A very refreshing, consistent theme of the synod has been inclusion. The Church, our spiritual family, welcomes everyone, especially those who may feel excluded. Among those, I’ve heard the synod fathers and observers comment, are the single, those with same-sex attraction, those divorced, widowed, or recently arrived in a new country, those with disabilities, the aged, the housebound, racial and ethnic minorities. We in the family of the Church love them, welcome them, and need them.
Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church? I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony– approach the Church for the sacrament; Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church! I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.
Where do they receive support and encouragement? From TV? From magazines or newspapers? From movies? From Broadway? From their peers? Forget it!
They are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement, a warm sense of inclusion. We cannot let them down!
This brought to mind something a homeschooling mom in Alexandria, Virginia, said to me at lunch on Sunday. I paraphrase:
I agree with the Benedict Option vision, but I haven’t heard you yet talk about an important part of it: moms. We are the ones on the front lines.
She’s right. I need look no further than my own family for evidence. There is no way — no way — I could accomplish a thing in my writing career without Julie’s tireless labor with the kids, homeschooling them. I’ve had a couple of conversations on this trip with both men and women in homeschooling families, and heard that the moms often feel overlooked and undervalued.
A story: A pastor in the DC area told me once that his congregation was filled with extremely accomplished, massively educated young adults who had ticked off all the boxes on the list of How To Be Successful, but who were still unhappy. There was one particular woman whom the pastor said was on the verge of depression. He said that after spending a lot of time counseling her, it became clear to him that she wanted nothing more in the world than to be married and at home raising kids. But she would not allow herself to entertain that thought, because it was forbidden to her by the culture in which she was raised. He said he was not, or not yet, in a position to raise it with her, because she could not hear him.
Another story: A DC friend told me a story about a pastor he knows who was approached by two parishioners asking him to have a word with their college-age daughter. “She wants to be a missionary,” they said. The pastor was pleased, but the parents said no, they preferred her to be successful, and they needed the pastor to intervene to talk her out of this nonsense.
Within the church, we have to raise both boys and girls to reject the world’s vision of success. Were the martyrs successful? Yes, in fact, they were, from a Christian point of view. If we can say that they were successful, then surely the countless lesser martyrdoms that we Christians face for the sake of rightly ordering our loves by the light of Christ also count as success. In fact, to refuse to order our loves in that way amounts to grave failure, even if we find fame, fortune, power, and all the rest. That is the lesson of the Divine Comedy.
The Church must form its people to prefer holiness to happiness. And we Christian men must absolutely not be a people who make that choice, but expect only the women among us to bear its weight. I’m talking to myself here, just so you know. What stories do we tell ourselves, and our children, about what constitutes success? Well, what does the Church tell us? What does Scripture tell us? What does Tradition tell us? Stanley Hauerwas, from The Hauerwas Reader:
How do we know what choices to make?
That’s what the church is all about. It says that we really don’t know what powers and what stories have a hold on us until our lives have become one with the life of the church. The church says to us, “We’re not giving you a story that you can choose. We’re making you part of a story you didn’t choose: God’s story. You don’t get to make God; God gets to make you. You are made by being brought into this community trough which you discover your story. And your story is that you have been created to praise and glorify God – all moral life derives from that truth. Therefore, there is a distinct difference between you and those who have not been made part of God’s story.”
What sets Christians apart?
Christians are put in jeopardy in a special way because they have been made part of God’s creation and providential care. What God does with a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, and so on is God’s business. All a Christian knows is that God has given him or her a special mission as a witness to the kingdom brought by Jesus.
This kind of talk doesn’t sit well with Christians who are constantly trying to make it as good citizens in the United States. But Christians should be in contention with what is called modernity because modernity is in contention with the Christian belief that an individuals’ freedom comes from being engrafted into a community and into a narrative that he or she did not create or choose.
I’m in the airport in Richmond now, headed back home, and I don’t have time to write any more at the moment. I want to say, though, that one of the great lessons of this short but extremely rewarding trip to DC and to Charlottesville is that there are many Christians struggling to see what the Good is, versus what the world calls good — and many more Christians who don’t struggle at all, because they don’t perceive a difference. I have been challenged in my own faith and thinking by the work and lives of people I have met, and greatly encouraged, too. And I am going home with particular gratitude for the Benedict Option Mama to whom I am married, and whose faithful presence and tireless labors of love keep the mission of our family toward the good that is God, and who makes our domestic monastery a home full of rightly ordered love. I am blessed beyond measure to be part of her story, and the story of our children, and the story of our little church under the live oaks, where I am learning every day to be part of the Story.