree with you. We need to invoke the Holy Spirit and ask our Blessed Mother for assistance. Then, and only then, we need to talk. "Go forth and preach." This must be done thoughtfully, with gentleness and love. Two days ago, I was speaking to a Baptist woman who said she knew what the Catholic Church teaches because they taught her that at her Baptist church. I asked her to please read what the Catholic Church teaches from literature written by the Catholic Church, and proceeded to hand her the pamphlet Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked. She agreed. I spoke to her a bit about St. Ignatius of Antioch. Her ears picked up because her church is Antioch Baptist. I explained that St. Ignatius was a disciple of John the Beloved, the youngest of the 12 Apostles; that St. John taught St. Ignatius, and St. Ignatius wrote some profound articles about the Holy Eucharist. With divine assistance, I planted a seed. She listened. We have to do at least that. Regarding difficult subjects: not easy to start a discussion, especially with family. I think the person has to first believe in God, Scripture, and Tradition. That's the baseline. In many instances, they've stopped believing in something, or made themselves vulnerable to outside influences by ignoring God - no longer praying or going to Mass.

  37. The distinction about the Church that I would make is that she is both visible and invisible. Her members are imperfect but she herself is perfect. I can't bring myself to see the Church as an alcoholic mother. I think making distinctions is very important. Your points about being a witness and loving are great, but I think without the making certain distinctions people will be lead not to the path of true love but to a love that fall short of Christ's love. His love was both truthful and self-sacrificing.
    For example: When you said: "if a gay friend comes to me (I'm not holding my breath, but you never know) and says, "Am I crazy to want to stay with this person I love with all my heart, but to not have sex?" I get to say, "No, dear friend, you are not crazy. That is toward love. That is toward the highest. That is toward all of humanity. That is one of the most beautiful sacrifices I can imagine." - Yes, it is great to meet them where they are at, but hopefully you would encourage them to walk in the dignity of who they were created to be. No one is created to live a distortion of love (which homosexuality is - a disordered desire) but to a the dignity of being in the image and likeness of God and the way he created us - male and female.

  38. Heather, I deeply admire your courage for posting this. I grew up in my faith in the middle of staunch Roman Catholics and being educated by the Jesuits. I have grown to see the dichotomies present in our faith and desperately desire to work for the truth of God's Kingdom. You beautifully articulated pretty much everything I have observed and more. Your devotion to truly living the gospel is inspiring and shows me the work I want to do in my life is far from futile. As a young person, I just want to let you know that not all of us have given in to the practices that have been displayed for us. I am fortunate to know many people my age who have a great deal of conviction in humbly following in the footsteps of Christ. I'm very grateful for you and the work you are doing. Thanks be to God!

  39. Very nice, but you should not have said "an actual child." A child in the womb is an actual child.

  40. Heather, you've always told me you're very heartened by stimulating all sorts of engagement and discussion via the blog!
    Of course we're still friends -- I completely respect what you say but I have always had an deeply felt belief that the personal is political and if we choose to live based on the teaching of Christ we MUST engage and fight -- not just in the abstract, but by taking real-life positions on policies that affect the real lives of people.
    I'm sorry that seems like a willful misinterpretation of what you wrote. It is a very long piece and perhaps I need to reread it far more carefully.
    But no hostility intend if my tone was perhaps too strident. I am so overwhelmed by the economic injustice in the country and deeply angry.

  41. And I'm sorry Miguel, a zygote is not an embryo, an embryo is not a fetus, and a fetus is not a child. It's like saying a boy is a man. It is factually untrue.
    You may feel that life begins at the moment of conception, and that makes a 4-celled being equal to a newborn in the eyes of God. But they are not the same thing as a matter of science.

  42. Well, I reread it and don't really feel I mispresented anything. It may seen odd that I would read you because we disagree on a lot but you always write so beautifully, that trumps most everything else.
    I don't want to be argumentative, particularly as that run counter to the entire thrust of your post, and I don't need you to agree with me any more than you need me to agree with you. But I do feel--particularly as a gay men--the need to challenge some assertions. For example, when you write: "Or if a gay friend comes to me (I'm not holding my breath, but you never know) and says, "Am I crazy to want to stay with this person I love with all my heart, but to not have sex?" I get to say, "No, dear friend, you are not crazy. That is toward love. That is toward the highest. That is toward all of humanity. That is one of the most beautiful sacrifices I can imagine."
    Well, doesn't all your many years of experience tell you--as it tells me based on countless conversations--that a gay man would almost certainly be making that choice out of a sense of shame, because he imagines God doesn't mind that he's gay as long as he doesn't express it sexually? (Otherwise, why wouldn't this dilemma not apply equal to a heterosexual man in love?) Of course it would be wrong to call him crazy, but wouldn't it be wrong not to find out where the sentiment was coming from? Would it be loving to help lift his guilt?
    I think Christ would say "do not be ashamed to love, in whatever form in takes." How is the withholding of physical affection via sex somehow not also "a failure to love?"
    The men I know--gay or straight-- who genuinely feel that celibacy is a spiritual choice would extend the same thinking to any romantic attachment. Either you feel the sort of psychic energy that requires interferes with your attachment to God, or you don't. The idea that forgoing merely the physical part, but not the emotional part, strikes me as a value judgment against sex.

  43. To paraphrase St Francis - Preach the Gospel always, use words only when necessary.

  44. Mark,

    I fully agree that values are not facts. But, the experts can be wrong. Love is the natural law that is written on our hearts. A positive law that violates a natural law is not in accordance with love . You fail to make the distinction between a natural law and a positive one.

    It was the experts who claimed that blacks were inferior to whites, that eugenics was scientific. Thomas Aquinas was one of the first people to set them straight.

    What you refer to is not science, but scientism. The first principle of philosophy and logic is existence. You cannot think if you do not exist.
    Before one can do something, One must BE.

    By placing knowledge before existence , You are reversing ontological predicates. That's not an intellectual position to take.

    Even if there was a gay gene it would still not change Catholic teachings on self-mastery and sublimation of eros.

    One is liberated when one is a master of one's passions and not it's slave.

    The are many Orthodox gay Catholics who do not commit suicide out of shame or guilt. You might want to read this paper by the gay Catholic lawyer John Heard.


  45. Miguel, you're right: I should have said "a child outside the womb" or, say, "a five-year-old," instead of "actual child."

    And Mark, no, no, to tell a gay friend that he or she was not crazy under the circumstances would not remotely be based on shame, or undervaluing sex, but on FULLY valuing sex; on treasuring sex, and the gift of our capacity for sex. And the same in fact WOULD go for a straight guy, if he was unmarried. This may come as a shock, but I believe sex is beautiful and so holy--so precious and so deserving of protection, so powerful, that ideally it should take place only within the context of a heterosexual marriage. WHY I believe that is another very long essay...and WHETHER my convictions would hold up under the slightest temptation is anybody's guess--but there: I've said it!...

    As for "real-life" positions: I can hardly imagine any more real-life positions than the ones taken by the people featured in the post: St. Maximilian Kolbe, Irena Sendler, Franz Jagerstatter et al., who died for love, who laid down their lives for their friends. As I wrote to another friend yesterday, who was likewise troubled/perplexed by my fidelity to the Church, and could not believe I did not think sex between any two consenting adults was the way to go: "[For all her faults], the Church has produced some of the most sublime human beings the world has known, a few of whom were pictured in my post. And those human beings, their spirit, their character, their willingness to lay down their lives, did not arise in a vacuum. They were formed by years and years of the very kind of hidden, seemingly irrelevant [and in the eyes of the world, even wrong-headed] sacrifice I am talking about"...

    I would also just BRIEFLY add that as a single Catholic woman, I'm walking the walk, not just talking the talk. And for whatever it's worth, I myself haven't been able to afford health insurance for years.

  46. When I initially read this, I felt so uplifted. But there seem to be so many mixed statements.

    You write about "snarky" opinions, calling it cheap grace. Yet later on you are quite clear on your views on homosexuality...and then state you will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them? Even calling them your brothers and sisters?

    It feels like you are using them to access the purity and charity. 'Dear Father, because I was able to tolerate and not preach to those who do wrong, I have grown closer to you.' How does that work?

    Faith never stops growing, correct? Why does it always have to be so burdensome? Why does it have to be rocky, lonely and cause distress? In your own words: Christ's causes were love, truth, beauty. I love those words and keep re-reading them. Very powerful simplicity.

    "We don't have our political views to give each other; we have Christ." You make the judgements that gay marriage is wrong etc. If Christ is not political, how are those judgements formed?

    I am not trying to attack. I am sincerely trying to understand the different concepts within this article. To figure out what I am for.

  47. Heather, there is of course a great deal of wisdom here. Thank you so much for writing it. But because we have had a friendly exchange on the matter before, I will venture to bleat just a little.

    You say that conversion costs something - agreed. But I'm not sure why you place the "five-inch fetus-button" wearers outside the realm of those who suffer that cost, and instead compare them to Pharisees proclaiming their righteousness. I have known some of those wearers, and in my experience, they are more interested in bearing witness to what they regard as a commonplace atrocity than they are in showing others that they are more outraged than anyone else. And from watching my father's work in the pro-life realm, I can assure you that it costs. Friends, reputation, professional opportunities - all lost because of his public stand.

    You say that abortion is wrong because it is a failure of love - agreed. But it is also wrong because it is the unjust deprivation of life, and the Church, because it seeks to build the kingdom in the social realm at the same time that it seeks to build the kingdom in the interior realm, urges the faithful to oppose injustice.

    I am not a button wearer. They make me profoundly uncomfortable. But I know enough of them well enough to know that they are not on street corners because they believe they're better than other people. They're on street corners because they want to save lives. The same people that show up at Life Chain show up at clinics to do sidewalk counseling, and they know very well that if they are going to convince women not to abort, it will be through a genuine expression of love and concern. We may disagree with the effectiveness and even the rightness of some of their methods, but I think we should be careful about guessing at their motives.

    But again, thank you for writing this. A good piece to come back to from time to time, especially in the hothouse world of the Internet.

  48. Heather,

    Here's what I would tattoo to my forearms:

    "If I did not believe that to stand in line at that confessional was in some sense saving the world, I would blow my brains out. Because to believe that is to believe in the Resurrection. And if Christ did not live, if he did not vanquish death, there would be no reason, no possible way to go on.


    " Léon Bloy wrote in Pilgrim of the Absolute, 'A charitable act, an impulse of real pity sings for him the divine praises, from the time of Adam to the end of the ages; it cures the sick, consoles those in despair, calms storms, ransoms prisoners, converts the infidel and protects mankind.'

    Thank you Heather, for the reminder of the atomic power of humility.

  49. Matthew, you’re right, too, that we can’t presume to know another’s motives. I do think, however, that it is POSSIBLE to be on the right side for the wrong reason, and that it's also possible to lose friends, reputation, etc. not because you're taking a righteous, Christ-like stand but--and I'm sure this was in no way the case with your father--you're acting crazy and creepy. To me, to wear an aborted fetus is prima facie to do what you purport to abhor in another: to wit, use another human being as an object. Wouldn’t a person better show his or love for life in general, and children in particular, by going and hanging out with one?

    Sarah, I'm not sure what you mean by: "It feels like you are using them to access the purity and charity. 'Dear Father, because I was able to tolerate and not preach to those who do wrong, I have grown closer to you.' How does that work?"

    I'm not trying to "access" purity through anyone else, which at any rate I don't think is possible, I'm striving for purity myself. I'm not claiming to "tolerate" anyone; I'm observing that it's easy to tell other people how to act, but it is very much harder to try to act right yourself. Politics is basically about getting: getting your point across, getting what you think you're entitled to, getting votes. And you just can't quite fit "When a man asks for your coat, give him your cloak as well" or "Store up your treasure in heaven" or "Go, sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me"—nor can you fit standing in line at the confessional--into that framework.. That doesn’t mean Christ wasn’t concerned with the smallest detail of our daily physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. That doesn’t mean, as I said, you’re not obligated to know exactly where you stand and why. But the beauty of being a follower of Christ is that you don’t have to look to any government to fully live your life, to live out your beliefs. You live them out fully regardless of whether you’re living in a democracy or a dictatorship. Fight against slavery but even if you're enslaved, true freedom lies within, with me, it seems to me he was saying. Lobby for universal health care, but whether or not that ever materializes, care for one another, do unto the least of these as you would do unto me, as Mother Teresa did in the streets of Calcutta. Abolish war, but above all, abolish the hatred in your own heart.

    The road is rocky, hard and long because it was rocky, hard and long for Christ and if you love him, you want to walk with him. Perhaps I did not get across that I would not trade one second of the journey for anything on earth. Perhaps I did not get across my gratitude, my sense of wonder and astonishment, my abiding joy. "Take up your cross and follow me" and yet "My yoke is easy and my burden light"...even though it doesn’t always seem light…

    And one last thing: one of the main reasons I wouldn’t dream of telling my friends how to live their lives (unless they ask!) is that they tend to be so much more generous, patient, tolerant, hospitable, kind, wise, and endlessly talented than me that I’m too busy trying to live up their example.

  50. Dear Heather,
    This is the first time I have ever read your blog. Thank you for writing my heart out. It is only when the goodness, beauty, and truth of the Church combine in the human person that we can authentically witness the faith. Thank you for your witness.
    P.S. St. Therese is my friend too.

  51. Heather,

    It certainly is possible to be on the right side for the wrong reasons. And I get what you're saying about using a person as an object. It's why I have not been a button wearer. But you ask this:

    "Wouldn’t a person better show his or love for life in general, and children in particular, by going and hanging out with one?"

    ...and so I'll venture an answer. These people, at least some of them, are trying to follow Christ. "Whatsoever you do for the least of these little ones, that you do unto me." The unborn are the least of the little ones, and these people are bearing witness to their destruction. The ones I know spend lots of time hanging out with little ones. But they also feel called to combat this particular social evil, to follow B16s recent admonition that "It is necessary that the whole of society defend the right to life of the conceived." The faith is the most personal, intimate thing there is, but insofar as it relates to the demands that love makes on one's relation to one's neighbors, it also has a political dimension, I think.

    On the person-as-object front: I had a conversation recently that stuck with me. The person related how Emmett Till's mother insisted that her mutilated son have an open casket at his funeral, so that everyone could see the horrific effects of racial injustice in the South. Photos of the body made it into Jet magazine, and were seen all over the nation. When Rosa Parks was asked why she didn't move to the back of the bus, she said she thought of Emmett Till. Emmett Till's mother used his body to bear witness to an injustice, and in so doing, helped to spark the Civil Rights Movement.

    Now, just because something has a good outcome doesn't necessarily make it right, of course. But it did give me pause.

  52. Dear Heather (writing that makes me think of the Leonard Cohen song of the same name -smile-), based on reading your blog, this post in particular (including your valiant and salient responses in this combox) I have ordered both Redeemed and Parched. I must admit that I cannot afford to buy new (I can't. I could moan about it & explain but there's no point). So, while I doubt you get any profit from the sale of used books I hope you will be at least pleased that I bought through betterworldbooks who donate a portion of all profits to world literacy.

  53. What a beautiful post. I came your way via Betty Duffy and you have articulated so beautifully what my heart has known about following Christ but hasn't managed to put into words...

    I love this section from your later comment "And one last thing: one of the main reasons I wouldn’t dream of telling my friends how to live their lives (unless they ask!) is that they tend to be so much more generous, patient, tolerant, hospitable, kind, wise, and endlessly talented than me that I’m too busy trying to live up their example."

    That's me to the letter too - my atheist, agnostic, Jewish, Christian friends teach me so much about how to live that it's never appropriate for me to make grand statements about my take on things! I'm the small child who is still learning how to love...

  54. I think it was Anais Nin who said that the role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. Thank you for saying so eloquently what one battered Catholic revert and never-to-be-ex-lawyer believes, but has been unable to say. As I'm certain you know, your gift is profound.

  55. "atomic" meaning of course small but with the potential to wipe evil off the face of the earth.

  56. I don't think abortion is a "political" issue. While I don't agree with the tactics or beliefs of the man holding the poster in the first photo in this post - !!! - I do think we have a responsibility to stand up for the unborn, in truth and love, because they cannot even begin to defend themselves. I will wear a small pin on my sweater that shows the size of a baby's feet at ten weeks gestation, I will volunteer at the pro-life booth at our local county fair, and I will tell others about the facts regarding abortion, but I would not use lies, like saying God wants abortionists dead. In my experience, there are not too many Catholics on the right who would say that. They would be extreme fringe right, and often those type people are not even Catholics.

    I think we are called to judge actions and behaviors as right or wrong (the Church lays out what is right and wrong for us, in fact), but not to judge the person as being good or bad - that part is up to God.

  57. @Mark: sure, you're right if we're talking about a textbook on embryology. However, outside of that, "fetus" to talk of an unborn child is used normally as a way of dehumanizing, and for this reason it is unacceptable. Or maybe when you have a pregnant friend you ask her how her zygote is doing? I doubt it.

    The fact is that people only use "fetus" when the baby is unwanted ("the fetus was removed") but never when he or she is wanted ("when will the baby be born?" "is the baby kicking yet?" "is the baby making you throw up?").

    And that's why I objected.

  58. Heather,

    AWESOME! I, as I do with most of your posts, I distributed this on Facebook. Your words mean a lot to me. You're so much smarter than I, and I learn from you every day. You live your calling through your words. Never quit writing. Please.

  59. Sorry for the iPhone decision to repeat the word "I" so many times.

  60. Wonderful commentary Heather! There are many blogs going these days that help to stimulate and deepen the journey of faith we are all on, and having just found yours, I will continue to check in and see what "ore" you have for us to process. I agree with the spirit of what you have said, though we may disagree on some points. Thanks and may you be blessed.


  61. My failing eyesight and my desire not to dump another chunk of $$ into new lenses made it difficult to read your entire post. What I did read has inspired me to get some new glasses. I think I have finally found someone who intelligently articulates the passion of my faith in the written word.

  62. @helenasway On most computers in most browsers holding down the CTRL key while tapping the + key will enlarge the font. CTRL and - will make it smaller again.

    So, now you can read Heather as much as you please with ease.

  63. You are a stunningly good writer. I can't tell you how much I appreciated this. Thank you.

  64. Thanks for writing this. So dead on.

  65. Heather, thanks for your work.

    As I've read and reread your essay, I cannot help but wonder...

    Do you perceive a tension between the personal relationship we have with Christ and the public/institutional/communal responsibilities we have to Him and His Church?

    To me, a natural progression of my growing affection for Him and His Church is the desire to evangelize. In fact, this "Great Commission" was one of Jesus' final directives.

    After digesting your essay, I'm somehow left with the impression that we Christians should not concern ourselves publicly with others' spiritual well-being, at least until that other makes their unique plea for help with their Spiritual well-being... This position strikes me in various ways as being selfish, timid and even pessimistic about the movement and role of the Holy Spirit.

    It seems you would have the Apostles hurrying back to their families/work and ONLY demonstrating (meekly) Christ's love in their practical vocations instead of both demonstrating Christ's love AND working materially and diligently to move their government officials, their neighbors and themselves away from sin and closer to God.

    The fact that even among Catholics there is disagreement on some fundamental moral/political issues has more to do with people conforming themselves to their party affiliation/prejudices/economic incentives/etc. than with them conforming their conscience to definitive Church teachings on a particular subject.

    Help me out here...

  66. Funny, Erin, just today I read this excerpt from an essay by author and theologian Ron Rolheiser that addresses your concerns better than I ever could.

    It's entitled "A Heart with One Room."

    “Our age is witnessing an erosion of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our drab somberness, is a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us all.

    Let me explain.

    We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied here? What is slipping?

    What does it mean to be Catholic?

    The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. All Christians, Protestants or Roman Catholics, characterize their faith as Catholic – as well as one, holy and apostolic.

    The word Catholic means universal, wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.

    To my mind, the best definition of the word Catholic comes from Jesus himself, who tells us: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2).

    In speaking of the Father’s house, Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God’s heart. God’s heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything.

    It is wide, unpetty, open and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic and ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to ours and theirs.
    Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: “The bosom of God is not a ghetto.” That is another way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.

    To affirm this, however, is not to say that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth.

    There is a false concept of openness which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal.

    Jesus belies this.

    He affirms the universal embrace of God’s heart without affirming, as a consequence, that everything is OK. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong.

    Catholicism can be spoken of as slipping, in that, unlike God’s heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.

    Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance. Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But this needs to be understood.

    We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view which takes Scripture so literally as to be unable to relate to the world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with just one room.

    The characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto some fundamental value, for example the wisdom of the past, the divine inspiration of Scripture or the importance of justice and equality, and makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.

    In that sense, the fundamentalist’s heart has just one room – a conservative, liberal, biblical, charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion or pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere, Christian, loving and worth listening to only if you are in that room.

    If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of having your consciousness raised.

    In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all ideology is fundamentalism - and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that is a ghetto.

    That is the real un-Catholicism."

    Excerpted from “A Heart with One Room,” an essay in Ron Rolheiser’s book, Forgotten Among the Lilies Image Books, 2007).

  67. Thanks for your follow up.

    I disagree with the author's premise. I guess I would argue that Christ would not have found ANYBODY making a case for abortion on demand (for example) "worth listening to."

    While he would certainly love them deeply and mourn for their spiritual health, I would imagine Christ would firmly inform them of their sin. I cannot imagine him sitting quietly and allowing them to argue for the good in partial birth abortion while inwardly praying for their conversion.

    I guess I believe that the author's comparison of Catholicism with catholicism is a "red-herring" and his Fundamentalist characterization a "straw-man". How Aristotelean of me... Peace.

    1. Re "I would argue that Christ would not have found ANYBODY making a case for abortion on demand (for example) "worth listening to."

      Very true, except to show them how they are wrong. Whether gently or not, would depend on what He knew of the state of their heart (Nicodemus vs most pharisees).

  68. HI Heather -

    Lots of wonderful things here. Some of it makes me uncomfortable because I can't accept that there is immoral equivalence on the right and left. Maybe it is easier to see in prior days - like in the abolitionist fights. I could imagine someone saying that the folks screaming for or against slavery were just so many noise-makers. As if their causes were equally irrelevant. I hear people saying this today about the folks who are fine with deciding when the entity in the womb is human so as to kill it - like Mark in these comments - and those who are horrified at the notion of deciding when somebody else's life is there - like me.

    You know what you mean here. And I think I know what you mean here and it is great as long as one is fully engaged in the Christ-life. But Im afraid that to a lot of other folks, it will present as a well-phrased reason to decide that no one can really know what is wrong for anybody else and we all should just mind our own business. I remember learning back in my college days that is the foundation of situational ethics and that it is heretical.

    The thing is, I think we have to find a way to tell our gay friends how distressed we are about their sodomy, because, with the Church, we believe that sodomy is fundamentally destructive to the human person's spiritual growth. We would have to go further and say that trying to live a "marriage" with some one of the same sex is like trying to flout gravity, which we know will ultimately result in a pain and possibly death. Also, we should do anything to save the human life in the womb the way that Irena Sendler "lied" and "stole" and broke the law to save her Jewish children. I think staying quiet here is a failure in courage and creativity.

    Finally, I use a button on my Facebook page of a child in the womb as a reminder that he or she is a human - not a clump of cells as Mark so infuriatingly dismissed the little inconvenient hims and hers. I am not using him or her but witnessing to him or her. I am pleading with the people of my time not to keep on with the lie that there is no human there there. And hoping that some pregnant mother out there will see and feel compunction.

    Love you,

    Barb H.

  69. While I understand your message, I do find fault with your examples of the "Catholic right" and the "Catholic left". For the right you use an example of a pro-life activist, for the left you use a gay rights activist. You frame the right ad agreeing with the Church's position on abortion, while on the left you us an example at odds with the Church's teaching. This is more often than not, not the case. I would frame the major issue for left Catholics as peace and economics. I am a liberal Catholic, but am strongly prolife and not an activist for gay rights. Instead I am anti our military culture and pro helping those in need. I dont apperciate the furthering of the stereotype of the left as being at odds
    with the teachings of the church

  70. Isn't being for life, pro helping those in need, and anti- our military culture--which is certainly my own stance--simply being a follower of Christ, and neither left NOR right? ...The problem comes in how we form our views and the orientation of our heart as we live and promulgate them. That's why we need the Church--which gives us the parable of the Pharisee and the taxpayer, Christ telling Peter to put down his sword, and St. Paul reminding us that we can perform all kinds of great deeds, but without love they are nothing...Of course people tend to have very different ideas of "love," which is again why we need the Church. Love isn't shoving your ideals down people's throats, Pharisee-style, and saying in essence, not "Wouldn't it be great if we all acted like Christ?" but "Wouldn't it be great if everyone acted like me and my friends?"

    The left-leaning Catholics I know, and was speaking of, on the other hand, see the Church's stand on birth control, abortion, and sex outside straight marriage as archaic eccentricities and are therefore prima facie at odds with the teachings of the Church. Their mistake is trying to water Christ down into a harmless, wishy-washy, non-challenging, let's keep the status quo fun-lover who has better things to do than concern himself with our "private" lives, when Christ is in fact concerned with our very souls...

    I'm way capable of being both a Pharisee and of trying to water Christ down, but the point is I don't find either of those approaches helpful in trying to follow my own stumbling path.

    1. Well, just because you don't feel able to do these things doesn't mean others shouldn't. In your post, you (repeatedly) seem to imply that those who argue about the Church's teachings are doing so in order to magnify themselves. (I would cite examples, but the whole blog post jumps around in my browser so much I wouldn't be able to find my place if I moved from here!) In my experience, they usually start out trying to preach the Truth, and then their lower nature gets the better of them. This doesn't mean their motives are wrong. Those who try to preach the truth just need to humble themselves and try to love more, not stop preaching the Truth. I like Catholic Answers' approach. They preach the Truth, and block comments (both for and agains their position) if they pass a certain point (lack of charity). This is what I want for myself. I try to speak the Church's teaching, and if I find I am getting angry, I shut up and go away to pray (for myself and the others, even if it takes days) until I've calmed down. Not to say I never fall.

    2. But that's just the point, dear Pam H. I AM engaging in politics. I AM speaking truth to power, among other things, in my blog and through my many other writings. And I'm doing so in a way that reaches a way wider audience than I ever could by mere partisan politics.

      You are so right that charity is key.

    3. I wasn't talking about partisan politics, but about the way you appear to have labeled the "Catholic Right" (as opposed, if linked to, the political "Right"). So many things (like wearing the pins with "fetal feet") are not appropriate for many of us, but can be very useful and advancing of the Truth for a certain kind of person. I am not that kind of person, and wouldn't wear them, but I know people who are, and I see how what they are doing is useful and helpful. For example, wearing those pins can be a conversation starter, for the type of person who is much more gregarious and naturally friendly than I am. I know people who are aggressive about these things, but the activities themselves are not necessarily hurtful or even unhelpful, just because some people who do them are uncharitable. I didn't see a distinction in your post between the activities and the aggressiveness - they seemed linked, and uncharitably so. That was my "complaint", if you will. Also, I myself prefer to avoid contentious encounters, but I think that is cowardly in myself, and wouldn't want you to encourage (in individual posts - I see that you don't, in your life as a whole) a similar avoidance in other people like me.

    4. Hi Pam, thanks so much for your reasoned response: yes, there are many rooms in my Father's mansion!

      My point is that CHRIST transcends labels of right and left. To speak that simple truth is by its very nature contentious. This post was "contentious": witness the many comments. To simply be a Catholic in many of the circles I travel in is "contentious." To post, as I have, on, say, "The Lie of the Christian War" is contentious. To publicly and very personally speak out against abortion, as I have in my essay, "Poor Baby" is contentious.

      I'm not advocating the failure to take a stand; I'm advocating taking the ultimate stand, which is Christ, and is so contentious that it will ultimately get you killed. Wearing a fetus pin is great, if that's your thing--as you say, this can be absolutely helpful and useful. Writing is great, if that's your (in this case, my) thing. The point is to back up whatever our thing is with a deep and ongoing conversion of heart that changes our entire way of seeing and being in the world.

      What I dislike and try to avoid is what Pope Francis has called "ecclesiastical narcissism" [see tomorrow's post]--that is, a "stand" that is NOTHING but the wrong kind of contention, that consists of empty, vapid argument, posturing for the sake of posturing, and a stance of low- to high-level hostility that is in and of itself profoundly un-Christian.

      In this climate of carping, snitching, peering over our neighbor's shoulder, and rating the authenticity of OTHER'S "faith," hardly anything could be more contentious than re-stating the simple Gospel truth that we will be judged on whether we loved one another as Christ loved us, and on how we treated the least of these.

      To that end, I don't go to other people's blogs and tell them how they should act and think. I ponder how I should act and think, and it is the treasure of my heart that I get to share that here.

      And I would certainly never but never foist responsibility for my own cowardice onto a blogger. My own guidance comes from the Sacraments, from the Gospels, and from Christ, as should be true for all of us.

  71. Thanks, again, for your writing, Heather. This is a lovely, nuanced and provocative piece. Be good to yourself, e.g., don't forget to eat and sleep!

  72. A friend sent me a link to this post, declaring that she "love[s] this writer!"
    Yes, I agree with her after reading your post--you are a very good writer, indeed.

    Regarding the substance of the essay itself, I have the same reservations about it that Matthew Lickona, et al, have. But I believe that the contradiction is caused by the WAY you arrive at self-definition: by contrasting yourself to others. It's a basic, usually unconscious impulse to determine who/what one is by distinguishing one's self from others, but it is fallacious, nonetheless. It "works" in developmental psychology as a normal function of childhood intellect, but in Christian ethics and morality--as well as in logic--it does not, (1) because it necessarily involves judgment of others (as well as the presumption of believing you know their motives), and (2) either a falsely elevated opinion of one's self or false self-condemnation. An admittedly over-simplified example: My sister is shorter than I am; ergo, my sister has stunted growth (and/or) I am tall. Either way, it leads to both logical and moral error.

    And I think it's interesting that both you and "Mark", your would-be opponent, commit the same error. Your motive in writing the post was likely to clarify (and to justify?) to yourself as well as to your readers your own position on "hot-button" political issues. His motive may have been the same, but either way, his method was identical to yours.

    Last, I congratulate you on your courage as well as your writing. People who publicly state a position on a controversial subject, regardless of intellectual method, make themselves targets for misinterpretation and criticism--just like those button-wearers you mentioned.

  73. Oh I actually wasn't trying to clarify or justify my position on hot-button political issues. My position is the Church's position.

    The point of the piece is that I don't set forth that position by going around telling others that they are wrong and I am right. I go about spreading the word of the Gospel by, in my continuing broken, stumbling way, attempting to live it.

    That is not to set myself over against anyone, nor to purport to know another's motives. I do think it is possible sometimes to prima facie say That is not the way of Christ. I think shoving our "Catholicism" down people's throats, for example, is prima facie not the way of Christ. I think being a Pharisee is never the way of Christ. I think wasting our time on trying to win useless arguments is not the way of Christ. I think someone who believes a fetus is nothing more than a bunch of worthless cells, as my friend Mark does, is "wrong" in a way that is different in kind and degree in the the many ways I am wrong.

    The way of Christ is to try, given our temperament, station in life, talents, gifts, and the state of our souls to love God with our whole hearts, our whole strength, our whole minds, and our neighbors as ourselves. It's to love each other as he loved us. And that's a task that the best of us, never mind the worst and the weakest, among whom I totally count myself, must approach all day, every day, with fear, trembling, and uncertainty, always knowing that we each have our own path and that another has a path that may look very much different. I think it is a lot easier to get caught up in the effort to win doctrinaire arguments than it is to quietly, more or less hiddenly consent to give everything we have and to realize that we may never see the fruits of our labor. To believe that Christ will come again but perhaps not in our lifetimes...

    Anyway, blessings to you on this night of the coming Easter Vigil...may he rise in our hearts, always...

  74. Wow Heather! I found this after reading Magnificat: May 22 "Day by Day". My wife and I would love to break bread together, because what you wrote in that short muse was not enough meat for us - I hunger for meaning on John 14:1-14.

    Please forgive me. I apologize for judging you in my mind because I wanted more help to reflect on John 14:12, but I did find His heart in this blog. God is Good. All the time. This piece of yours will save many of my most treasured friendships, family relationships, and job:

    "My response had basically been: If the discussions frustrate you, DON’T ENGAGE IN THEM. Figure out what you’re for, not what you’re against. The road to Christ is lonely, long, and almost unbelievably rocky, and though it takes place in community, we have to also walk it alone, often in great anguish and distress, often for decades if not our whole lives."

    Do you know if/when you might write on this "greater ones than these" topic? I pray you do so for Christ Jesus, His Church, and especially for me? Thank you in advance. I/we pray for your ministry. Be Strong!

    Your Brother in Christ, JoeBo

  75. I'm going to read and reread and re-reread this post - it's what I needed to read as I'm considering changing the focus of my blogging efforts.

    I'm going to add you to my Google reader. Your writing is exquisite.

  76. Thanks, Larry--I just heard from a priest in Portland, Oregon who's going to print this out and distribute in his parish bulletin so that makes me feel good as well--more and more I see the challenge of figuring out what we're for, not what we're against...

  77. @Heather, glad to see your post continues to have an effect on others. It did on me (back in February). In terms of the so called Catholic blogosphere I am in a much better place these days. The truth is, I am hardly there at all though I am truly and passionately Catholic. God bless you.

  78. Owen, how nice to hear from you! I wondered what had become of you and am glad to know you're still much as any of us are ever "here"...or "there"...I put you up on my blog roll awhile back as well--hang in there. More will be revealed, as my alkie/addict friends say...

  79. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It called me back to basics and reminded me of the real work that I'm supposed to be doing.

  80. Wow! Just, Wow Heather! Where have you been all my life? I'm so glad I learned of you today at Mark Shea's blog. This piece is such a grace-filled example of what an old and holy friend calls "the romance of orthodoxy." I will be taking this article with me on retreat. Thank you for the blessing you gave me today. Know that I will remember you and all your intentions at Mass and Benediction tomorrow night.

    P.S. - Please offer a prayer for me, and ask Jesus and Mary to help me be a good and loving priest to the people I'm blessed to pastor.

  81. I appreciate the sentiment of non-tribalism, and the whole thing is excellently written in a spirit of charity (The blog's going on my list of to-watch spaces), but have reservations about some aspects of your post . Such as when you say you "wouldn't dream" about telling her gay friends that their behaviour is wrong. Granted, such a topic can be difficult to discuss in a charitable way, but this by no means we should not discuss it. We have to be honest with people, otherwise we run the risk of playing a sort of dubious game wherein both parties are perfectly aware of the beliefs held but don't want to be impolite by actually talking about attitude which currently rules modern discourse, or rather, the lack of it. I think that the confrontation of sin at the heart of the Gospel requires us to be divisive at certain times- not in a jerk way, but a strong, firm "Look, here's what it is, this is true, here's why, deal with it." That of course sounded a bit jerky but you can see where I'm coming from.
    The second is the hint of an attitude I think Max Lindenman holds. I recall a blog post he made where he discussed his refusal of the eucharist for a few weeks. This was because his bishop had refused the right of abortion supporting politicians to take the eucharist. According to Max this was a political act and he therefore abandoned the Eucharist to show his frustration.
    Now Max is a very smart and funny guy who does some damn fine writing but I feel that he falsely equates moral and political issues. We need to seperate political and moral issues. Shouldn't politics cover stuff like- what economic system works best? which party should you vote for? and so on. And I think we should be able to (in Charity, which is the most difficult and important part) "Max, old boy, be a good chap and stop using your great talent to butcher Catholic teaching" without being charged with right wing political malingering...of which there is plenty.
    Charity, Tact and seperation of spiritual truth from political action, these 3, I reckon, are the main issues. On the other hand, perhaps different people with different abilities are called to certain areas? Someone quietly lives out their faith as an inspiration to others, another engages in debate and discussion with non believers, someone else keeps the fight up against abortion in the public square, someone else reminds the Latin Mass fanatics not to lose charity and yet another tells Max Lindenman off for crimes against common sense.

  82. Excellent post. It should be noted that the Holy Father tries to bridge the Left and Right within the Church, as can be seen in Caritas in Veritate. I could go on and on about this (my thesis is on B16). For now, thanks for an excellent post. God bless.

  83. This is beautiful, Heather.

    I'm a cradle Catholic who's been struggling with the same issues that the young man you were corresponding with was.

    Thank you for this. I was so moved by it that I'm printing it out to keep and read.


  84. Wow, interesting to see this piece resurrected after several months...thanks so much, everyone, for your comments. Fr. Frank, good to know of you and rest assured you're on my prayer list.

    Harry, I think your point is very well taken that some of us are contemplatives, some are called to a public debate and defense of the faith, etc. But I must say that the thought of a bunch of broken-down sinners being honest with each other about the OTHER’S faults is priceless. Christ would have gotten a huge kick out of that, I’m sure. I guess I try to keep my own focus not so much on being “honest” with others as being honest with myself. I’m not nearly so concerned with whether another is acting from a disoriented sexuality as whether I am. I’m not nearly so concerned with another’s sexual orientation as I am with their character; their orientation of heart. And I think the time to size up another’s character comes before you become friends. In general, I’m simply not close friends with people who aren’t loyal, brave, true, in or hoping for a committed, faithful relationship and/or dealing in a creative, offering-up way with celibacy, questing, seeking, living lives oriented toward service. My friends agonize about doing the right thing and they’re also constantly aware they fall short, and maybe it is SOMEONE’S business to inform them of the ways they fall short, but I’m certain it’s not mine.

    I’m sure many of my friends would like to sit ME down and say: Listen, we’ve noticed and we can no longer abide the elephant in the room: you’re petty, vindictive, prideful, jealous, narcissistically self-absorbed, attention-craving, tend toward romantic obsession and you swear. The problem with that kind of “honesty” is that it’s based on a misguided motive (which is that you want the person to change for your sake, not for Christ’s; you want to win; you want to be right; you want to score points among your friends; you want to stand in the front of the church, not the back) and it also, or therefore, doesn’t work. Christ never went around telling people they were sinners. He was alert for an opening. He was ready for the moment when they saw they were sinners and started to cast about for a way to change and a direction to turn in.

    We don’t cooperate with our friends in the ways we feel they're missing the mark but we love them in spite of them. Just as I wouldn’t encourage a friend to gossip, commit a marital infidelity, or have an abortion, I wouldn’t attend a gay marriage. I don’t encourage promiscuity, gay or straight. I don’t encourage sex outside marriage. I don’t encourage greed, shallowness, taking the shortcut (though I'm constantly tempted by, and often succumb to those things myself). I make my Catholicism a matter of public and private record. I’m happy to provide feedback, guidance, support if asked. I’m able to discuss and support my views if asked. I devote my life to writing about my stumbling spiritual journey. I try to live out my faith myself and leave it to Christ for that to bear the fruit he wants...

    And the way I know I'm somewhat on the right path is that it HAS borne fruit. I am a little purer of heart. I am a little more drawn to Mass. I'm a little more able to intuitively handle situations that used to baffle me. I'm ever more in love with Christ...

  85. This is just so sensible to my head(s)

    Thanks again. I really identify with the way you think. Although I am still very immature in my own quick reactions (although not so young in the body haha!)

  86. @Heather,

    One wants say a hearty AMEN (sure, in all caps, why not?) to what you've written above. So I will, AMEN.

  87. Heather, I discovered you recently through the Word on Fire site. I’ve read Redeemed and sent a copy to my adult son who is struggling mightily against the same addictions. Incidentally, from your various citations, your reading list and mine are eerily similar…in the context of one of your blogs about Dorothy Day and loving the Church, warts and all, if Newman isn’t on your regular diet; try Parochial Sermons, “Contest between Truth and Falsehood in the Church”

    I’ve come to this topic very late so it may be too late for another resurrection, but was struck by both your comments as well as several responses.

    Regarding Right-wing and Left wing Catholics…while politics is a worthy arena in which to try to influence ideas…and consequent behavior; much of what we see today in religious/political alliances however well intentioned, reminds me of the early Israelites, turning first to Saul, then David, finally Babylon, Egypt…and a host of political powers in search of security. All the while God was telling them through a succession of prophets that their security was to be found in him…not alliances with earthly rulers. It would seem the tendency to try to cure spiritual problems with political solutions is not new

    In 1985, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said;

    “All those schematic formulations conservative/progressive, right/left which stem from an altogether different sphere, namely, that of political ideologies, lose their meaning. Hence they are not transferable to the religious perspective”. And

    “Many forget that for the Council the counter-concept to ‘conservative’ is not ‘progressive’ but ‘missionary”

    Seems to be a consistent message from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, et al right on through Benedict XVI…if only we would listen. Some recent writings and speeches by Archbishop(s) Chaput, Gomez, and Dolan, and Wenski in Miami have considerable guidance I think, on how to exercise spiritual conviction in the public arena, do so with a Catholic comprehensiveness, with the heart and mind of the Church…without losing your own way.

    Heather, most of us do not have a forum either through books or the internet from which to express our beliefs. We are left with that most messy of all mediums, (they don’t call it high-touch for nothing), the spoken word. As one in that position, perhaps an indicator of OUR personal growth is the ability to satisfy Alisha’ very eloquent observation;

    “If you are going to choose to engage in discussions or work for a particular cause, strive to ensure that your commitment to love those to whom you are speaking is as strong as your commitment to the truth.”

    If the devil is the “father of lies”, including half-truths and lies of omission and commission, then Aquinas may have been on to something when he said, “the first act of charity, (and Jesus is Love), we can do for our neighbor is to tell him the truth”. Indeed, Eph. 4:15 suggests that speaking the truth in love to one another is one of the ways we grow up into HIM...isn't THAT a mystery?

    The truth we speak to someone can either be a club which we use to beat them down or a hand we extend to them to lift them out of the fallen state we are all in. Imagine the chain of crabs helping each other up the side of the bucket…all still crabs of course, no transformation yet.

    Our sin laden ineptness doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to follow the instruction of scripture or the Church. Perhaps the sign of growth here, in addition to those you mentioned is the willingness to be corrected ourselves. Like you, I’ve come to believe that the willingness to be spiritually directed is often more significant than any specific comments from a director. Similarly, I’ve long believed that it’s extremely difficult for someone who hasn’t received the grace of charity or forgiveness (in whatever form) to extend genuine charity or forgiveness to another. Maybe the same is true of fraternal correction…perhaps you shouldn’t presume to offer any until you’ve been on the receiving end…just a thought.

    God bless,


  88. Dave, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. That I have "received the grace of charity or forgiveness (in whatever form)" is the whole ground of my existence, as you'll know if you've read my books, the reason that I am able, insofar as I do, "to extend genuine charity or forgiveness to another," and the basis of my drive to tell the truth in love, again insofar as I do.

    Though I am subject to constant fraternal correction myself--from my confessor, from various spiritual directors, from my conscience--I'm not presuming to fraternally correct anyone here. Instead on my time and at my expense, I'm saying what I believe and why, what comports with my experience and why, what I believe and why and putting it out to the world. My blog is an invitation to come if people want. I don't push it on people, I don't try to make money from it, I don't go to other people's blogs and try to promote or push mine, I don't think I have ever once left a critical comment on another person's blog. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, but the point is that if I were presuming to correct people, I'd be actively, say, going to other people's blogs and telling them why they were wrong and I am right. Instead, I open myself so that people are free to come to my blog and tell me I'm wrong.

    Which is just the way it should be: a constant exercise in humility, and entirely in keeping with my goal to continue to be teachable, willing, and constantly ready to acknowledge when I'm wrong. I don't think I was wrong here. The point of the piece was that politics, as you say, is simply unable to contain, to frame, the questions that concern me.

    Again, thank you and I'm touched you sent my book to your son. I've filed your Newman reading tip as well--am currently on Chesterton's The Everlasting Man...the flowers and birds and mountains teach us so much, too...Blessings to you--

  89. Heather...I hope you realize that anytime I said you in my response, it was a 3-rd party you, not a you-you.

    You're a blessing,
    Dave S

  90. @Dave, thanks for adding your thoughts. The Ratzinger guy just continues to amaze. I hope the Spirit has numbered him with many more days. He's no darling like JPII and he manages to confound people on all ends of the spectrum even as he guides us well.

    I appreciate how you articulated the central problem in the attempt to politicize spiritual growth and moral behaviour and the connection you make to OT times is a good one.

    @Heather, thanks for keeping the comments on this post open so we can continue to benefit by additions such as Dave's.

    I don't recall if links are OK in the combox but this one leads to an online copy of the Newman sermon Dave mentioned

  91. Thanks so much, is a blessing beyond measure to be able to bear witness as I grope, puzzle, crash, and stumble my way through--occasionally breaking out into the light!...on we go into 2012...

  92. This post seems more relevant today than it was a year ago. I found reading it again to be a great help in dealing with all the crazy politics today from both left and right. Thanks,

    -Mike D.

  93. A good post lives on...thank you

  94. Thank you for this post. I am an "ex-lawyer" as well and have been avoiding political discussions in my blog. My theory is to inspire people to draw them into a relationship with Christ and if the Holy SPirit wants to change their political ideals, then let them someone else take the credit for it. I do make a slip of my political colors from time to time and if I thought legal arguments were exhausting enough, religious/political arguments are crazier! Be glad you don't do it. I'll be dropping in from time to time now that I've found you.

  95. This was wonderful Heather for so many reasons, many of which I myself have been wrestling for awhile now. I know I'm very late to the party in finding it but I'm so glad that I did.

  96. Such an inspiring essay! I have just discovered your Blog and absolutely love it. As someone who is returning to Christ/catholocism your insightful wrting has come as a real blessing.
    Happy Birthday for last week. I was 40 on the same day.

  97. Thank you for expressing so very well how I also feel. I avoid discussions/arguments about religion and politics because they can become so divisive. What I try to do is to live my faith... that is difficult enough! I came on your blog through a suggestion about this essay on Plurk. I am bookmarking and hope to return many times. God bless and keep you safe...

  98. Thank you, pennyante--yes I wrote the piece and now I get to avoid both the right and the left, to keep my MANY "opinions" to myself and instead try to live them out...truly, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner...

  99. Reply to Mark. A friendly reminder; the Church IS Christ. What the Church teaches, Christ teaches.

  100. Heather,
    I know I am late in discovering this blog and this specific post, but what a pure gift and delight to discover! A timeless treasure! I have been deeply deeply moved by excerpts of yours in the Magnificat Meditation of the Day for a couple years now it seems and always had the intention of reading a full text of yours and seeing what books were available, but life's distractions and my absent-mindedness always got in the way.

    This particular post I found especially enlightening, convicting, uplifting, and demanding all at the same time. And you're particular dissection of our interior motives as to why we want to win these arguements, i.e. pride, was piercing to the core.

    In the end, it is always a matter of the heart. Christ wants my heart, not my political views or ideologies. This post was a poignant reminder of that truth.

    Thanks so much for your writing! Will be ordering either Redeemed or Shirt of Flame this week! Can't decide which one- so probably both :)

    I leave you with my favorite Thomas Merton quote which came to my mind while reading this post:
    "Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance."

  101. Thank you, Austin, and welcome aboard. Yes! He wants our heart, not our political "views"...and I love the Merton quote. For the love of the Lord, let's dance....

  102. This is just so powerful and so incredibly. I wrote a post a while ago about not wanting to take sides and you have articulated with so much more insight than I could ever have, what is inside me. Thank you thank you thank you.

  103. “The saint has no “fads” and you may live in the same house with him and never find out that he is not a sinner like yourself, unless you rely on negative proofs,

    Yeah, that sounds nice, but in fact it doesn't necessarily fit the actual biographies of actual saints. Take St. Catherine of Sienna, for instance. She did a great many of these things you talk about, but at the same time when the right moment came she also stood up and made fusses about some wrong things. She frequently pointed out errors - both moral and theological - to her fellow sisters to others. Early on she let her life of charity speak for itself, but when God asked her to speak to the leaders of Florence, or Sienna, or the Pope, she did it - and they listened because she spoke when God wanted her to.

    For most of us, for most of our days, prayer and the little sacrifices are our daily duty. But ALSO for most of us, good citizenship, another duty, implies once in a while speaking out - trying to encourage good men to run for office, trying to encourage men and women to vote with hearts on fire for the truth and for love Himself, instead of baser motives. These duties are not the bulk of our days, but they are real duties, real obligations, real callings to love our fellow neighbor with Christ's love. For those whose proper calling is a monastery, yes that higher calling means they are no longer in the world and have left these duties behind to others. For the rest of us, while we are pilgrims only in this world, we are indeed IN the world and that conditions our duties, including those of citizenship. True politics isn't a method of acting instead of working with Christ, it is another one of Christ's tools when He uses us as instruments (if we offer ourselves humbly). It is one avenue in which we practice love.

  104. Oh absolutely, Tony! The operative point isn't inertia--Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein, Franz Jagerstatter were hardly inert in laying down their lives!--but rather humility. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Without me, you can do nothing"...The point isn't whether we're active or contemplative; the point is that with love, everything is an action.

    But we are certainly called to participate in pointing out what up-for-canonization Dorothy Day called "our dirty rotten system": that it is rotten--no system that is not rotten could spawn the violence that is the air, as Americans in particular, we breathe; that we are complicit in the violence. We are called to constantly examine who and what we serve. Writing is a obviously a huge part of that for me, and I thank you for nudging me toward an idea I've had for some time and that would be especially apropos during Lent: to go up to Santa Maria and interview my friends from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker: Dennis Apel, a peace activist who has several times been incarcerated for protesting at Vandenberg Air Force Base and who has just returned from his second trip to the Marshall Islands, and his wife Tensie Hernandez, who among other things runs a free clinic for the farm workers of the central Coast. Then there are their two delightful, astonishingly well-read, funny, polite children, Rozella and Thomas...

    So thank you for this, and for your insight.

    And Allison, thank you as well! So glad you found this...

  105. Dear Heather: I was losing my mind today feeling as if I should make some sort of stand as a Catholic about the issues of the day, trying again and failing again, as Samuel Beckett would say. And I came across this post after having trawled through a tortuous bunch of Catholic apologetics sites (and the occasional anti-Catholic apologetics site because Google doesn't know the difference). Your post brought me back to centre because you wrote "We stand with Christ." That's all the stand I needed to make and I thank you fervently for the reminder that I need to make the stand with the quiet broken example that is my life, not with rhetoric or dazzling debate. Did you ever see Pulp Fiction, when Marcellus tells Jules that he's sending in the Wolf? And Jules says "[expletive expletive] that's all you had to say?" Well, that's the amount of relief I feel from reading your post. Thank you and God bless you so very very much this Holy Week! I hope to read more and more of your writing. Ruth

  106. Oh Ruth, thank you. Samuel Beckett so got the trudging, waiting, meager-if-any "results" of life! It is so simple, our life in Christ, and so hard! I mean I wrote a whole book, Redeemed, about my conversion, thinking I will just lay it all out, simply, accessibly, in a down-to-earth, beautifully compelling way: the paradox, the beauty and brokenness, the pain, the joy--and everyone will "get" it! My friends, my family--I will be able to SHARE my joy! Of course none of those people to my knowledge even read the darn thing...

    So yes--that's our stand. Christ. And whenever I'm feeling I can't make a coherent stand for my faith--think of how HE felt!...

    Easter blessings to you...

  107. Amen! Amen!! Amen!!! Thank you:)

  108. Amen! Amen!! Amen!!! I love my church, but I have felt discouraged lately, mistaking the attitudes of the Catholics in my immediate surroundings, for beliefs I was needede to hold. I'm so tired of judgement and politics being masked as holiness!!! It is always about Jesus!! This article reminded me that it isn't the Catholic church but, unfortunately the wounds of her children, rearing their hideous heads. Thank you!

  109. I just now read this thing, what, two-and-a-half years after you posted it. But no matter, I guess I needed it today. And how! Thank you so much.

  110. Thank YOU, Randall! I continue to try to puzzle this all out...

  111. This is what Pope Francis was trying to say in the America article yesterday! And you said it two years ago. And you said it much better. I was upset when I read the magazine interview because I didnt understand what he was trying to say. Then the Holy Spirit led me to your blog and I clicked on this and...wah la! I have been converted from my old ways of debating political issues. i will stick to praying and living my Faith. Thank you Heather, and let us be grateful to God for the gifts he gave you to help build up His Kingdom on earth,

  112. I was sorry to have to unsubscribe from the comments on this post. It has been interesting to see the comments continue to come in, three years on.

    However, the Spam that also arrives in my inbox because the comments are not moderated first but only after they post [and I do appreciate what a pain it is to moderate each comment before it can post] is just too much and a pain on this end. :) Sadly, I am gradually unsubing from all old threads that have become the playground of spammers. They know comments are not being moderated and that anything they post will go to anyone still subscribed. Hopefully your good readers have not clicked through to any links these frauds post in their comments.

    Meanwhile, God bless and write-on, dear Heather.

    1. I know you've been struggling with these kinds of issues for a long time, Owen--you're exactly write to simply unsubscribe. As a blogger the word is that readers are less likely to comment if they have to choose a name and go through the registration process. Also Blogger updated their spam detector so, even though now anyone can comment, I very rarely get a spam comment that makes it through or that arrives in my own mailbox. That's such a drag you've had a different experience! But again by all means unsubscribe. God bless, Owen!

  113. Heather, really thought provoking article, glad that I found your books and this article. I apologize,but I think I may have missed something- when someone spews vitriol on Facebook, while we shouldn't fight fire with emotional fire, isn't silence condoning their perspective? It's one thing to have a negative commenter in the comments section that you tactfully maneuver around like you did so nicely earlier in the comments, it's another when a relative out of the blue posts for all to see on Facebook an opinion that is fundamentally against Catholic teaching. After I get over my initial feeling of wanting to reach through the ether and be angry, I still feel the need to calmly "dislike" the opinion and write a reply disagreeing- not to change the author's mind, which won't happen, but to provide a counterpoint to everyone else who is reading that particular post. It seems that evil is being allowed to run rampant through the public forums- simply unfriending the individual not only feels like I didn't do what my heart says I should say, but it feels like the other person got what they wanted, and was allowed to state an opinion that others will read without consequence. Is that the key, to disagree without being mired down in Facebook wars, so that others know there's another perspective? Am I a coward if I don't stand up against evil comments made in these arenas?

  114. Having been steeped in evangelization for the past 14 years through study and experience, I think I'm familiar with the subject. Heather, I don't like that In your article you are doing the very thing you accuse the religious right of doing - pointing your finger and saying "shame on you - you should change." Here are 2 examples: 1."The spiritual path doesn’t consist, in other words, in pointing out to others the ways they might be contributing to the suffering of the world, but in searching out the ways I am. That’s why I steer clear of the religious right." and 2."Both the right and the left are simply variations on “the world” in which the goal is power, prestige, efficiency, triumph, and the goal is to shame or bully other people into changing without changing one iota yourself." I consider myself to be conservative and therefore on the religious right. I cannot relate to your statements. Re: #1 - why do you think that the religious right is doing that? We don't point out to others how they are contributing to the suffering of the world. Re: #2 - look at the organizations, St. Paul's Street Evangelization, FOCUS, and the Legion of Mary. Most of the people involved in evangelization do it for love of God and neighbor. There may be some exceptions. I, myself, cannot claim to have always been sweet and kind in every case, but most of the time I am, and that is what I strive for. The Legion apostolate requires each person to give at least 3.5 hours of time each week. I would highly recommend that any evangelist read the Legion of Mary Handbook written by Frank Duff, an evangelist par excellence. When you write about the religious right, Heather, it seems that you only think about a small group of pro-lifers who want to show aborted fetuses. That's the only way I can understand your portrayal of the religious right. We need to invite people to come back to the Church. We need to recommend TV and Radio programs such as EWTN and Guadalupe radio, where the hosts can perhaps explain issues better than we can. Why is it that we can share a great recipe for apple pie, but not share the Good News? Isn't it natural to want to share our Catholic faith with others? I don't see it as a system or rules and doctrines. I see it as awesome revelation of Truth found in Holy Scripture and in the immense and profound writings of the Early Church Fathers.

    1. EWTN? Dear God, I don't live out my faith by sitting in front of a television set. I live it out through prayer, closely observing the world around me, esp. my human relationships, pondering the Gospels, participating in the Sacraments, studying literature, art, music, constantly examining my conscience, and cultivating my capacity to laugh at myself...That way, I am able to articulate my own experience, strength and hope with respect to my faith. I don't need to depend on a TV show to "explain the issues." That's my responsibility. As for sharing my faith with others, I have six books, a monthly column, two weekly columns, this blog, a speaking schedule and a private life that I must say are pretty much devoted to that precise end!

      That's great you are drawn to St. Paul's, FOCUS, the Legion of Mary etc.! My point is simply that Christ transcends categories of right and left. Constantly dying and coming alive in him, my point is that I don't need or want to identify myself with either. Godspeed to you and thanks for writing.

  115. "Dorothy Day quotes a priest who said, “You love God as much as you love the person you love least.” And by extension, I think we love God about as much as we love His Church..."
    So true!
    Great post!

  116. I have been working on this over the past few years as I had been someone you could define as a "conservative catholic" and my pastor and friend who echoes the basic premise that Christ was not conservative or liberal. Christ was radical in how he lived and how he loves us. This is how we must approach our faith, as He gave us so many examples of how to live out our lives. And the challenges He requires of his followers, not only to pick up our cross and follow Him, but also to love our neighbors as He did... by dying for love of them. That blows me away thinking about that!

    Thank you once again for level setting how faith and love are ours to choose each day and while we fall because we are sinners and beggars, we have a God who unconditionally loves all of us just as we are.

    God bless you.

  117. You will never know how much this article articulates so much of my feelings for the church, my misgivings, my gray areas and the amazing magnetism it still holds for me. I have an alcoholic father and that is a very apt, and probably not coincidental, comparison for me. But this part was the best "Here’s how, in my experience, you know you're becoming a follower of Christ. You begin to want to be seen less, not more. You begin to want to be quieter, not louder. Knowing you’re on the right track doesn’t come from scoring points among your “friends.” Knowing you’re on the right track doesn’t come from winning useless arguments. You find yourself making tiny sacrifices. You find yourself experiencing tiny moments of joy. You find yourself mysteriously drawn to the Gospels, to Confession, to Mass." - I've been so exhausted lately by petty internet fights, snarkiness, all kinds of things I used to engage in under the guise of being witty or "standing up for my beliefs!" .. in the last couple months since I truly came back to the church (and had a confession experience eerily like your own) I have been exactly as the quote I pulled from your articles describes and I was worried (as is my mother) that I might be going insane. I am glad to know it is all apart of the process. P.S- I love your communion of saints. Especially Flannery. I credit her for nudging me towards the long path out of arrogant atheist life that led me back to my Catholic roots.


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