“Amid the Fray” is a curious sort of title for a column, don’t you think?
It seems a bit warlike, which is not really my intent. Rather, it is to suggest that we find ourselves at this moment — as perhaps at most moments — in the midst of many struggles.
Some of them are within our own hearts and minds. We struggle to do what is right and avoid evil, with varying degrees of success at any moment.
“I am a sinner,” Pope Francis said by way of self-description in 2013. “As are we all,” we can honestly respond in unison.
I’ve been a Catholic all my life, if not always a good Catholic. I’ve been a parent for 28 years, if not always a good parent. I’ve been a husband for 34 years, if not always a good husband. Like you, I’ll bet, I’m a work in progress.
We grapple with temptation. We look but don’t touch. We touch but feel shame. We make resolutions and we break resolutions. It is an arduous path we are all on if we strive to become better, and the trail has its peaks and valleys.
We also struggle to know what choices to make in our work, family and community worlds. In one scene in the film “Freaky Friday” that every parent can relate to, the mother calls out to her wayward daughter as she heads off to class: “Make good choices!”
As we get older, the choices are often complex. What’s good is unclear. We struggle with doubts. There are a blessed few of us who see everything in magnificent black and white.
My kids used to call the old Laurel and Hardy films I showed them “gray” films. Where some see black and white, many of the rest of us, as parents, as priests, as employees, as managers, are likely over time to see gray.
This search for the right path is a struggle. We toss about at 3 a.m., wondering if we did the right thing, praying that we did the right thing, fearing we did not. We tell ourselves to trust in God, and to “be not afraid.” But we often trust too little and fear too much.
And of course we are inevitably caught up in the struggle of the fiercely competing social messages and movements of modern life. As Catholics, we claim allegiance to a church that has no permanent home in American society.
We are labeled conservative by some and liberal by others. Because of our Catholic beliefs, we find ourselves “cafeteria voters,” picking and choosing elements here and there that we can support, but also finding much that we are uncomfortable with on either side of the red-blue divide.
We are “strangers in a strange land,” to use the remarkable phrasing of Exodus. As true as it was in the time of Moses, so is it true today. It is a most discomfiting feeling, and it is part of the struggle that surrounds us and engages us.
How do we as Catholics live our faith in a society that at times seems so heedless of our values? How do we raise children in such a society? Do we run away or do we engage?
So the fray is within and without. It is really what the Gospels are all about, and it is what I’ll be writing about in the weeks and months ahead. I look forward to sharing these dispatches from the front lines, and I look forward to hearing from you as well.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.