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.
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.