The Sin of Elitism

Jean Vanier (in From Brokenness to Community) writes that “elitism is the sickness of us all.” At first blush, I was taken back by the line when I came across it. I’m not an elitist was my immediate reaction, as I suspect it would be for many people reading the line.

His next line, however, opened my understanding. “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team.” Whatever our reaction to his first sentence, I suspect few of us could deny the truth of the second sentence. Who doesn’t want to be one of the winners?

But, of course, once there is a winning team, there is a losing team, as to which the winning team is superior. Once there is an insider, there is a outsider who doesn’t belong. And so on. Hence, Vanier’s continuation of his thought. “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is the heart of apartheid and every form of racism.”

Vanier wrote those lines from the recognition of the “immense forces of darkness and hatred” within his own heart. And he recognized the need to acknowledge their existence, to not pretend none of that “garbage” exists within us. He continues, “The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside.”


Here Comes Everybody

There have been a lot of articles and other posts over the course of the last week relating to the decision of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to appoint a bishop to exercise oversight over reforms of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The CDF accuses the LCWR of “radical feminism” and “corporate dissent.”

Not surprisingly, given the breadth of views within the Catholic Church, there are some who defend the action of the CDF and others who have expressed vehement criticism of the action.

One reaction caused me to pause longer than others. One of my Facebook friends wrote, “These men are not the Church.”

As phrased, that is simply wrong. That is to say, the CDF alone is not the Church, none of us individually is. But a lot of people and groups fall under this large tent that is the Catholic Church. The parish I left at the end of this past year because it no longer spiritually nourished me, as well as the parish I joined. The people who share my vision of what Catholic social teaching says and the people who have a different understanding of what it means. The CDF and the rest of the institutional hierarchy and every individual Catholic – whether they go regularly to Mass or not. The people who say things that make me want to join hands and walk with them and the people who say things that make me want to cringe. We are ALL the Church.

It upsets me when “conservative” (for lack of a better description) want to tell me I’m not the Church, suggesting I go elsewhere if I disagree with them. It upsets me equally when those at the opposite end of the spectrum suggest that those with whom they disagree are not the Church.

There is something to James Joyce’ description of the Catholic Church as “Here Comes Everybody,” an acknowledgement of the variety of people that make up the Church. An essential aspect of Catholicism is precisely that. I think we would all be better off if people were less quick to suggest that anybody is not part of everybody.