Paved with Good Intentions…A Church Misses the Point

Ok, so I don’t usually do this. By which I mean, I have yet to do something like this. Now I’m doing something like this. “This” is posting a photo of something that I saw while out and about (today’s feature comes from an afternoon walk in a park that borders a Catholic Church in the Capital District) and commenting on why it caught my attention. Here it is, a sign that advertised the 2011 Lenten “theme” for this unnamed parish (to protect the guilty).

While walking on this first real Spring-like day, I spotted this well-made sign outside of the Church. And what caught my attention was the “MEs” all over the thing. I walked up close to examine what the story was, presuming in my innocence that it was a sign denouncing self-centeredness during the season of penance. To my surprise it was exactly the opposite — it was a sign that promoted introspective identity formation.

On one hand, this is not such a bad thing. One could read this effort as a attempt to get at what someone like Thomas Merton would call “the True Self.” But, I thought that it really doesn’t lead the reader — likely other quickly passing walkers or joggers on the trail like me — in that direction. Instead, the question “Your Job This Lent?” is answered with “Me.”

I think the more challenging and more authentically Christian answer is “WE.”

The focus of the Christianity is community driven. While we are responsible moral agents, we are also members of “The Body of Christ,” which is the Church. No one is a Christian on his or her own, therefore the Church, while it should promote a call to metanoia in the lives of its members, needs to be about asking questions of how are we as a community living up to our call to follow Christ? We do that as one of many, united together in Baptism and the Spirit. As Stanley Hauerwas might suggest, the answer to the “Me” question arises out of the collective discernment of the “who are WE” question.

Just some food for thought.

Photo: Dan Horan, OFM’s phone

5 Responses to “Paved with Good Intentions…A Church Misses the Point”

  1. I’m rendered speechless. It is no doubt a well intended thing, but wow.

  2. Deacon Tom Says:

    As we know, lent is first and foremost a time for PERSONAL conversion through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I’m guessing that’s the intended point of their sign, but apparently they’ve failed to make it clear enough for some. It’s only through personal conversion can we become true disciples of Christ and THEN be able to affect the larger community in a positive way to likewise draw them closer to the One Body of Christ! Peace and happy lent to all!

    • “We must begin by frankly admitting that the first place in which to go looking for the world is not outside us but in ourselves. We are the world. In the deepest ground of our being we remain in metaphysical contact with the whole of that creation in which we are only small parts. Through our senses and our minds, our loves, needs, and desires, we are implicated, without possibility of evasion, in this world of matter and of men, of things and of persons, which not only affect us and change our lives but are also affected and changed by us…The question, then, is not to speculate about how we are to contact the world – as if we were somehow in outer space – but how to validate our relationship, give it a fully honest and human significance, and make it truly productive and worthwhile for our world.“ – Thomas Merton, From Love and Living

  3. Dominic Monti Says:

    I am not sure that the church sign “missed the point,” as you said. It is, after all, a sign to attract notice, not a full theological explication. Lent, is, as Deacon Thomas said, focused on personal conversion and renewal. Just in the RCIA, there may be a group preparing for Baptism, but each person, individually, has to step down into the water and say “I do” to the rebirth offered them. The point you are trying to say is that, “the me God wants me to be” is a person-in-relationship, one who sees him or herself as part of the Body of Christ. Hopefully, the Lenten preaching, as the RCIA instruction, brings that out. But there can be no Christian “we,” unless individual Christan “me”s take stock of themselves and remove the obstacles in the way of God’s new creation. That’s what Lent’s about.

  4. Thanks for all the great reflections here! As I mention in the post, there is a clearly benevolent effort behind the production of this parish’s sign/lenten mission. The point I make, á la “cut off the hand that causes you to sin,” is a hyperbolic emphasis on how “Me-centered” so much of Christian life has become. For so long it has been the stereotypical domain of Evangelical Christianity, but it is found as much in Catholic communities — “me and Jesus” or “me and God.” Yet, when do we discuss how we — the ecclesia, the Body of Christ, the Community of Character — should live the vita evangelica? That is a much more humbling, public and challenging conversation than yet another personal trip down introspective lane.

    All that said, I don’t disagree with the points made above, provided you understand what I’m doing here. I even mention Merton’s notion of “True Self” as a laudable focus of reflection for Lent. But, it is the community that comes first, Body of Christ over (as Paul reminds us) the hands, feet, eyes, etc.

    In a self-centered, consumer-driven culture we don’t need signs or missions focused on “me.” That is already second nature. I still contend that the sign would be better to include “we” as the centerpiece. Who I am as a baptized person is one always, already in relationship.

    A Blessed Lent!

    Peace and good!

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