Learning to love bravelyDOUG MCMANAMAN
My friend's attitude towards policing is an accurate image of what our attitude in the spiritual life ought to be.
Years ago I accompanied a friend of mine, a police constable from York Region, as part of a ride along program that was in operation at the time. It was a fascinating experience, but what continues to stand out in my memory is my initial reaction to my friend's particular modus operandi. He'd drive up behind a car, enter the plate numbers into his computer with one hand, read the driver's record, then quickly move on to another car if nothing stood out. If, however, something were to appear out of the ordinary, such as a DUI, drug or weapons possession, etc., he'd pull the car over to investigate the possibility of a recurrence.
Initially, I felt rather uncomfortable with his aggressive approach only because I am not the type of person who goes out looking for trouble. "Why not just leave well enough alone?", would be an accurate formulation of what I was probably feeling at the time. By the end of the night, I knew I'd make a lousy cop, for things only appear "well enough", and an astute cop knows that evil always hides under a serene veil. I fully recognize the value of my friend's personality type, for it was through this approach that he's been able, over the years, to uncover and thwart many a criminal scheme.
I could very easily characterize my attitude as compassionate, sensitive, and peace loving, but in truth, it is nothing more than fear. I'd make an ineffective Protector of the Peace because, ironically enough, I love peace too much. Criminals depend on peace loving, non judgmental, sentimental nice guys like myself, but they cannot succeed as criminals in an environment made up of the shrewd and astute, those who love justice more than their own peace of mind and who are open to seeing in human nature possibilities and realities that some of us simply will not behold, because they are unpleasant to behold, such as the reality of free, self-determined choices that are evil, not merely misguided, much less determined.
Similarly, much of what passes for sensitivity and compassion within the life of the Church is often little more than fear of confrontation that stems from an excessive love of peace, notwithstanding that sensitivity and compassion are very important qualities in themselves, especially with regard to ministering to the poor and the mentally ill.
But the results of fear veiled as sensitivity often include things like grammatically awkward liturgies, lukewarm preaching more akin to Kool-Aid at room temperature than strong wine that cheers the heart and tweaks one's sense of wonder, not to mention a community (parish, school, or diocese, etc) that on the surface appears unified, but underneath is as divided as an old corpse.
Scripture makes clear that we are at war, not at peace: "For our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness" (Eph 6, 12). Christ warned of persecution (Mt 5, 11; 10, 16-25), and he said: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword" (Mt 10, 34-36). The division Christ brings is certainly not the kind of polarization that is forever the aim of those who belong to darkness, but the division that results from God's word proclaimed: "The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb 4, 12).
My friend's attitude towards policing is an accurate image of what our attitude in the spiritual life ought to be. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh writes: "Too often Christians have the habit whenever a problem or danger arises of turning to the Lord and crying, 'Lord protect us, save us, fight for us'. How often the Lord must look at us sadly and say to us in the silent language which we could understand if only our hearts were not so deafened by their fear, 'But I sent you into this situation to fight for me, are you not part of the army, the avant-garde of the kingdom which I have sent out to fight for me on earth?'"
Christianity is primarily about the pursuit of the perfection of charity, and not the pursuit of "my own peace of mind". Many who have forgotten this have been lured away from the Church in pursuit of a more private, "New Age" kind of spirituality that promises peace. Some have remained within the Church, but have become determined to reform theology and worship to suit their new frame of mind. But the peace they pursue cannot be delivered, because genuine peace is a side effect of a life that pursues the perfection of charity, which can only be channelled through virtue, in particular the virtue of fortitude. The more our prayer is focused on growing in the supernatural love of God, and less on our own peace of mind, the more deeply will we be carried into the very heart of the mystery of God, who is Love. There we will rediscover those who are the object of His love, and the Holy Spirit of Love between the Father and the Son will return us back to the earth, armed with the fortitude that will allow charity to achieve its purpose. This is the charity that burned within the hearts of all the great missionaries and martyrs of the Church.
Douglas McManaman. "Learning to love bravely." lifeissues.net (2007).
Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.
Copyright © 2009 Douglas McManaman
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.