Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zones Can Open Us Up to Fuller, Richer Lives

Photo by mark chaves on Unsplash

In Commonweal, Charles Taylor writes:

Our relationships, if healthy and authentic, open us to others who expand and enrich us. Nowadays, our noblest social instincts can easily be thwarted by self-centered chats that give the impression of being deep relationships. On the contrary, authentic and mature love and true friendship can only take root in hearts open to growth through relationships with others. As couples or friends, we find that our hearts expand as we step out of ourselves and embrace others. Closed groups and self-absorbed couples that define themselves in opposition to others tend to be expressions of selfishness and mere self-preservation (89).

There is a lot of (good) moral advice in Francis’s encyclical, but there is also another dimension: a philosophical anthropology that sees us as realizing more fully our humanity through contact and exchange with people and cultures beyond our original comfort zone. Through these exchanges, new creative human possibilities are disclosed and human life is enriched. This is how I understand Francis’s “law of ekstasis.”

Francis is not just telling us that we have not lived up to our moral responsibilities, that we have fallen short of the (moral) demands of the Gospel; beyond these moral demands the Gospel also calls on us to grow, to emerge from our cramped, fear-driven lives. Our new global predicament, where different cultures and faiths are brought into ever closer contact, is not just an occasion for discriminations and exclusions that we must avoid (though we certainly should fight against these), but also a crucial site for realizing the fuller lives that we are called to live.