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Victims of Our Catholic Personalities

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 06, 2007

A great deal of what we expect from the Church is determined by our unique personalities. For example, some of us aren’t really comfortable with priests who don’t regularly take public stands on the life issues, while others are suspicious of those who lack warmth or fail to devote themselves to the needs of the poor.

Or take another example. Some of us are not spiritually satisfied unless we have a very formal and traditional liturgy; others derive a greater sense of Catholic solidarity from less formal and more accessible rituals and music. Or again, some of us feel at home with and enriched by deeply intellectual presentations of the Faith, while others crave the simplicity of a more direct proclamation of the gospel. What we are up against here is the problem of the personality.

The Catholic Church has many motives of credibility, many different aspects of her being and life which draw a wide variety of people to her as spiritual mother or spiritual home. It may be the awe-inspiring magnificence of a particular liturgical rite, the luminous consistency of Catholic doctrine, the attractive holiness of the saints, the warmth and welcome of a local parish community centered around the Eucharist, the integrity of a great pope or bishop, the endurance of Catholicism through every problem imaginable over a two-thousand year history, the devastating logic of Catholic apologists, the beauty of Catholic architecture, the witness of a religious community, the richness of the Church’s good works, the incarnational power of the sacraments—the list goes on.

Each of us is especially attracted to the Church by the combination of these motives which best matches our personalities, and when our experience of the Church lacks the force of these motives, we become uncomfortable and sometimes even positively cranky. We begin to make judgments about the inadequacy of the Catholic commitment among those who are attracted first and foremost to other features of the Church, and (what’s worse!) they begin to make judgments about us.

There are situations, of course, in which someone else is really wrong and needs to be corrected. But very often we need to transcend our own personalities in order to appreciate more the aspects of Catholicism which others find compelling. By balancing our personalities in this way, we will often grow spiritually and induce a similar spiritual growth in others. In my experience, a little effort here goes a very long way.

Especially when we begin to feel spiritually deprived or accusatory, I am convinced that the most effective first step is to reconsider this question of personality. Before we decide how best to proceed—in fact, before we even decide how to react—it is vital to make due allowance for the personality differences among those involved. Life in some ways resembles theater; how the personalities of the players are handled makes the difference between tragedy and comedy. Obviously, this won’t always work, but the potential happy ending is worth the effort. And knowing that our own personalities are neither universal nor perfect will prevent us from being victims of ourselves.

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