I recently read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She devotes a whole chapter to Evangelical religious denominations, exploring how a branch of Christianity that is so devoted to publicly “spreading the word” about the Gospel, “saving souls,” and enjoying “fellowship” affects its introverted members. She found Evangelicalism to be a real challenge for introverts, not because they didn’t believe in it, but because its worship style was not in line with their natural gifts. She even interviewed a preacher who said that introverts should “seriously reconsider” if they were thinking of applying for a ministry job, and that “you can bet Jesus was an extrovert.”
That caught my attention. Really? If someone released Jesus’ Myers-Briggs scores, I must have missed it. I always pictured Jesus as someone who could sit quietly with his followers, who enjoyed solitude for prayer and reflection, who cherished long hours of quiet in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. But there is certainly support for Jesus’ extroversion, as well. In the last three years of his life, he was always on the go, speaking to crowds, healing strangers. My husband is an “ambivert,” someone who falls more or less right in the middle of the introversion/extroversion scale, and I have a feeling that’s about where Jesus fell as well. He did, after all, understand the plight of all humans, those who were drawn to the crowd, and those who hid from it.
The chapter did give me new insight into my relationship with Catholicism, though, and why, despite everything, it still feels so “right” to me. I spent a couple years of college at a State school, where I joined both Catholic and non-Catholic Christian groups. I always felt squeamish at the non-Catholic groups’ focus on evangelization. I could never go through with it, not even when I went home from Campus Crusade for Christ with a stack of students’ names who admitted to “wanting” to know more about Jesus. I always thought this reluctance came from my deep-seated belief that religion should not but “pushed” on others; but perhaps part of it came from this particular spiritual practice being incompatible with my natural introversion.
Catholicism, on the other hand, is infinitely suited to introverts. We are only occasionally called upon to greet our neighbors at Mass informally at the beginning of the service; most of the time, we don’t need to interact with them until the sign of peace, when there is a handy script for us to follow. No small talk necessary! Since introverts are more sensitive to, and therefor even somewhat averse to, new experiences, Catholicism offers predictability and comfort: the same format all over the world, the same prayers, clear guidelines about when to speak and what to say and when to remain silent; when to stand, when to kneel, and when to sit. I always found Mass to be a very “calming” experience, so that even at times when I was most angry with the Church, I found myself glad I had gone as I left service. I felt somewhat resentful that, even after being a member of my former church for almost 5 years, still no one knew my name–but I also felt relieved.
Catholicism at its best pushes me outside my comfort zone by challenging me to live a more Christ-like life, which every Christian denomination ought to do. But it doesn’t make me feel obligated to proselytize, which would be a deal breaker for me. Instead, it focuses on evangelization by example, living rather than preaching the Gospel — lest you push people away by forcing beliefs on them before they’re ready. In fact, I couldn’t even find relevant passages in the Catechism by searching “evangelize” or “conversion” — and there is no entry at all for “proselytize.” Our religion has given us hermit monks like Thomas Merton, and whole orders of cloistered nuns, proclaiming this solitude and contemplation “holy.” I’ve always loved this about Catholicism.
Perhaps it’s this introverted worship style that makes me ache for Catholicism, even though I love my new church (which I think has more of an “ambivert” style). Although usually I waffle about whether to attend the annual CTA conference, with money and time off work being my main concerns, I felt especially compelled to go this year because I’m suffering Catholicism withdrawal. It’s one of the only places in the world where I feel like worship honors my whole self — the feminist, the bisexual, the woman, the progressive, the Catholic … and the introvert.