Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi

IN EXILE

January 17, 2005

Canadian theologian Michael Higgins recently made this observation. At the upcoming Academy Awards, two movies will take centre stage, Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

What's interesting about this, Higgins notes, is that, different as they are from each other, both Gibson and Moore are Roman Catholics, each in his own way very committed to what Catholicism means to him. The secular press has quickly marginalized this, calling Gibson an extreme, right-wing Catholic, on the theological edges of mainstream Catholicism, and simplistically labelling Moore a secular liberal.

This, as Higgins rightly points out, is not exactly the case: Mel Gibson, whether you like him or not, is not so easily categorized, marginalized and seen as a maverick on the fringe.

Likewise for Moore: Like him or hate him, he is not a secular liberal, but a Catholic coming out of the tradition of social justice of Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan and Thomas Merton. He may well push the political envelope further than they did, but what drives him are his Catholic roots and the social justice tradition he inhaled there.

I highlight this because there is something significant (and wonderful) in the fact that both Gibson and Moore claim the same faith allegiance, derive their inspiration from the same source and worship in the same Church. That's a stretch, but, that's the point – Catholicism is meant to be a stretch, a huge one, taking us where we would rather not go, beyond our comfort zone, beyond our own kind, beyond the like-minded.

Jesus said: "In my father's house there are many rooms!" That's also meant to be a description, at least ideally, of Christianity, Catholicism, the Church, and our theological and ideological embrace. A healthy faith community, a healthy Church, and a healthy theological community should find enough room for both Mel Gibson and Michael Moore.

Almost every year I attend a religious education congress in Anaheim, Calif. It's always an uplifting, faith-filled event within which more than 30,000 Christians come together to reflect on and celebrate their faith.

One little sub-theme there that I've always enjoyed is the placing of some of the book displays in the pavilion. Invariably you find, side by side, the booths for the Catholic Worker and Ignatius Press. They're miles apart ideologically (Michael Moore would shop at the former, Mel Gibson at the latter) yet here they are,in the same faith event, both representing something important in the same tradition, neither bent on excluding the other.

There's something important to be learned from this, and not just for Roman Catholics. We cannot build either a society or a Church with just liberals or just conservatives. To build community, we need to work with more than just those who are like-minded. Any community or Church built with just the like-minded is not worth belonging to because it reflects neither what's best inside the human spirit nor, for those of us who are Christians, the inclusive embrace of Christ. A healthy society and a healthy Church includes both the Mel Gibsons and the Michael Moores and everyone in between.

But that doesn't come naturally. What does come naturally is the proclivity to huddle together in fear and like-mindedness, like the disciples before Pentecost, barricaded behind a locked door with our own kind – paranoid, suspicious of all who are not of our own mind. Not that all of this is bad.

Sometimes we need nurturing and healing inside a more intentional community so hearts and nerves that have been frayed by division within family, community and Church have a chance to be more gently massaged and nurtured. Intentional community of this sort, in essence, is the "upper room" the early Church retired to, in pain and fear, as it waited for Pentecost.

But it didn't stay there forever. Indeed, no real community was formed in that room. They huddled together for awhile for a purpose, in fear, in loneliness, consoling each other within a certain fragility; but when they finally felt the real power of God's spirit, they burst out of those narrow confines. Their narrowness and fear gave way to an inclusivity and a courage which enabled them to speak different languages, languages of both the left and the right, languages of both the liberal and the conservative, languages that both Mel Gibson and Michael Moore could hear and take to heart.

(Website: www.ronrolheiser.com)