Accepting Ours (and Others) Imperfections

As many people know, I try hard to avoid supporting the industrial agriculture system. I do most of my food shopping in our local co-op, opting for local and non-processed products. We have a CSA farm share (summer and winter). When we buy meat it is directly from local farmers.

Yesterday morning I found myself purchasing a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise in a grocery store. (My co-op, not surprisingly, doesn’t carry that brand). I’ve tried several brands sold in my co-op of canola based or otherwise more virtuous brands than Hellmann’s. But I don’t like any of them. (A mild way of phrasing my reaction to them.) I have tried making my own, but wasn’t happy with the result. I grew up on Hellmann’s and, on those occasions when I want an egg salad or tuna salad, nothing but Hellmann’s satisfies.

One response is to criticize my hypocrisy, saying that if I were true to my beliefs about industrial agriculture I’d avoid Hellmann’s. But in this, and occasionally other ways, I find it too difficult to live perfectly in accordance with those beliefs. So what is the alternative? Giving up the effort to support local farmers, saying if I can’t do it 100% it is not worth doing at all?

It seems to me the far better approach is to do as much as I can to support local farms and accept that there will be some occasions when I act inconsistently with that.

What kind of mayonnaise I eat is obviously not a matter of great importance (especially given the infrequency with which I actually use it). But as I was driving home from the store the incident reminded me of a series of comments I just read on a Facebook post. One person had indicated a view on an issue that another person believed to be inconsistent with Catholic teaching. That second person then posted a comment suggesting if the first person could not act consistent with this position, he should be honest and leave the Catholic Church rather than continue to label himself Catholic.

I hear that sort of thing far too much – the suggestion that if someone disagrees with this or that teaching they should go find another religion and stop calling themselves Catholic.

The question my mayonnaise experience this morning raised for me is this: Should those who believe Catholicism contains the “entire deposit of faith” be so quick to encourage people to leave the Catholic tent? If one believes Catholicism is the way to salvation, isn’t it better for someone to stay in even if they have a disagreement on an issue, rather than encouraging them to leave? Even if someone doesn’t think Catholic is the only or the best, but thinks it is a good and virtuous path, shouldn’t they want others to benefit from all that Catholicism has to offer?

The truth is that, by virtue of our being human, NONE of us are living fully in accordance with Jesus’ teaching. So maybe we ought to focus on doing what we can to encourage each other to live out our faith as best we can, rather than suggesting that others go find another religion.

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Life As Pilgrimage

I just finished reading Rembert Weakland’s A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop. The image of pilgrimage is a central one for Weakland and one that resonates with me.

For Weakland, “the idea of pilgrimage means that perfection in this life is never achieved, only striven for, where the good and bad grow up together till the final judgment that rests, not in human hands, but only in God’s…. Life itself has often been called our earthly pilgrimage on our way to the dwelling place Christ said he had prepared for us.”

The pilgrimage image is a good one, reminding us that conversion is a life-long process. That none of us really, fully and totally gets it all right all of the time during our lifetimes.

Pilgrimage is also a good image because pilgrimages have both an individual and a communal aspect to them. Weakland describes it in this way: “A pilgrimage was the church in miniature: all the pilgrims strove together for a common goal, making many sacrifices on the way, suffering for and with one another, praying together and individually along the way, yearning for places of refreshment and repose, all the while telling stories and sharing wisdom.”

This description sounds very familiar to me from my friend Michael’s description of his pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago this past fall. It reminds us that we don’t undertake this journey alone. That others contribute to our growth and to our journey as we contribute to theirs. Neither they nor we are perfect. Neither they nor we have all the answers. But we manage, in our imperfection, to continue forward in our journey toward union with God.