Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, March 26, 2007

When Bad Trees Bear Good Fruit

We hear quite often the "by their fruit shall ye know them" quote. However, I've had cause to think a bit about it the last few months as I worked through the clean-up stages of having done a fair amount of work for a medium-size Catholic apostolate on a business footing. I'd never worked for a Catholic organization other than a school or parish before, and it was in some ways a disillusioning experience, in other ways perhaps an eye-opening one.

One thing it made me rather conscious of is that few people or organizations produce only one variety and quality of fruit.

What is one to make of an apostolate that on the one hand a number of people have credited with providing spirituality and apologetics resources that have helped them grow in their faith, and on the other hand seems to have an internal culture in which bullying, rudeness and systematic attempts to take squeeze both employees and volunteers dry while paying the minimum possible seem systemic? (NB: I try to keep my business and blogging lives very separate, and I don't want to commit detraction, so any comments naming the organizations I'm talking about will be deleted. I'm trying to get at the general principle here, not throw stones.)

When I first ran into this, I went through a stage of serious disillusionment, thinking that whatever apparent good this organization might be doing was illusory, perhaps even inherently corrupted. (How seriously can you take apologetics written by someone who just chewed you out in now uncertain terms a few days before?)

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that at least some of the benefits that people were getting from this apostolate were very real. And as I absorbed that, it clicked in some way with the rest of life.

After all, most of us got used quite a while ago to the idea that the people around us in our families, parishes, schools, etc. are not strict black hat/white hat characters. This should be something especially clear to us as Catholics, seeing people as neither elect vs. damned nor universally and totally corrupt, but with some covered with the snow of Christ's salvation. Rather, nearly all who die in a state of grace will require some purgation after death before being ready to enter into the heavenly union with The Good.

Still, I found, at least in myself, a certain expectation that Catholic organizations would be either "good" or "bad". Either "of the Church" or clearly not. So my initial reaction on disillusionment was that it should be trumpeted from the housetops: "These guys seem like a great ministry, but they're all jerks. There's probably something wrong with what they're saying too."

But I didn't, since that would be impolite, and also bad for business.

And after a while, I realized that most organization are heavy on warts just like people. The fact that an organization appears to have good fruits (whether it's a parish with beautiful liturgy or a publisher with wonderful books or a school with a very orthodox theology department) doesn't mean that it doesn't also have its share of faults -- and the possession of the faults, in turn, does not mean that the other value one finds in them is illusory.


Anonymous said...

You've pretty much described the seminary experience.

Fred said...

Balthasar says the one inflexible rule of the Christian life is: greater action should always be rooted in greater contemplation.

Most religious workplaces seriously underestimate the need for formation and prayer. On the other hand, secular workplaces ignore it entirely.