Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Extrovert-Introvert Conflict: A Nasty Example

I, like Cathy of Alex, just got This Rock in the mail. It has plenty of good stuff, but I'll concentrate on one of its less, ah, savory bits. A letter (from a parish priest) about an article on the Sign of Peace (an article I have not read), to be exact.

The letter begins:

"I received a copy of This Rock in the mail today. I must admit it was not the way I would normally like to have begun my day, but nonetheless I did read your editorial. I stopped reading when I finished your essay (Reasons for Hope)."

It strikes me as a not-too-diplomatic opening paragraph. We continue to the meaty part:

"You mention in your article about the greeting of peace that 'many people would interpret its omission here as a sign that we don't care about community or peace.' Whether you say or believe that or not, it is clear that it is your understanding about liturgy that is so lacking.

"The fact that many like you are unwilling to simply reach out to those around and offer a simple greeting of peace is truly sad."

Let us stop in mid-paragraph.

Imagine - imagine! - a noted hermit, let us say Anthony of the Desert, designating a pause in the middle of Compline in order to give the kiss of peace to a fellow hermit.

Now imagine St. Francis doing the same.

There, in a nutshell, is the problem.
There are what I called in the title 'introverts,' who are better described by the traditional name of contemplatives. Their religious devotion tends to be turned inwards more than outwards, manifesting itself in long hours of meditation and prayer, often totally alone. I suspect this is more appealing to men than women, as the first hermits were men. In prayer, they are literally alone with God. But this "inner solitude" is a perfectly fine condition for Mass.

And there are those who can be called 'extroverted,' or better, evangelical, tending towards some outwards expression of faith. They feel fine alone, but try to gather a band of companions. They worship God with a lot of noise and action and vigor (think of Francis again, crying for the walls to eat meat on Christmas). They are quite as devout as the contemplatives, only noisier. To such people the Sign of Peace is something that flows out of them.

And then there are those who view the Sign of Peace as an opportunity to shake hands with the priest. These are informally known as "goofballs."

The rest of the letter has little worth. The author accuses the This Rock editor of viewing liturgy as "simply between you and our Lord." He finally asks to unsubscribe from these villains who "seek the Lord in your private 'hands off' manner," who are unaware that every mass-goer is an image of Christ. (I reply: Christ wouldn't sneeze into his hand, then shake hands with me, would he?). He may be right about This Rock and its editors, although I frankly doubt it. However, it all seems like the extrovert blasting the introvert for not getting out and about more.

Now, I note that the conservative sorts of Catholic tend to be "introverts." And liberals - and evangelical Protestants! - tend to be "extroverts." I suspect this underlies the whole Sign of Peace squabble: both sides see it as a shibboleth. The priest I quoted sure does!

And me? I don't like it (introvert, I am, yes, hmm!) but I'll do it if you want. And I'd love to see it at the beginning of mass, if only to give "buffer time" for those who arrive late (my family).

PS. The priest I quoted has a "very large suburban parish." Perhaps the Sign of Peace is a key part of the social life there?

Just kidding! Really, I am!


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