Friday, July 20, 2007


En-clave (‘en-“klAv): a distinct territorial, cultural or social unit enclosed within or as if within foreign territory.

Tom Monaghan spent much of his life in foster homes and a Catholic orphanage. He had a strong religious impulse that led him to enter seminary in 9th grade, but he was kicked out for being unruly. After a stint in the Marine Corps he started a pizza delivery business, which later became Domino’s.

I will tell more of Monaghan’s story next week, much of which is inspiring and notable, but let’s fast forward to 2007, when development on the town of Ave Maria ninety miles northwest of Miami is proceeding apace. Monaghan, a devout Catholic, dreamed of starting a town populated by religiously devout (or at least observant) Catholics, centered on a Catholic university, fostering family values, and eschewing the cultural vices which plague American society in general. The university he founded in Michigan, Ave Maria, relocated to Florida to be the town’s centerpiece, and as of this writing people are buying up houses and leasing retail and business space.

Monaghan has backed off a bit from his original vision, in which he and his partners would own all commercial real estate, and thus, as he put it in 2004, “be able to control what goes on there. You won’t be able to buy a Playboy or a Hustler magazine in Ave Maria town. We’re going to control the cable television that comes in the area…” Now Monaghan and his partner-developer simply say that while the town will try to reflect traditional family values and retailers will be asked to refrain from practices opposed to Catholic teaching, there will be no restrictions on what retailers sell.

The desire, noble in many respects, to create religious enclaves is a strong and prevalent one in history, from the Essene Jews in Jesus’ time to the Puritans’ efforts in early America. It is borne of a serious and devout intention to live more purely before God and to “keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). The problem is twofold. First, it doesn’t work! Sin, though usually of the less “visible” kind, inevitably emanates from peoples’ hearts because “human beings are born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6). There may not be prostitution or gambling, but there will certainly be greed, lust, envy, meanness, pride, etc. Second, it doesn’t faithfully follow Jesus’ life or the life to which he has called his followers. Other than these two factors, it’s a fine idea.

Monaghan’s vision is bolder and more dramatic than most, but all Christian communities choose between degrees of faithful engagement with the world versus unfaithful disengagement from the world. The challenge is that what is actually faithful can look unfaithful, and vice-versa. Jesus tells us to go into the world to serve, redeem and save it, not invite people into our enclave and abandon it. And that’s something to rejoice over, challenging as it is.


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