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Are you eccentric? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

Penguin sticks out in colony

Jeremy Richards | Shutterstock

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 04/14/24

The strange rhythms dictated by a life of faith set Catholics apart from the rest of society and make us realize that we are, indeed, a bunch of eccentrics.

Even though I know I’m secretly boring, I’m often accused of being an eccentric. I take the charge as a compliment because, to me, it means I’m being authentically myself and not following the crowd. I admit that, when I was younger, I would purposely behave in eccentric ways because I relished being thought of as quirky and odd. It was immature and, for the most part, I’ve managed to leave behind the desire to be odd simply for the sake of garnering attention.

Nevertheless, I’m still considered eccentric. Hopefully you are, too. I’m proud of the designation because, nowadays, the accusation can be more-or-less summarized as I’m a papist, monarchist aesthete who doesn’t understand basic things like texting and thinks living as a lazy gentleman farmer would be the bees knees. In other words, the eccentricity is connected to a certain worldview that has been imparted to me by my Christian faith.

Called to live our best lives

Catholics are considered eccentric just for being ourselves and living our best life. Perhaps we’ve always been odd ducks, with our strange rituals and untamed saints, but our counter-culturalism stands out starkly in the current era.

Ideally at least, everything Catholics do should set us apart. Our large families cause a commotion at the supermarket as folks marvel at our clan all lined up at the checkout. We don’t eat meat on Fridays and some days of the year, such as Good Friday, barely eat anything at all. Many of us homeschool our kids or send them to parochial schools. We have religious commitments that set us at odds with pretty much all politicians (of both major parties).

Faith that shapes life

As Catholics, we are called to take the long view, living more for the next life than this one. That is why we give our time and money away to our parishes with no expectation of a return. I can’t prove this, but suspect that more than a few of the powerful, upwardly mobile crowd quietly laugh about how strange and impractical we are. That’s okay with me, though, because I often I laugh at myself. It’s delightful to be Catholic.

It isn’t that we pridefully desire attention or despise modern life and make a big show of rejecting it. It’s simply that our faith shapes the entirety of our lives. The source of our worldview doesn’t arise from this world at all, but from an entirely different one. Being considered odd because of our faith should therefore please us. We can even laugh about it a little bit.

A different rhythm

This past Triduum, I found myself grinning more than usual. I noticed on my drive to Holy Thursday Mass that the highways were experiencing rush-hour as usual. My family had taken most of Holy Week off. Various work, school activities, and extracurriculars had been canceled, but the rest of the world was driving around frantically as usual. On Good Friday, my drive took me past the local fast-food joints. There were long lines of cars at the drive-thru windows. My empty stomach rumbled, and I chuckled at the mild annoyance I was causing myself by fasting all day instead of indulging in a delicious hamburger.

During Triduum, it becomes obvious how the rhythm of the Catholic calendar is different. The world tends to bumble along at one constant pace. Catholics are more extreme, swinging from penitential fast days to celebratory feast days. To an outsider, it’s incomprehensible. Why not simply eat what you want, when you want? Why bring your life to a standstill every Sunday, or for an entire Holy Week? These are small cultural discrepancies — but add enough of them up and it becomes obvious that Catholics are indeed eccentric.

A difference that keeps us awake

This makes me happy. Standing out from the crowd is a sign that our faith is full of life. The very strangeness of it is precisely what keeps me awake to the joy and beauty of existence. Going along with life-as-usual makes Catholics uncomfortable, and this means it should also be harder for us to fall into ingratitude or comfortable mediocrity.

That slight twinge of jealousy you felt when your officemates went out to eat on Good Friday and you stayed behind makes it impossible to take the Easter feast for granted. Suddenly it becomes truly meaningful. In our parish, for example, we celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, and our Easter Vigil is over four hours long. Trust me when I say that I’ve never seen happier faces in my life than when we all finally streamed out of church for the parish after-party.

Life as adventure and pilgrimage

I’ve made it my personal mission to make the world eccentric again, to make familiar things wondrous as if we’re experiencing them for the very first time. I love how the Mass creates a unique culture all its own and Catholic devotions bring a spark of meaning to everyday activities. Life is never quite normal. It’s an adventure, a heroic pilgrimage with dragons and princesses, surrounded by half-wild saints, and often-inexplicable customs from time immemorial.

We stick chocolate coins in shoes, bless wine and bread, stick icons all over the house, keep holy water by the door, and mark entrances with chalk blessings. Our lives are drenched with theological meaning. Every moment, even as it takes place within the flow of time, stands apart from time because it is beheld in the timeless gaze of the divine.

Eccentric or simply in love?

The word eccentric means, “out of center.” Perhaps eccentric people are simply orbiting a different sun, a brighter sun, an elusive light luminous with grace. We respond with love. And lovers rarely care how they look to other people. They only care about the beloved and will gladly seem the fool if it’s in the cause of love. Ultimately, the sources of love are a mystery. We are powerless to say why we love this person or that thing, why we are moved by some secret vision that shifts our priorities. We only know that love has changed us.

So, am I eccentric? I really don’t think so. I’m sure that some of my actions can be described as whimsical, but everyone is unique in their own way. It’s just a matter of degree. If Catholics are considered to be unique, isn’t that simply because we are a people who have fallen deeply in love?

That love has opened our eyes to the wonder of who we are and what it means to be created in the image of God. We have lifted up our eyes and beheld our Creator. It’s a beautiful sight, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that it has forever shifted the way we move through this world.

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