November 28, 2010

Remembering Charity in Conflict

This post is meant as a continuation of what I wrote yesterday, and a reminder to myself that we have to remember charity and mutual understanding even within our conflicts in the Church in general and religious life in particular.

Yesterday afternoon I went somewhere offer a memorial Mass for a small group of nice people. It was perfectly pleasant and I tried to do my best for them. In the front of the small assembly was a woman, not old but perhaps in later middle age, who made all the responses and prayers loudly and strongly, with all of the standard adjustments and changes for so-called 'inclusive language.'

It would be easy for me simply to rant about it. I don't want to live in a relativistic world in which everyone is their own pope, and each of us has the right to alter the Church's prayer to suit his or her own concerns.

But to just rant is a failure in charity. Yes, we must stand up against the errors and misunderstandings of our time. But we also have to try to appreciate each other, and to recognize that those who do wrong-headed things often do them with the best intentions and with genuine values at stake. The woman in front of me perhaps grew up in a world in which she was made to feel like less, as someone with fewer opportunities in life than her male counterparts. Perhaps she grew up in a world with a lot of 'rules' which didn't seem to have a function or make any sense. So maybe, just maybe, for her to use this so-called 'inclusive language' in her own prayer at Mass represents and symbolizes for her an intense experience of liberation she has had over the course of her life.

I think that this can be hard for many of us younger Catholics and religious to understand. We grew up not with oppressive systems of rules, but in the relativistic, post-modern vertigo. We grew up oppressed not by rules but by their absence. Our grandparents in religious life (our parents are mostly missing) found in their vocations a liberation from a previously ossified and oppressive culture, a liberation from the rules. We have found in our vocations a liberation from relativism and moral anarchy, a liberation to the rules.

This isn't anything new, and it has been better written by others. I just mean to say that as we work to recover our Catholic identity from the errors and wanderings of those who have gone before us, let us remember that they too were children of their time, and that the Spirit of God spoke to them in their liberation as well. No doubt I have own pet myopias, and errors that will need to be corrected by those who come after me. If I want to be treated like a thoughtful and charitable person when that day comes, I need to do it for others now.


s.m. white said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

You highlight one of the most difficult demands of conflict resolution...discernment.

Does the person who "goes against the grain" do so because problems/concerns/interests have not been addressed? Is it possible for us to find a need we can satisfy, thus ending the conflict?

Or does the disruptive person intend harm? Are we facing evil? (The "intention to cause harm" is what we typically consider "evil.")

Do we face a situation in which unsatisfied needs should be acknowledged or a situation in which we should acknowledge the presence of evil? Discernment is needed.

On one hand, we risk demonizing another inappropriately. On the other hand, we risk allowing harm to take place.

One could argue that evil is a severe case of an unmet need or fear crying out to be handled. In other words, there is no qualitative difference between the two situations, only a difference of degree.

If one holds this view the question becomes how much "evil" are we individually prepared to handle while preserving the safety of those around us? What are the consequences of our approach?

Do we remedy the situation by going to the aid of the disruptive person or do we sequester the "person in need," realizing their needs are too severe for us to handle without others being harmed?

The situation you relate is minor in its consequences, so charity is not costly. In those situations charity seems the obvious choice.

If the consequences become more severe, however, we are faced with the difficult task of discernment. Conflict resolution becomes more challenging...

RJ said...

As you say, "no one, not even a priest" (SC) may alter the liturgy on their own initiative. I guess such people are in good conscience. They probably believe that there is an injustice being done to women in the use of the word 'him' for God and the word 'man'. I believe they are mistaken for the following reasons:
'man' does not refer to male individuals of the human species in this context; it refers to the human species per se. The same word has two meanings. This is not unknown in English or in other languages.
i)Referring to God with a masculine pronoun does not actually make God, in his divinity, a man. We all know that.

ii) English has only the masculine and feminine pronouns to choose from. Using the masculine may seem unfair, but the same objection could be made if we used the feminine pronoun.

Lee Gilbert said...

Well, at 67 I am roughly of grandparent vintage, I suppose, and have little patience with this kind of thing. This loud and defiant use of inclusive language flows from the spirituality of resentment-incessantly cultivated in certain publications and many congregations of women-and would disappear like the morning fog if these women would forgive the pope, forgive the Church, forgive men in general, and forgive God, for that matter, for being our Father.

For my money it is uncharitable to tolerate it, since it is an affront to the unity of the Church, real disobedience, a bad example, and a disturbance of the peace of the other congregants.

Although now I find myself wanting to turn around and say, "Did you miss the class on pronouns, or what??!!" I did once many years ago have some wisdom briefly descend on me.

The woman lector had taken upon herself to change the pronouns of the reading on the fly. Afterwards I went up to her and complimented on her reading, which otherwise had gone very well. She smiled gratefully, and was about to move on, but I continued, "However, this inclusive language business really disturbs my peace at Mass." She was stricken to the heart. Tears welled up, and she apologized profoundly.

Surely there is nothing to be gained by letting it pass, and even if a remonstrance does not penetrate resistance now, it may later, especially if more of the people of God speak up.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the good comments!

Sara said...

You are right to point out that our parents are missing. These inclusive, relativistic folks were welcoming and available to me early in my faith journey when really, no one else was... not the more conservative members of their own generation, not my more traditional Catholic peers, and really no one of early middle age at all.

The loudest and strongest "inclusive language" guy in my parish is also the first stranger who ever told me that he was praying for me, who encouraged me to keep coming to daily Mass before and after I was baptized, learned all my kids' names.

As much as I dislike listening to his alterations I could not turn around now and start ranting at him. What I can do, is find the seekers in my parish now, and go shake hands and tell them I am praying for them, before the Inclusive Language brigade shows up.

From George said...

Melancholia, (a fixation on one's own will) has always plagued the Church.