Do you feel a bit of tension between your “isolationist” instincts and membership in a universal Church, and between your “minimal government” instincts and membership in a hierarchical Church — that is, assuming that these instincts are general feelings?…asks a reader in the combox.

This is a very interesting question, and one which reminds me what a joy it is to be a Catholic.  I feel sure that it is a universal instinct in the human heart to desire two contradictory things. On the one hand we long to belong. We long to fit in with ‘the system’ and have our place in the ‘inner circle’. There is something in the human heart which wants to be part of the gang, the club, the group, the elite, the ‘in’ group. 

On the other hand, like Groucho Marx, we wouldn’t want to belong to any club who would have us as a member. We want to be subversive. We want to be isolationist and give a digital salute to the ‘insiders’ and the ‘elite’. There is something in us which wants to be a monk, an Amish farmer, an anti-establishment pure sort of soul who ‘marches to a different drummer’, ploughs our own furrow and wears the white plume of our own noble way in the world–never compromising our values for a place at high table, and never selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

In spiritual terms we want to be both Benedictines and Franciscans. The Benedictines–who are so part of the establishment–so quiet and balanced and calm and integrated and scholarly and un-radical. But we also want to be wild and crazy and prophetic and do something radical for God like grow a long beard and live in holy poverty and preach to the sultan and the birds and have stigmata and stand barefoot in the snow.

The brilliance, therefore in being a Catholic is that you can have it all. When you join the Catholic Church you belong to the greatest, oldest and most venerable of all establishments. I mean to say, here is a worldwide, organized, institution that has been around since the Roman Empire. Here you belong to the establishment of establishments. You fit into the club. You belong to the gang. You fit into the family. You’re part of a hierarchy for goodness sake, and what can be more established and solid and permanent and ‘respectable’ than that? As a Catholic you belong to the great, big, old one. You’re not alone. You’re a part of the great army, the kingdom of God.

But at the same time you belong to the most subversive, maddening, crazy and unpredictable group the world has ever seen. If you are a faithful Catholic you belong to the group of radicals who undermine the ways of this world and are always at odds with the power struggles, the greed, the violence, the lust of this world. You stand firm for justice in the face of cruelty and greed. You stand for purity in a world of lust and for weakness in the world of power. You will die a martyr in the face of a cruel tyrant with all his armies of the establishment arrayed against you. You will stand with the prophets and radicals and rebels of the world as a proud Catholic–refusing to submit to the idiocy, violence, and mindless mendacity of the powers of hell which are made manifest in the establishments of this world.

So as a Catholic you belong, but you don’t belong. You are in the club, but it is a club of rebels. You belong to the family of subversives and the coterie of prophets. You are one of the elite band of John the Baptists who are a voice crying in the wilderness.

Isolation and Individualism in the Catholic Church are counted by Inclusion and Co-inherence. In the Church all things hold together. There all the opposites unite and complement one another but never contradict. This is where all things are affirmed and nothing good is denied. Here you can be the member of an institution and be a joyful individualist at the same time.

This is something dappled and glory be to God for dappled things.