Asking for feedback
At the end of the school year, I gave a few of the older grades a survey to find out how I could better teach them next year. I asked what they thought of the class – what did you like? Not like? How can I make things better? Those are always dangerous questions, especially when they are asked of junior highers. I wanted it to be anonymous, and their honest answers weren’t always civil.
At the very end of the survey, I asked a wrap-up question: is there anything else they wanted to say to me? Anything they thought would make the class better? And I was surprised at how similar many of their answers were. Many of them simply wrote, “Be yourself.”
How can I “Be Myself?”
This made me wonder, “Which self are they talking about?” The self that got frustrated and barked at them when they weren’t listening? The self that apologized for barking? The self that cracked jokes? The self that opened up about my faith? I can only assume they meant all of it – the whole package.
It seems like an odd answer, but maybe it isn’t. Now more than ever, we are capable of hiding our true selves from one another. We can post all the best aspects of our lives on Facebook or Instagram. Or when we do share the difficult stuff in our lives, it can be through the filter of a text instead of the kind of stream-of-consciousness explanation we’d give a friend sitting right in front of us. I find I keep away from real conversations a lot more now. I don’t know what I’ll say that might betray something about me the listener won’t like. It’s easier not to try.
But I lose something in that. It’s the eternal struggle between the optimist and the pessimist in us. If you are yourself in front of people, they may not like what they see. On the other hand, if you are yourself in front of people you may find a few who really, really like what they see. And as Victor Hugo put it, what greater happiness is there in life than being loved for who we actually are?
The Catholic Church is always Herself
In a way, the Catholic church finds herself in the same position today. She, in every parish community and every individual Catholic, has a decision to make: be herself and possibly lose the world, or be whatever the world wants her to be, draw the world in, but lose her identity. “If only the Catholic church would stop being so against birth control/abortion/gay rights/euthanasia! How progressive she would be! Such power she would have! Such influence!” This is the cry of the world.
We see this a little bit in the person of Pope Francis. I’m as big a fan of Pope Francis as nearly everyone else in the world, but what intrigues me is specifically why the media fawns over him so much but not over the previous pontiff. If we’re honest, it’s because he focuses more on universal ills everyone agrees are universal ills instead of bringing up issues people find distasteful—like the church’s stance on those hot-button issues mentioned above. The world has gotten a breather with Pope Francis. His homilies focus on the progressive and important issues they care about, like income inequality and the caring for refugees, and less on the issues they never agreed with the Catholic Church on to begin with—and possibly never will.
But being the Catholic Church means holding on to one without letting go of the other. Of course we care about income inequality. Of course we care about the state of refugees. But we can’t care about the well-being of people outside a mother’s womb and not about the ones inside them. We can’t hold up the infinite value of the individual and then say the death penalty and euthanasia are perfectly fine.
And something in me tells me that for all the world’s protest against the Catholic Church for being backward on so many issues, if the world lost the church, or kept only the empty ritualistic shell of her former self, the world would miss her. It would be like having a robot living in your home that looked like your mother, had all the mannerisms of your mother, but always agreed with you on every last detail of your life. Would it really be your mother? Could it ever be the same or even feel the same?
One of the reasons I believe in Catholicism is because, just like the rest of the world, I don’t find all her teachings tasteful. She argues with me, and sometimes I argue back. She tells me to do things I don’t want to do because she feels she knows what is best for me. And much more often than not, as I obey, I see the wisdom in her insistence. One of the surest signs that you’re being conned or dealing with a salesman is their extreme affability. They butter you up in just the right way. They stroke your ego and always make you feel good about yourself, even if you are a heartless murdering psychopath. They just want you to buy the product. That is not the Catholic Church, thank God!
I guess I’m more like my students that I know. However different she is than me, I want the Catholic Church to be herself.
© 2018 Jon Holowaty
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