By Greg Erlandson - OSV Newsweekly, 4/29/2012
Is it just me, or do we seem even more divided than usual? I get the feeling that no one is even particularly trying to pretend that we are one body any longer.
Right and left and in between, we all seem to have absolute certainty that the other side is wrong, and not just wrong, but willfully, malevolently, unspeakably wrong. So wrong that the whole Church is at risk. Whatever Jesus said about always being with us until the end of time, we know that if those other so and sos get their way, the whole enterprise will go down the tubes. Is going down the tubes even as we speak.
And the anger: It is palpable these days. Emails, comments to blogs, letters to pastors: They come dripping with contempt and high outrage. The correspondent is always convinced that he or she has uncovered a covert liberal-conservative-progressive-reactionary agenda to ruin the Church.
“Stand your ground” is not just a slogan in Florida. Now it appears that everyone is standing their ground, loudly denouncing their opponents and just as loudly proclaiming their own victimhood. And what is most strange is that all of this is applicable to both sides of the ideological divide that we are constantly having our faces rubbed in.
This was a tough Lent. I am feeling too much anger myself, these days, too much resentment at all the divisions between liberals and conservatives, clergy and laity, men and women, black and white, us and them in saecula saeculorum. I probably should have fasted from the news for 40 days, since it was raising my blood pressure rather than my spirits. St. Francis spoke to the birds and the beasts. I’m talking back to the radio and snorting in disgust at the newspaper.
But there was something really powerful that happened at the Easter Vigil this year. At our parish, 26 people entered the Church that evening, the first fruits of the New Evangelization. Nine were baptized. The rest entered into full communion. I don’t know all of their reasons, but I was so moved by their presence. They stepped down into the baptismal pool and came out new men and new women. They were anointed with the oil of Confirmation, they received the Lord, and they seemed both serious and joyful.
I was ashamed for my grouchiness and I was heartened by the sight of them wanting to join “my team.” As I prayed with them and sang with them and received Communion with them, they made me want to be better as a Catholic. I wanted to be more joyful and less angry for them. With them.
Eight days later I was at a party for one man who had entered the Church this Easter after having been raised a Lutheran. He told me his story, and his face beamed. He wanted to share the joy he had experienced, and was already making plans to do so.
Cradle Catholics often have mixed feelings about converts. Whenever there is a Catholic who is a little too evangelical, often we remind ourselves, “He’s a convert,” a little embarrassed by the fervor. It is true that sometimes their zeal outpaces their knowledge, but converts are so energizing to be around because they are on fire.
Maybe we cradle Catholics roll our eyes because of their naiveté, but maybe also we are afraid of getting singed.
The Church is heading toward Pentecost. This is when the apostles were set on fire, leaving the safety of the upper room and stepping outside to preach to the world. Their Holy Spirit-fueled courage reverberates down to us. The Church has always suffered from divisions. Just read Acts. But that Easter joy, that Pentecostal fervor, that’s what reminds us why we keep trying to get it right.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.
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