“Staggering friendliness.” That’s how one reporter described his encounter with People of Praise, the apostolic community that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and her family belong to. I’ve always heard wonderful things about Barrett, knowing more than a few people who teach or have studied at the University of Notre Dame, where Barrett attended school.
And yet, I just finished reading a piece that used the word “sinister” in association with People of Praise. Evidently because we no longer have the capacity as a people to recognize that there was a world before Margaret Atwood novels. The use of the word “handmaid” now has to be about “The Handmaid’s Tale” instead of about the greatest of the Christian apostles, Mary. Some Catholics pray to the mother of Jesus every evening. This is Christianity 101. But many of us in the current culture never took that class.
Of course, I understand why Christian life in practice can seem so exotic. If you have no knowledge of or experience of Christianity, it may sound a lot like fights over abortion, more an ideology or a political platform than a way of life. So I apologize on behalf of some of us Christians who aren’t always overwhelming the world with love, when that’s our mission!
There are the Sisters of Life, for instance. They are wildly talented women who were doctors, nurses, engineers, and at least one astrophysicist and a Columbia University psychiatry professor. They each have humbly and completely given their lives to Christ. They help women considering abortions to choose life, providing assistance and even living quarters in some cases. They also help women to heal after abortion. This work has put them in the forefront of the culture wars, even to the point of a lengthy court battle with the Obama administration. Their weapons are the virtues. They love. They look at people with a bit of the love God has for them. They know each man and woman on the streets they meet was made in the image and likeness of God, chosen to be on this Earth for a purpose. This is what Christianity is!
Many on the left think that religion is all fine and good if it stays politely within the confines of Sunday morning, but that it becomes objectionable if it dictates how you actually live your life. We’ve seen this in the Democrats’ suspicion and outright hostility to Coney Barrett’s nomination. But we must remember that real religious freedom is not mere freedom of worship — it’s the freedom to practice your faith and live by its rules.
So how do we untie the knots? How do we live in this mess as people of integrity, who live our faiths loudly in the world? We form intentional communities, for one.
During the vice-presidential debate, Mike Pence was right to call out Kamala Harris on her grilling of a judicial nominee over his membership in the Knights of Columbus. There is an alarmingly mainstream hostility to concrete faith. That’s what we are seeing in the bewilderment about the Barrett family and People of Praise. Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation — there are many movements and ministries in the Catholic faith, and Christianity more broadly. These groups are about people choosing to walk together in faith. They show us the way. We need more, not fewer, people committed to truly living the Christian life. If you don’t believe the dogma, there’s still something in it for you, from a societal standpoint. Staggering friendliness has its benefits.