Positive and Negative Thinking on the Ordinariates
August 11, 2012 8 Comments
I think I have begun to identify a problem of understanding between my way of writing and some of my readers – that is the sacrosanct dogma of “being positive”. I am not an American, but deeply a European. We might seem to be a dour people, but one that has learned to cope with adversity.
This is particularly brought home to me by a couple of readers who find my postings “depressing to the point of despair”. “It seems to me you’re a man with a broken heart”. I don’t have that impression myself – for as long as I am able to marvel in beautiful things and see good where good is to be seen. Those are my landmarks like the things like lighthouses and church steeples that guide navigators at sea.
I have read one or two things about psychology and about having to avoid negative thinking, lest it should become self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep it positive, and nothing will ever go wrong in life! Never say a negative word about the ordinariates or some other form of conversion of Anglicans to Roman Catholicism, because a depressing word from one will ruin everything for all. I have noticed how those who said a word out of place on the blogs would be shot down. I have often wondered where this tyranny was coming from.
Some researchers in psychology are sceptical about cultivating a belief in guaranteed success and anything being possible on the basis of that. It is the same kind of Manichaeism as those who are constantly fighting their shadow or “dark side”. Jung emphasised the need rather to “integrate” and reconcile the opposites, including good and evil. Such an idea is hardly to be found with the positive thinkers.
No amount of wishing away negativity or bad experience or disappointment will make it go away. I see a rock in front of my boat, and I could believe it would go away if I thought hard enough that it shouldn’t be there. It is simpler to steer away from the rock and save the boat. That rock exists, and has an objective existence independently from our wishes and beliefs. If the boat is dashed on the rock, it will sink.
The ancients understood the need to balance optimism with pessimism, the positive with the negative, with an openness to failure and uncertainty. The Stoics advised anticipating the worst. I remember that being drummed into me when I learned to drive a car. Anticipate the worst in every situation, and you will have fewer accidents that way. Anticipating the worst makes us sober and prepare us for coping with adversity. Recognising the fact that we can lose all we have makes us all the more grateful, and makes life liveable if the worst happens independently of our own thinking.
I have the impression that positive thinking is an effort of the will to stamp out realism and negativity. The positive thinker has to maintain the effort, lest anything negative should creep in and spoil his day. If you eliminate the word “failure” from your horizon, then you will simply be unprepared for when failure happens.
The ordinariates (as this subject absolutely has to be discussed and repeated for the bloggers to be remotely interested in anything) may be a resounding success for some, but are an abject failure for others. This is a dimension that just hasn’t been considered. They were successful for some, so the negative naysayers had to be “shot down” and banished to inexistence. This seems to be about the nerve of the problem, but don’t expect sober reality to get the upper hand anywhere.
I am not concerned for those who have succeeded, and who presumably will never have to face failure and adversity in the future. I write for those whose spiritual and ecclesial life has been ruined by the division of the TAC into “ordinariate spare parts” and smarting wounds in the silence that does not dare to speak up.
Man is at his best when he is struggling to make a new beginning after defeat or when adversity strikes. I believe this is the essential difference between Europeans and Americans, though this is changing with the crumbling of certitudes, security and what was believed only a short time ago to be invincible.
Christianity itself is changing, and can only survive in today’s world by becoming as bloody-minded and intolerant as Islam or turning to spirituality and the revival of prayer and simple living. Institutional Christianity and Catholicism will just not survive these changes. Only, the notion of “church” has to change and will change. That seems to me to be the reality that we prepare for, as infallible popes and magisteriums and all the other ideologies of the apologists fall into irrelevance. That side is over, a fact that will become obvious to Americans in a short time. Over here in Europe, the game is over. Institutionally, the future is dystopia in one way or another – secularism and political correctness. Even Islam will succumb. Spiritually, we are about to be purified as gold in the crucible.
That is what we have to prepare for – living in the brave new world without becoming “of it”.
To the above, adds Deborah Gyapong:
Well. As usual a most interesting post from Fr. Chadwick.
Here are some of my thoughts. I am not at all opposed to realistic and disinterested analysis of what has happened to the Traditional Anglican Communion in the process of Ordinariate formation or in what is going on, either negative or positive, concerning the Ordinariates themselves.
However, I am suspicious of politics and power plays and spin, because there are definitely people who have a pro or anti agenda on the Ordinariates, the Catholic Church, or various personalities. For example, there were people in the TAC who were pro-Ordinariate but anti-Archbishop John Hepworth. I myself was pro-Ordinariate and pro-Hepworth and still am. Thus I will not allow comments on this site that I consider to be unjust attacks on him. I will permit criticism that seems to me to be factual and dispassionate.
Now there are those in the United States who are pro-Ordinariate but apparently anti-Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson. I am pro-Ordinariate and pro-Steenson because I have no reason from our experience of him in Canada not to be. I also believe in the virtue of loyalty that one owes those in authority by virtue of their office. But that is not a blank cheque and fair assessments and constructive criticism are within bounds.
I also wonder whether some who have decided against the Ordinariates are behaving a bit like the fox in Aesop’s fable about the sour grapes. The fox could not jump high enough for the grapes that were hanging out of reach so he abandoned his attempts and consoled himself by saying the grapes were sour. Thus, those who were once pro-unity and pro-Anglicanorum coetibus have found that they may have to lay aside their priesthood or their marriage after divorce and instead of submitting to those requirements find it easier to focus on the negative in the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, if you want to focus on the negative, there is lots to see. It’s much harder, and in fact might require divine help as it did in my case, to see the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded, a sacrament in her outward institutional form, made up of saints and sinners.
That said, however, there are people like Fr. Chadwick, who are in countries where no Ordinariates are not even on offer and many others who have been terribly hurt by the way the whole process has been handled.
The whole process has been extraordinarily painful, there is no denying that.
Yet one can be realistic about wrongs and harms and at the same time choose to be forgiving, to overcome bitterness, to resist the temptation to be permanently disgruntled and prone to a critical spirit.
It was interesting to be away from my little Anglican Use Catholic community and attend Roman Catholic parishes in California to fulfill my Sunday obligation.
I could bewail the fact that in both parishes, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion abounded, that the piano player in one had no musicality and banged out some of the praise choruses that are parodied on conservative Catholic blogs and so on. I could nitpick about this or that. But I choose to focus on what was good and beautiful —is that denial? I don’t think so—-and I was amply blessed by the the Liturgy of the Word, the homilies, and the simple graciousness and loving welcome of my Catholic brothers and sisters.
I am not afraid that a “depressing word” will ruin everything, but I am leery of a steady diet of depressing words that indicate someone chooses to remain bitter, disgruntled, complaining and perhaps deliberately willing to sabotage.