The Pensive Catholic - The Pensive Catholic
-As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Years ago, I thought of starting a magazine (there were no websites then) called “The Radical Catholic.” I was a convert to Catholicism – baptized on Holy Saturday when I was 29 years old – and I found (and find) orthdox Christianity exhiliarating and freeing – the most exciting thing in the world. I remember telling the poet John Moffitt (then poetry editor at America) that I saw (and see) orthodoxy as a strong frame around a window, through which we look out into the awe inspiring depths of infinity and eternity. He told me that, if I felt that way, I would be a happy Catholic – and I am.
At the time I was thinking of starting “The Radical Catholic” (I was in my early 40s), my wife (Brenda) and I were working as lay missioners with the Franciscans (O.F.M. Holy Name Province) in the eastern Amazon of Brazil – what is now the State of Tocantins. We were living with our two daughters in a small village on the Arauguaia River, 100 kilometers of nearly impassable road from the nearest friars. We had many parish responsiblities – counseling, sacramental preparation, para-liturgical services; but one of the chief reasons we were there was that the Church wanted to support subsistence farmers who were in danger of losing their land to grileiros – land grabbers, often with strong financial and political connections. It was a violent conflict - Father Josimo Tavares’ murder 1986 was the most visible of many; two of the farmers we worked with were killed, and our lives were threatened several times.
During the seven years we were in Tocantins we learned many things, and one of them was to practically confirm that the Church doesn’t have two separate teachings – a moral teaching and a social teaching – but one united teaching. I say we learned this practically; for instance, we discovered that a rural community plagued with infidelity and incest could not hold out against the grileiros, but a community of strong marriages and families could. The one united Church teaching – whether it deals with sex or land – is to love God and to treat others with honesty, integrity, responsibility, and justice – in short, with love.
But as I read materials coming out of the United States (they came by slow mail then, often taking three months), it seemed to me that many Americans were splitting Christ and the Church in two – a liberal Jesus and a conservative Jesus. This struck me as all wrong. Jesus certainly wasn’t a liberal (I think he would reject the individualistic underpinnings of philosophical liberalism), but he just as certainly wasn’t a conservative. His teachings – whether loving your enemy, equating lust with adultery, talking about camels passing through the eye of a needle, or rejecting divorce – were highly counter-cultural not only in our time but in His own time. His teachings were (and are) radical. Thus “The Radical Catholic.”
You need to have a website, my publisher told me. You need to blog –to share your ideas.
As I started to think about a blog, I thought again of “The Radical Catholic.” I am still a radical Catholic – I still believe that Christ’s teachings are so counter-cultural that they challenge our society at its very roots. But, as I pondered, I realized that we are now in a different time. Our society is divided, polarized – although ordinary people still talk, our politicians and media increasingly engage in argument – no, not argument (which implies debating ideas and persuasion), but pre-packaged ideas, name calling, and trying to make points at the expense of one’s opponent. It seemed to me that, while Christ’s teaching will always be counter-cultural, always radical, I am not Christ. We do not need another radical voice right now – at least not mine – but we need bridge building, discussion, and thoughtfulness (in both senses of the word). So “The Pensive Catholic” is born.
If I can convey to you, and you to me, through these pages, something of the amazing love and awe and gratitude I feel toward Christ and our Church, then I will indeed be a happy Catholic, and I hope that you will be happy too.