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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | On being eccentric

Let’s face it, Catholics are strange. We don’t always fit in, having our own culture, devotions, rituals, calendar, social life and even schools. It has always been a myth that Catholics are incompatible with the wider American ethos. Since the founding of our nation, Catholics have been happily participating in civic life and the building up of our nation, but there has always been a sense that we have our own, higher obligations that keep us separate. Which of us hasn’t experienced even these small differences? Which Catholic parent hasn’t had a joke made to them about their large family? Which of us hasn’t felt a moment of awkwardness on a Friday when refusing to eat meat at a dinner party? The examples could easily multiply.

Our religious commitments make us seem eccentric, no matter how discreet we are. This will never change, so we’d better get used to it. The world will always, to some degree, be at odds with Christ. This rearrangement of our priorities will always make us stand out.

This is why I’m secretly pleased when people refer to me as strange or eccentric. I know it’s my faith that has made me this way. Nothing about me personally is all that fascinating. I’m quite boring. It can only be Jesus that marks the difference. I hope you’re pleased, too, when people note how different you are. It’s a sign that your faith is truly shaping your life. The goal isn’t the prideful desire for attention or despising modern life and making a big show of rejecting it, but if it truly is our faith and love for Jesus that makes us odd, then we should be pleased to be odd.

I’ve made it my mission to make the world eccentric. Essentially, it’s a vocation to point out that familiar things are, in fact, amazing. Everything is Christ-shaped, everything a sign of the next life. The Mass creates a unique culture all its own. It’s a miracle before our eyes. Catholic devotion is a recognition that the miracle is ongoing. Life isn’t workaday. It’s an adventure, a heroic journey with dragons and princesses, surrounded by half-wild saints and an inexhaustible treasure at the end of the pilgrimage. Our lives are infused with theological meaning, beheld in the timeless gaze of the divine.

The word eccentric means, “out of center.” Perhaps eccentric people are simply orbiting a different sun, a brighter sun, an elusive light luminous with grace. We respond to that light with love, and lovers rarely care how they look to other people. They only care about the beloved and will gladly seem the fool for the sake of their love. Ultimately, the sources of love are mysterious. We’re powerless to say why we love this person or that thing or why the Catholic faith has enchanted us so, tongue-tied to explain why we are moved by some secret vision that shifts our priorities. We only know Christ and His love that has irrevocably changed us.

Father Michael Rennier is vice-rector of the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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