Recently a certain American Catholic bishop, who shall remain nameless, was characterized by a seasoned priest I know as “a man who loves order more than people.”
It certainly wasn’t meant as a compliment, but believe it or not, he made the remark more in sorrow than in bitterness, as part of a general lament about what life has come to in the United States.
In the U.S. we are very attached to order, and most of the time it is to our credit. The mail gets delivered. The fire department comes when called. You can get those grapefruit and chewable vitamins you need from your neighborhood grocery.
The human mess
But the desire for tidiness in our affairs can collide with the messy world of human relationships. A quick credit card dip at the gas pump is no problem. But if I have to stroll inside to interact with the attendant, a whole range of possibilities unrolls on the horizon. Will I have to wait while others are slow- Will he have an accent difficult to decipher- There could be mistakes on my part or hers, resentment if one of us is better off, inane small talk, the silent treatment, the appearance of prejudice in the interaction, an unwelcome (or welcome) flirtation.
Who doesn’t begin to think: why risk dealing with another human being if you don’t have to-
The heart of the matter
Clearly it’s no big deal to avoid company at the gas pump, but adhering to this as a life pattern retards our development as people. Our lives become orderly but dreary. I am in complete control, and that ain’t good.
It is actually in the complicated interactions with friends, colleagues, strangers, that we learn how to get along, how to be more patient and caring, how to be forgiving, gracious, and just plain more human. We get to be better people.
Look at my ouchie
In the Bible stories of Jesus after his resurrection, he frequently appears to his disciples in their hideout, that locked upper room. They are cowering in fear, and suddenly Jesus appears saying, like some aging hippie, “Peace!” Then something really weird happens. In many of the stories he shows them his wounds from the Cross-the nail marks, the spear wound in his side.
The only way to really live is to escape the prison of fear, face the pain, and see it transformed by the power of the Living God.
Of course, to do that the disciples-and we-have to get out of the hideout, the upper room. I wonder what our hideouts are-the office, a -veneer of cool,’ workaholism, shyness, the computer, the TV, the gym-
Whatever they are, we can’t dwell in the land of artificial order; each of us has to move into the mess of human experience, the painful places where people interact, hurt each other, forgive, and learn.
Lead us not into temptation
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Because order is tempting. It’s nice. It’s why a lot of us would rather watch television “Friends” than go and be with the complicated real things.
But human beings weren’t made for order. We were made for love. For service. And love-giving of ourselves for another’s good in mutuality-and service-giving of ourselves for the common good-these are what make us unique, what make us noble, what make us-now and then-the very best of God’s creatures.