No More Catholic Guilt! an encyclical review

Like many outside of the Catholic faith, I am a great admirer of the current pope. Francis was elected upon Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement in 2013. When he chose the name Francis (after the 12th Century Franciscan founder) and wowed the world with his simple, generous lifestyle, many have seen fresh winds of change blowing in Rome. In terms of theology, he is not significantly different from his predecessors. He lacks Benedict’s keen theological acumen (no insult here, Ratzinger is brillant!); however here is a pope who is pastorally sensitive and attentive to those on the margins. If there are indeed winds of change blowing in the Catholic church, it is one of tone.

This is what makes Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) so refreshing (yes I know it has been out a while and I’m late to the party). This is his second encyclical (though his first is regarded as largely Benedict’s work). Reading as an outsider, I hear the importance this pope places on gospel proclamation, that the church and all the faithful are given the missional responsibility of making disciples. He also stresses that the church and its ministers need to be thoughtful about how best to engage in the work of evangelization–that this involves holistic mission and care for the poor, as well as thoughtful ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. While many of his examples (and source material) make the most sense to the Catholic faithful, those of us in the other ‘ecclesial communions’ will also find in Francis an appropriate challenge toward holistic, generous and joyful proclamation.

Much of what Francis says here is rooted in Lumen Gentium (Light of Nations) from the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II.  Francis speaks to the following issues:

a) the reform of the Curch in her missionary outreach;

b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;

c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;

d) the homily and its preparation;

e)the inclusion of the poor in society;

f) peace and dialogue within society

g) the spiritual motivations for missions (17)

These seven topics give shape to the Pope’s discourse (notice that the alleged economic preoccupation of the Pope is couched and made subservient to the larger question of Christian mission). Reading as a Protestant, I found I could affirm much of what is said here. I still have many points of theological contention ( such as the  authority of the pope, differences on ecclesiology and soteriology) but this is such a generous and magnanimous presentation so I don’t much feel like fighting with the pope. As a preaching pastor I especially loved his words about homily preparation (145-159). As an advocate for mission with justice, I think this is a rich resource for us (especially 176-257).

Yet as I said above, what I appreciate most is tone. This is a book about the joy: joy in Christ through the church. Proclamation is not the main papal imperative here. Joyful proclamation is. Francis calls us back to the idea that the gospel–good news!–is joyful:

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is . . .But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness . . . It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17,21-23,26) (paragraph 6).

I have heard too many ex-Catholics bemoan their Catholic guilt. I have heard far too much from somber saints. How nice to hear a robust ode to Catholic Joy! Well done Papa Frank! 5 Stars

Notice of material connection: I recieved this free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review!

I AM AN INTROVERT!!?: a book review

I just finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and while I was reading I loved to talk to everyone about how introverted I am. I mean everyone: family, friends, co-workers, complete strangers. Anybody and everybody.  And not many of them believed me either. After all, in any given group, I am easily the most obnoxious person in the room. I am boisterously social, and love public speaking. These are not really introverted traits.  On the other hand I can just as easily pass up social gatherings for a quiet night reading, I am highly self reflective  and love listening to people’s stories. I have a little of both in me.

Cain’s term for someone who is both and extrovert and an introvert is ambivert. I am not sure that, that describes me, but extroversion and introversion exist on a continuum. You will not find a pure extrovert or introvert; yet we have our tendencies toward either pole. In Quiet, Cain draws on a broad range of research  about introversion. She describes in these pages the “man of contemplation” (which contrasts with the extrovert, “man of action”).   In praise of introverts, she describes the gifts introverts bring to the table in a world that often holds up the charismatic extrovert up as the ideal.

Cain describes this ideal of extroversion as a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the likes of Dale Carnegie, self help guru of public speaking and author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, the self-help section of your bookstore had more to do with character development. Today positive,  gregarious  go-getters (i.e. Tony Robbins) help you get ahead in life and “be successful,” often dispensing advice on relationships and public speaking.  However  this growing cultural preference for extroversion overlooks what introverts bring to the table.  Independent thinkers who work alone come up with technological breakthroughs; think tanks produce group think.  This isn’t to say that introverts do not need extroverts to help them get their ideas across, but sometimes the creative process demands a more singular vision than a communal process allows.

In part two Cain describes the biological and psychological factors which make extroverts extroverts and introverts introverts. Children who are hypersensitive to outside stimuli tend to grow up to be more introverted .  However temperament is not destiny and introverts can function highly in a variety of jobs which are traditionally seen as more extroverted roles (i.e. sales, public speakers, etc.) That isn’t to say that these “roles” do not take their tole on introverts but by providing space in their schedule for introverts to ‘recharge,’ they are able to take on roles and functions which serve them in pursuing their passions.

In part three of this book, Cain examines the Asian-American experience as an example of a culture who’s ideal is not extroversion. She tells the stories of various first and second generation Asian-Americans and their struggle to navigate  America’s extroverted culture (especially in regard to academics and business).

In her final section, Cain turns her attention to how extroverts and introverts relate to one another, when and how much introverts should act more extroverted,  and how to cultivate and challenge quieter kids in their development.

This book was great throughout. Susan Cain makes a compelling case that introverts bring essential gifts to the table. In one section of the book she describes how risk-adverse  introverts knew that the crash of 2008  was coming while the extroverted “Men of Action” charged on full speed ahead.  The introverts had thoughtfully weighed the evidence while the extroverts didn’t stop to think. But there voice wasn’t heard because they didn’t assert themselves the way extroverts do. Clearly we need the gifts of both extroverts and introverts in our communities.She also talks to introverts about managing social anxiety and fear of public speaking.  Cain has had to face her own fears of public speaking but with practice and preparation she has become more comfortable and successful at it.

Cain offers her book to introverts and those who love someone who is an  introvert. Certainly that describes us all. However I liked this book because it helped me get in touch with aspects of my character which are more introverted. Even if I’m still the most obnoxious person in the room, I give this book 5 stars ★★★★★

Thank you to Random House for providing me acopy of this book through the Water Brook Multnomah Blogging for Books program. This is my honest review.