The Challenge of Working Out a Synthesis

One of the books I am currently reading is Rembert G. Weakland’s, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop. Weakland was the Archbishop of Milwaukee until his resignation in 2002. (Many will remember the circumstances of his resignation and I won’t repeat them here.)

I can’t make any broad statements about the book yet, since I am only about a third of the way through it. But I have thus found it a compelling read and there are many statements that have caused me to pause and reflect.

Weakland was the beneficiary of some extraordinary teachers during his monastic training. In talking about one older professor, Father Maurice Costello, a psychologist who tutored him in reading the works of Freud, Weakland observed that Costello’s “example taught [him] that one should not be afraid of ideas that at first seem contradictory to one’s traditional religious concepts, but to accept the challenge of working out a synthesis.”

Would that more people were taught this lesson! It has been my experience that far too many people react with what can only be described as fear when faced with something that appears to contradict a traditional concept held by them.

Clearly there are contradictory statements that simply cannot be reconciled, out of which no meaningful synthesis can be worked out. But often, the fear that arises when one is faced with something that challenges a deeply held notion makes one see an irreconcilable contradiction where none exists and prevents both growth in one’s own faith and an opportunity to bridge gaps between apparently divisive views. If more would accept the challenge taught by Weakland’s teacher, we would all be the better for it.