The Christian ideal will always be a summons to overcome suspicion, habitual mistrust, fear of losing our privacy, all the defensive attitudes which today’s world imposes on us. Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. (Evangelii Gaudium 88)

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine about different Catholic groups and movements that we’ve been apart of when one of us said, “Catholics need to stop being weird.” I have a lot of experience with weird Catholics. I was homeschooled growing up and “being different” was a badge of honor for myself and many in the homeschool group I attended, but it was only after I graduated that realized that maybe being weird wasn’t a positive thing.

Looking back as an adult, I realized that there were some pretty negative attitudes, spiritual disorders, present in the homeschooling community. Now, I wouldn’t change the fact that I was homeschooled and I’m certainly not criticizing all homeschooling families, but I think that these are things that homeschoolers, and other groups that isolate themselves from the wider community, are prone to.

I experienced a real fortress mentality that saw the outside world as bad or something to be afraid of. I mean, this was the reason many Christians chose to homeschool their children. However, this also created a “holier than thou” judgmentalism toward anyone who wasn’t like us. And since homeschooling was legalized only a few years before I started first grade, there was also a victim mentality were we saw ourselves as perpetually oppressed by the secular world. I had to unlearn these things as I made friends in college with people who weren’t like me and I’m still unlearning some of these things now.

This desire to be weird, to isolate ourselves from the world, is a spiritual sickness. I would go so far as to say that if we are look too different from the world around us we undermine our mission to bring about the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis speaks about this directly in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of Love:

“No family can be fruitful if it sees itself as overly different or ‘set apart’….Still, some Christian families, whether because of the language they use, the way they act or treat others, or their constant harping on the same two or three issues, end up being seen as remote and not really a part of the community. Even their relatives feel looked down upon or judged by them” (AL 182).

In other words, simply because a family has twelve kids, they are not fruitful if they make themselves “overly different” from their community. “Even large families are called to make their mark on society, finding other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them” (AL 181). As Christians we are called to be different, but not overly different; set apart, but not too set apart. The Pope illustrates this point by examining the life of Jesus and the Holy Family:

“…we should remember that Jesus’ own family, so full of grace and wisdom, did not appear unusual or different from others. That is why people found it hard to acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom: ‘Where did this man get all this? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ (Mk 6:2-3). ‘Is this not the carpenter’s son?’ (Mt 13: 55). These questions make it clear that theirs was an ordinary family, close to others, a normal part of the community. Jesus did not grow up in a narrow and stifling relationship with Mary and Joseph, but readily interacted with the wider family, the relatives of his parents and their friends. This explains how, on returning from Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could imagine for a whole day that the twelve-year-old Jesus was somewhere in the caravan, listening to people’s stories and sharing their concerns: ‘Supposing him to be in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey’ (Lk 2:44)” (AL 182).

As a parent, it’s really tempting for me to make sheltering my family from the outside world a top priority. There’s a lot out there to be afraid of. But rather than fearing the world, the pope says, “Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others” (AL 181).

We cannot retreat to the shelter of those who look and act like us. We cannot isolate ourselves in our own distinct communities. We cannot be examples of holiness if we make ourselves so different that we’re not approachable. We’re called to be Christ in the world, not simply Christ in our homeschool groups, prayer meetings, and Bible studies. We’re called to be normal. We’re called to stop being so weird.

[Photo Credit: Jonas Verstuyft on Unsplash]

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Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is.  He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation

The Virtue of Not Being Weird

7 Responses

  1. Christopher Lake says:

    My childhood and adolescent upbringing was not Catholic, and, to a large degree, not even Christian. Being unmarried and childless, now, as a middle-aged adult man, I have had little direct experience with the world of Catholic homeschooling. Over many years as a Catholic convert and “revert” though, I definitely have encountered my share of strange thinking and behavior, both among fellow Catholics and Protestants.

    To some degree, in an increasingly secularized Western world, I think that Catholics who are serious about their faith will always be at least slightly “weird.” The Sermon on the Mount is quite weird in a contemporary culture which prizes “looking out for No. 1,” and avoiding virtually any kind of pain, and minimizing personal sacrifice.

    I do get what you mean though. It’s not helpful, in witnessing to the wider world, for Catholics, or Orthodox, or Protestants, to be culturally “weird” in ways that they don’t really need to be (as part of simply living out their faith, I mean).

    With all of this said, sometimes, I feel quite weird among many of my fellow Catholics for liking heavy metal and punk rock music, watching horror movies and arthouse and indie films, and even just having longer hair than most American Catholic men whom I know. Is this a good “weird” or a bad “weird”? I don’t think that God has a problem with it. If I did, I would change.

    More than a few Catholics have a problem with it though. They say that my musical and cinematic tastes are unGodly and even Satanic. I don’t listen to or watch anything that actually promotes Satanism though. If anything, my tastes in music and movies often tend toward works of art which simply take evil seriously as a reality in this world.

    It’s an interesting place to be, when one is “weird,” in an increasingly-secularized culture, due to simply being a practicing Catholic, and also “weird,” among fellow Catholics, for one’s artistic tastes and physical appearance. I don’t think that God objects to my artistic tastes or length of hair though, so I won’t allow the objections of (some, not all!) fellow Catholics to force me into becoming a different person in ways that I don’t need to be.

  2. QED says:

    The world is weird. It almost looks today like the world is insane, judging good as evil and evil as good. This is a world that calls the concept of hell evil but then asks what sort of a good God allows evil. This is a world that stresses how cool science is but accepts that people can mold themselves into any biological category they feel like, and if you disagree you are a bigot. This is a world that calls belief in a traditional theist God superstition but then turns around, prattles about magic crystals, spiritual science and claims to be God. Yes, I seem out of place and am unapologetic about it. Not that I disagree with the general thrust of this piece, but it’s the world that seems too weird today; standing out might be a sign of sanity.

  3. Mit says:

    Can you give examples of what you mean? Isn’t it ‘weird’ to have 12 kids? Isn’t it ‘weird’ to go to Mass every, single Sunday or pray the rosary every night? I have been told by my in-laws that this is, in fact, weird. I’ve been told I’m judgemental by them as well because we canceled a camping trip with them after it became clear that my brother-in-law and his girlfriend were not only planning on sleeping together, but couldn’t keep from drinking too much/making out/grabbing their genitals in front of others. Now, when we canceled, we didn’t say any of this, except that there was behavior that we didn’t want to expose our kids to. I get that there can be a certain immodesty created when a family all wears the same jumpers, but you’re being extremely unclear in what you are talking about. I don’t find my family weird, but many people do. We talk to our neighbors, we vote, we participate in appropriate community events, but we are seen as weird and judgemental still.

    • Paul Fahey says:

      I doubt that the pope has a list of specific actions that he’s criticizing here. Instead I think he’s calling us to reflect on our lives and families. He’s calling us to ask ourselves if we see our families as a fortress or refuge from society? Are we so overly different from our community that we aren’t relatable? Do we isolate ourselves from our community? Are we overly judgmental of people who aren’t like us?

      • Mit says:

        The answer seems to be ‘yes’ though. We don’t use birth control- that is nonsensical to society. Many homeschool- which, again, is very, very strange. Large families get side-eyed. Going to Church every, single Sunday is odd. We don’t believe in scientism.
        These are extremely overt differences that separate us from a majority of society.

        I would even call into question why we wouldn’t want our families to be a refuge from society. I don’t want my kids to question their sexuality. I don’t want them exposed to a majority of tv shows and movies. I don’t want them exposed to porn. I want them to be comfortable talking about God, Catholicism, and Church. None of this seems compatible with modern society.

        Now, I doubt you or the Pope would be in disagreement anything I’m saying (correct me if I’m wrong). In that vein, I still think the language being used is wildly unclear. I appreciate some of the clarification you’ve made (for instance, switching from saying that we are seen as judgmental to are we actually judgmental), yet how are we not supposed to be overly different if our values are so extremely different?

  4. L. Daily says:

    “This desire to be weird, to isolate ourselves from the world, is a spiritual sickness.”

    Very wise. Scrpture makes clear that disciples are consecrated – set apart for a purpose – to be leaven, the hidden catalyst that relates to and raises the whole, not a bunch of anti social weirdos. What should set us apart is nicely summed up in 1 Peter, See how they love one another.

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