Catholicism: Spirituality for Introverts?

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.”

Jesus the 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.

Jesus the Introvert

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.

About Lacey Louwagie
I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). I blog about my creative and writing life at http://llword.wordpress.com.

6 Responses to Catholicism: Spirituality for Introverts?

  1. Pingback: Latest Posts on Young Adult Catholics | LL Word

  2. I was thinking about this exact topic yesterday. Eerie. One observation I’ve made about a lot of evangelical denomimations is that they treat the so-called “Great Commission” as the instruction above all instructions. (I think Catholics do the same thing to “You are Peter. And upon this rock I build my church.”) As a result, for some churches, evangelizing often supersedes loving your neighbor or feeding the poor as a priority. Take a look at the Southern Baptist Conference’s charity work, for example, and you notice that it is focused on church-building and distributing Bibles.

    As for the introversion/extroversion, I believe that the ideal congregation is one that is welcoming without pouncing on newcomers. There needs to be a balance so that people aren’t scared away by the welcome wagons and name tags. But at the same time, if you walk away with a sense that a church is aloof, then the Spirit is hard to find and the building is little more than a social hall for existing members.

    • I agree with you absolutely about the “balance” of welcoming without “pouncing.” Many of the Catholic churches I’ve visited are too far over on the aloof spectrum; many of the Evangelical ones are too far on the other side. I also appreciate your insights about how different denominations’ fixation of different instructions from the Bible lead to so many different “flavors” of Christianity. It makes me wonder what denomination might best embody the “whole” of Christianity … it seems that it’s just too big for us to get our heads around all at once, so we rally around one aspect or another of it instead.

  3. Very interesting observation, & I am in complete agreement with you! I am very introverted, sometimes painfully quiet & keeping to myself in a crowd of people whom I do not know (including the RCIA class I began last night). I have never felt like proselytizing is the right thing to do – I think faith and spirituality come to people when the time is right, and they will ask for help, if they need it and want it. I think this is why I am getting the most enjoyment out of the early morning mass. That is a new experience for me, and I am not a morning person, but when I go before work (6:30am), it starts my day with a certain amount of peace. There are no crowds, maybe 2 dozen “regulars” (if that), no small talk required, just quiet and calm first thing in the morning. My schedule makes it difficult to go every morning, but I usually get 1-2 days in through the week. I am loving that about my journey into Catholicism.

    • Thank you for sharing more about your journey with Catholicism. It sounds like your natural way of being is what makes Catholicism feel “right” to you. I’ve pondered going to morning Mass quite a bit lately — I should try it at least once a week to see how it feels as the start to my day. Since I now go to a non-Catholic church on Sundays, it might give me a connection with Catholicism that I still crave. All best to you as you continue your journey!

  4. Pingback: Friday Round-Up: 8/30/13 | Catholic Majority

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