“Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.”
“Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!”
Pope Francis is in Egypt and is preaching a message of fanatical charity. “The only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity,” Francis said. We must love, even when it is not easy, even those who are not easy to love. “Any other fanaticism,” Francis insisted, “does not come from God and is not pleasing to him.” The Holy Father’s message is especially poignant in light of the persecution Christians are suffering at the hands of fanatical Islam throughout the Middle East, and in relation to the Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt that killed over forty Coptic Christians and injured dozens more.
There are many kinds of fanaticism: sports, politics, financial or social ambition. Even religion can become fanatical, when the effort to be holy and righteous, which may be rooted in a genuine desire to please God, becomes identified or conflated with a particular social, political or spiritual ideology. When the battle cry becomes, “There is only one right way to be Catholic!” then fanaticism has gripped the heart and endangered the soul. One of the characteristics of fanaticism is a pattern to quickly label everyone as either one of us or one of them. This is a direct consequence of reducing the faith to a particular expression of the faith. So, if you fail to subscribe to the notion that practicing or expressing the faith of the Church in this particular way is necessary in order to be truly Catholic, then you may find yourself unwelcome among those who ought ordinarily regard you as a brother or sister in Christ.
It’s tempting to think of fanaticism, at least the Catholic variety, as a problem unique to conservative Catholics. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While conservative Catholics suffer those among them who have tragically succumbed to fanaticism, the bane is no less present among more liberal Catholics. In fact, it may be worse! The temptation to dismiss or refuse to take seriously Catholics who are committed to the full revelation of God in Christ through the instrument of His Church, who “profess all that the Catholic faith holds and teaches to be true,” is no less a temptation among liberal and so-called “cafeteria Catholics” than is the temptation among so-called conservative Catholics to dismiss and regard as “Catholic In Name Only” anyone who fails to be fully devoted to a more traditional expression of the faith.
It is just as damning to a soul to insist that the only way to be Catholic is my way, as it is to insist that the only way to be Catholic is our way. Indeed, it may be that more traditional Catholics suffer the temptation to hold fanatically to an expression of the faith that belongs to a particular group or age in the history of the Church, while more progressive Catholics suffer the temptation to hold fanatically to an expression of the faith rooted in their own individual thoughts and reflections on matters spiritual or theological. The one emphasizes the social nature of faith to the neglect of the personal, while the other does the opposite. Both are necessary for a full, balanced commitment to the gospel. The social is necessary because God chose to reveal His truth through the Church and to make the Church the ordinary instrument of salvific grace available through the sacraments. The Church is the Body of Christ. The personal is necessary because each believer must discern his or her own place and vocation within the Body of Christ, and devote him or her self to those expressions of the faith that speak most deeply to each. Is the Body all eyes, or all ears, or all feet? Is everyone called to be an administrator, or a teacher, or a healer? We are each of us members of the Body, and we have a place that is proper to each of us, a place only we can fill.
What would the fanaticism of charity look like? I suppose it would look a lot like the Incarnate God hanging on a cross.
Jesus gave everything for everyone. He doesn’t limit His mercy only to those who express their devotion to Him in a particular way. One of the great gifts of the Catholic faith tradition is that our love and devotion to God is expressed in a plethora of ways. This is what the various sacramentals and devotional traditions are all about. There are a multitude of ways to express our love for God and devotion to the gospel, not only in spiritual traditions, but in our committed relationships. How many Catholic religious orders and communities are there, each possessing a unique gift of loving God, loving others, and serving the Church in their particular way? Yet, they are all Catholic! How many saints are there, each living a life of courageous love, yet no two of them identical? Yet, they are all Catholic! How many are the varied ministries of each parish, each ministry striving to serve God in a particular way, each necessary to fulfill the mission of the Church? Yet, they are all Catholic!
“Love God,” St. Augustine of Hippo said, “then do as you will.” If you love God, your will will be to do His will. How you do His will may not be the way others do His will. In fact, you can fairly well count on two things: first, the service to which God has called you will be very different from what others are doing and, second, it will be very different from what you expected it to be.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.