The Personalist Project

As I may have hinted (here and here and here and here), I’m partial to Pope Francis.  I defend him when he rubs my friends the wrong way.  Some people, it seems, get defensive precisely when we ought to sit up and pay attention. 

Some things he says do make me squirm, make me shrink into my seat and mutter “Busted!”  He has a disquieting way of suggesting that "weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness" (Evangelii Gaudium, 263) can be just as poisonous as more barefaced sins of perversion or violence. 

So I like to think of myself as an objective observer, qualified to correct the misguided.

But now I have new empathy for everyone who's been so bent out of shape all year.  This time he’s gone too far. 

He’s trying to turn us all into extroverts. 

Take a look at what I found in Evangelii Gaudium this week (emphasis mine):

To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. … When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind [ouch!], we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. (261)

And this:

Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others …(270)

Then he adds insult to injury.  We're supposed to enjoy it:

 But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.

And also:

Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. (270)

I keep looking for that elusive footnote, the one that says “These words, of course, are addressed solely to extroverts: those who draw strength from being with other people, who are energized, not drained, by the companionship of their fellow human beings.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I object to going out to the peripheries, or assoicating with the poorest of the poor.  That’s all fine.  It’s the socializing that gets me, the incessant need to deal with people at all.  If anything, it’s the more presentable specimens of humanity that are most daunting.

I do understand that a mother of eight can’t plausibly claim a hermit’s vocation, but surely Papa Francisco needs to draw some distinctions here.

I have theological reasons for an Introvert's Exemption, too.  When I became Catholic in the late 70s, the “horizontal dimension” of the Faith was all the rage. 

The Mass wasn’t a sacrifice; it was just a meal, and the really special thing about it was that we were all sitting down together.  Yes, the Creed began with “I believe,” but somebody had blithely translated that as "we believe" anyway, because the horizontal dimension needed attention.

Knowing the truth about God and obeying the commandments were all right if you liked that sort of thing, but the point was to reach out ("horizontally") to each other. Pope Francis hadn't arrived yet to explain that he Church wasn't supposed to be an NGO.  (Not that earlier popes thought it was, but their message hadn't trickled down yet.) Attention to truth was just a distraction from what really mattered: us.


So clearly all this talk about being close to people, entering into their lives, and sharing their joys and sorrows not only doesn't apply to introverts, it's just 70s-redux--the heresy of horizontalism, you might call it.  It doesn't apply to anyone! We're all off the hook!

Or am I missing something?

Comments (4)


#1, Jun 12, 2014 5:51am

L'enfer, c'est les autres... ? philosophes Textes/Sartre_L'EnferC'EstLesAutres.htm

Devra Torres

#2, Jun 12, 2014 12:28pm

Jos, that's hilarious, because I almost entitled this "Hell isn't other people, but..." because I'm not really a misanthrope or a recluse, or even the depressing kind of existentialist, just an introvert.

The whole "horizontal" craze that was going on in the seventies was kind of a counterfeit of personalism--it appeared to be focusing attention on the dignity of the person, but without any respect for the truth about the person or the existence of human nature.


#3, Jun 12, 2014 12:53pm


Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jun 13, 2014 1:14pm

Dittoes from a fellow introvert, Devra.

Reading Evangelii Gaudiam was an emotional roller coaster for me. I kept swinging from, "Yes, exactly!" to "Wait, give me a break, here!"

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