Saturday, July 26, 2008

Martha and Mary

Steve Skojec has provoked a lively discussion with his article entitled "The Well-Sheltered Catholic." It encourages Catholics to engage the culture rather than turning their backs on it. There was some disagreement as to how much we should be "in the world." I agree that we should engage the culture but everyone is not called to become involved in the same way and to the same extent. It seems to me that in the history of the Church there have always been diverse personalities and vocations. Isn't it the same today? Some people are called to engage the culture head on, like the Apostles in the market place, and they have unique talents which help them to be effective. Others, like the monks of the desert, retreat from the world in varying degrees, creating an atmosphere conducive to peaceful work and prayer. The Church needs both Martha and Mary.

If some of our homeschooling families feel the need to more or less retreat a bit from the mainstream, then they have to follow the call. In their own way, they are building the Kingdom.

I think it is important, no matter what, to strike the right balance between engaging the world and being seduced by it. Similarly, it is easy to fall into Manicheanism and start seeing everything as bad. It is also easy to fall into the less desirable aspects of the culture. There have always been Christians who told dirty jokes; likewise there have always been people like St. Paul who enjoined Christians to avoid such things (Ephesians 5:3)

I think it is important to engage the culture but not necessarily on its own terms. How much and to what degree perhaps depends on the individual and their call and their gifts. Some are called to wage the battle in the front lines, in the big city, in the center of the action. Perhaps others are called to be a contradiction to the world just by creating a garden where children can safely play--or by going off to a backwoods parish in the mountains. All genuine vocations are necessary, and none are to be despised.

Here is the original interview with Barbara Nicolosi which inspired some of the discourse on InsideCatholic. She makes some excellent points. To quote:
There are gifts that come through the arts that you don’t get in sports or anything else. Sports can stretch you physically and teach you about socials and morals and things like that. The arts can refine your soul. They make you a person of decorum. They make you a person of detail and sensitivity. And we need ladies and gentlemen again. We’re so surrounded by vulgarity and crassness and barbarism.


Editor said...

"There have always been Christians who told dirty jokes; likewise there have always been people like St. Paul who enjoined Christians to avoid such things (Ephesians 5:3)"

St. Paul's instructions, of course, have the virtue of being divinely inspired. :-)

elena maria vidal said...


papabear said...

"Engaging the culture" sounds so amorphous and runs the risk of committing an error of 'reifying' something that has no substantial reality in itself--Christians are called to love their neighbor, and we do so in accordance with the specific vocation God has given to us, so if anything lay people are called to engage their neighbors.

As for mass culture/entertainment, I do think that any right-thinking person would seek to eschew that as much as possible, even though one should appreciate what is true, good, and beautiful as a foundation for dialogue. But all would be better of learning how to entertain themselves through music and so on, and thus avoid what is produced in Hollywood or elsewhere. It's just a better way to promote communal life.

papabear said...

Just to elaborate a little bit more--culture is a means whereby we engage our neighbor, and can also be its fruit. Those who are called to be full-time artists will have to discern how to use their abilities and under what conditions, but the rest of us who are normally just 'consumers' of mass culture may have some talents that we should cultivate in service of the local community. And if not, we can at least try to host or help with wholesome festivities and gatherings.

elena maria vidal said...

What you say makes a great deal of sense, papabear. It all depends on what the person's vocation and gifts. for instance, for me to try to engage the culture by discoursing on different kinds of rock music would be totally ridiculous and completely futile!