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This weekend Catholics will read the same Gospel passage in church Friday and Sunday. Both times I had the same reaction. I never got past the first line. “Do not let your hearts be troubled?”

I came face to face with the fact my heart IS troubled. It is troubled by the polarization in our world, our country… and, perhaps especially, among the followers of Jesus. There is so much either/or thinking.

In each arena, so many are entrenched in an “either/or mentality.” “My way or the highway!” It seems as if everyone suddenly has the gift of personal infallibility.

Few seem to be asking, “Is there something I am missing?” The big picture gets lost!

As I prayed about Jesus’ words, the question arose. Was Jesus an “Either/Or” …or…  “Both/And” thinker?

Either/Or …  Both/And

Either/or thinking tends to emphasize clear distinctions, exclusivity, and decisive choices.

Both/and thinking seeks to integrate diverse perspectives and inclusivity into a more comprehensive understanding.

Either/or thinking and both/and thinking are contrasting approaches to understanding and navigating the complexities of life, ideas, and perspectives.

There are times when clarity and decisiveness are necessary. Yet there are also times when both/and thinking of integration, creativity, and inclusivity are essential.

Sometimes we need to pay attention to individual trees in the forest. And at other times, we do not see the forest for the trees.

Which tendency did Jesus embrace?

It depends!

Jesus said…

  • “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
  • Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)

But Jesus also said…

  • “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In this statement, Jesus demonstrates a both/and perspective by acknowledging the authority of the earthly ruler (Caesar) while also affirming the ultimate authority of God.
  • “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 – ) Jesus challenges the Pharisees’ strict either/or interpretation of the Sabbath by emphasizing that the Sabbath law is meant to serve humanity, not to be a burden.

What cost him his life?

It does seem, however, that what got him into mortal conflict were his words for the strict interpretations of the religious leaders of the day. He had a both/and approach to the law and the prophets.

They tried to force him into their either/or thinking about 612 “laws.” He expanded their view by saying, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt:24:34)

Even more succinctly, he expanded their view of the Messiah as God’s “suffering servant.”

They had missed the forest for the trees!

The giants of the Vincentian tradition

Vincent de Paul and Louise deMarillac emphasized the integration of spirituality AND practical charity, working to address the material AND the spiritual needs of the poor. They deeply believed in the interconnectedness of social justice AND personal holiness.

Frederic Ozanam emphasized the integration of faith AND social action, advocating for the spiritual growth of individuals through works of charity AND social justice.

Elizabeth Ann Seton emphasized the integration of spirituality AND education, founding the first Catholic parochial school system in the United States. She nurtured both the intellectual AND spiritual growth of her students.

No wonder Regina Bechtle draws our attention to the Vincentian “both/and!

Personal questions

  • Have there been times when I missed the bigger picture?
  • When have I failed to make a necessary choice among the trees?
  • Will we listen to the Spirit?

Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk