Saturday, August 31, 2013

Catholic virtual wars 01 - Time for a Cease Fire

This kind of help, Holy Mother Church does not need

Someone hit the pause button...

Its with great sadness and disappointment that I see Catholics using social media to berate other Catholics in a recent string of discussions.  To be clear, I'm not talking about Catholics who discuss the positions of other Catholics in a calm and rational way, but Catholics who are going after others in a very personal way and sometimes  over mere splinters in the eye (of course, it seems like a log to them, but it is probably just the log in their own eye giving them this impression).

I won't point to any part of the discussion because A) I'm disgusted by what I have seen and, B) the lines of virtue, and perhaps even morality, have been crossed in some of those discussions - most especially by some com-boxers (hiding behind anonymity, of course).

Just like I see no need to name names to discuss a position, I see no need to label or identify groups or factions involved, or to analyze these things because it would only throw fuel on a raging fire. This distracts from a larger discussion on Catholic virtue in social media and new media. So, that's just another lightening rod and it always gets people in trouble.

As for the present controversy, I have seen some good points raised in certain posts and some thoughtful comments, as well.  I wanted to link to them, but those discussions give names and that is what I am trying to avoid.  Naming names rather than discussing positions in general can be a lightening rod.  This means, it goes from personal, to very personal.

I began blogging in 2006 after about a year of involvement in several Catholic forums and I don't recall seeing back then the kind of division, and even factionalism, I see today. It's troubling. In fact, criticizing other Catholics online has become a sport for some individuals and their followers, charity and virtue be damned.

Some think they have a license to defend the Church in ways that are lacking in charity and virtue because they have been hurt and are angry.  In fact, the very word "charity" drives them nuts and in the process of mocking false charity, the baby gets thrown out with the bath water.  This kind of behavior isn't done for love of others; it's done to scratch an unbearable itch called, "venting."  Venting is not a virtue. In fact, everything we read from the saints tells us venting (or complaining) is faulty.  Any confessor worth his salt, if you confess stewing in the sins and faults of others, will tell you to knock it off and go spend the time on something more productive.  The spiritual dangers the pharisees were in come to mind.

It would be good if we could all get back to talking about positions rather than people and groups. I can understand why some would want to respond directly once another shoots from the hip in an apparent trip down rash-judgment-lane in a public way.   In fact, part of the problem is Catholics policing of other Catholics - dangerous for the policed who may feel a need to respond (and in an intemperate way if they are not careful), dangerous for friends of the policed (who may derail a good defense with an inflammatory expression or two), and those doing the policing for obvious reasons (who seem not to realize they are giving evidence of judging the motives or hearts of their targets).

At times the world of Catholic social media - especially where anonymity reigns, such as in comment boxes, resembles a virtual Catholic gang war where mouth and keyboard serve as powerful weapons used to hurt others in rival faction(s). What is getting lost in all of this is that every one of us are on display for the world to see.  Someone else is watching too, and He misses nothing. All motives, whether we recognize them yet in ourselves or not, do not escape God's notice.

Concupiscence - Human Fallen Nature and Gravitation to Critics

We who engage in any kind of media or new media, be it simply sharing things on Facebook or running a blog to making audio and video for TV, radio, or internet, need to do a collective examination of conscience.  If a member of the online Catholic community persists in spending an inordinate amount of time focused on what they believe are the faults of  other Catholics, then we need to recall the free will given to all by God and leave it in his hands. We could do a Holy Hour for the person instead of trying to reason with the unreasonable.

This is also true regarding those who use their free will to feed at watering holes which get more hits for their criticism of bishops and other Catholics than it does for anything catechetical or instructive they may offer.  Concupiscence will lead people into talking about the faults of others, and it will lead people to follow others who talk about it, then talk about it themselves.  Truly, that kind of "evangelization" the Church does not need. While we can count the number of people commiserating with such critics; we cannot count the number of people who were turned away from the faith by the caustic behavior they witnessed.  Followers need to reflect on whether they are really growing spiritually through such things, or are they satisfying their itching ears to hear things they probably have no need to hear, but for the sheer pleasure of hearing the thing. If it doesn't move you to love others, including those with whom you disagree, you probably don't need to hear it.  Pope Benedict XVI disagreed with others, but was always mindful of their dignity.

People who are learning the painful realities about why we have lost so many Catholics the last 50 years become outraged and don't understand why everyone else around them is not outraged.  But this presumes that disquiet and visible anger are some kind of "virtues." That's something you may experience when you first learn about something disturbing - and that's okay for a brief period. But, if you are experiencing this on a daily basis, you need to get off the web and go read the Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila or the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. First, see a good confessor and tell him how much time you were spending on line and what you were watching and viewing that left you in such state of anger, outrage and disquiet.  You might want to ask how you know when you've crossed the line from anger into hatred to get enlightened.  If the words from a fellow Catholic is causing hatred to stir in you, then cut off that relationship (Mt 5:29,30).  Find sources that will  help you to not just grow in your knowledge about the faith, but in virtue, as well.

I've been through my outrage and disquiet phase years ago.  Every day there was some scandal being discussed in Catholic circles that got me all bent out of shape.  I can tell you from experience, there is nothing virtuous about remaining there and feeding on sources that fuel it.  It doesn't mean you give up discussing the problems, but outrage has to give way to prayer, trust in God, and learning how to win others over in a way that is most likely for them to use their God-given free will in a God-pleasing way.  If you put your time in to reading Sacred Scripture, the CCC, Church Documents, the Church Fathers, the Doctors, and other saints; and serious time in Adoration and prayer, you will find that disquiet and anger abating.  You will also find the kind of tools needed for evangelizing others - something hindered when you are in a chronic state of disquiet and anger. We need to purify our work online and mirror the love of Christ.  That's grace and when we make room for that by pushing out the anger and outrage, it has room to work.  I find this quality in some of the greatest pro-life workers like Msgr. Philip Reilly who founded the Helpers of God's Precious Infants.  You can't be effective unless you reach a point where love for the sinner is greater than the anger you may have for the sins they commit.  We don't win others for Christ; Jesus wins them through us if we give grace a place in our hearts, but it cannot co-exist with chronic outrage, disquiet, and anger turned into hatred.

The apparent addiction of some faithful to online Catholic equivalents to scandal  or gossip rags can only be tempered by learning about virtues and making an effort to practice them.  Learning about virtues, seeing them in practice in the saints, offsets the effects of human fallen nature, or concupiscence.  In fact, every effort to evangelize others must include this or things get out of whack.  That's what I believe we are witnessing with all this infighting between Catholics online. There is a rapid growth of understanding the Church, and what it teaches, but a lack of understanding in what really made saints - white martyrdom brought on by practicing virtues.

Once, when a very holy priest I knew at Grotto some years ago, who was serving as spiritual adviser to me as I worked through an article I was writing for Homiletic and Pastoral Review called, "Unconditional Worship in the God-Centered Mass" (April 2006), taught me an important lesson without saying a word.  In my draft were some expressions about the kinds of Masses I had been to and I got "snarky" about some of those experiences trying to be "cute."  Father, who has a doctorate in theology and in philosophy, shook his head in disapproval without looking up, then scratched out that text.  Seeing apparent disappointment on the face of that virtuous priest was pretty effective.  The pursuit of white martyrdom will often mean depriving ourselves of saying what we really feel like saying.  It's easier to let the words fly, especially if we think others will be entertained by them (or if we think they will bring more traffic).  As it turns out, my article was better without those things.  He kept me on the high road while teaching me a humbling lesson I have never forgotten. It was instrumental in giving up that bad practice in this blog (not that I don't slip now and then).

There are certainly problems caused by members in the Church who fall to the effects of their own concupiscence.  Anyone leading you to believe this is something new and exclusive to their point of view is looking for higher traffic and all that comes with it.  Go read the Fathers of the Church.  Go read the Omnibus of Sources on St. Francis of Assisi.  See what scandals they dealt with in their day.  They were with us since the Fall and will remain with us until the Second Coming.

How does Scripture tell us to deal with these things?  Here is the first part of Psalm 37 (Catholic RSV).

Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday. Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

A word about defending the faith 

The sword is a symbol for defending the Church.  St. Michael the Archangel is often depicted as a warrior holding it for his defeat of the dragon (Apoc. Ch. 12)  In our quest to slay evil in our lives, we have to take care not to slay others or cut off their ears lest we perish by the sword of our own mouth or hand (Lk 22:50-51).

Something worth pondering are some words from St. Gregory Nazianzem (Oration 33)
Was He betrayed with a kiss? He reproves with a kiss, but smites not. Is he suddenly arrested? He reproaches indeed, but follows; and if through zeal you cut off the ear of Malchus with the sword, He will be angry, and will restore it. And if one flee in a linen sheet, Mark 14:51 he will defend him. And if you ask for the fire of Sodom upon his captors, he will not pour it forth; and if he take a thief hanging upon the cross for his crime he will bring him into Paradise through His Goodness. Let all the acts of one that loves men be loving, as were all the sufferings of Christ, to which we could add nothing greater than, when God even died for us, to refuse on our part to forgive even the smallest wrongs of our fellowmen.
Jesus did not want to be defended that way in Gethsemane and He doesn't want to be defended that way today or in any age.

Don't dwell in anger and pain; move past it by giving it to God.  

So many Catholics are wounded and hurt over things members in the Church have done over the past 50 years from the destruction of churches and loss of reverence in liturgy - falsely in the name of Vatican II - to the priest sex abuse scandal and cover-up.  Righteous anger is a topic I plan to get into, but it is deep and one that should be studied through the lens of Scripture in all it's fullness, and through the eyes of the Church Fathers and Doctors.  People will point to Christ turning over tables in the temple and it is not that simple as I will prove when I get time to share what I have found.

Don't take it out on other Catholics or even other Christians.  I see painful things said about Protestants, and even those who have become Catholic. Those of you who vent about Protestants-turned-Catholic who earn a living running a Catholic apostolate grieve me by what is said sometimes.  Here again, if you disagree with something someone says, talk about their position, and try contacting them to see if you can get a dialogue going. But, leave the boat anchor in the bay. People should be mindful of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16).  This does not put an inviting face on our faith.

It's easy to lob condescending remarks about those who don't have the full Catholic understanding - be they Catholic or not; it takes work and virtue to learn how to engage people in thoughtful discussion; and, it takes fortitude and wisdom to know when to remain silent lest more harm than good be done.  Scripture tells us to bear with the others whose faith is weak (Romans 15:1).  That weakness can manifest itself in a question someone asks, but I think it most often manifests itself with attitudes and behavior that are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.  You have to give people room to be human and let God do the judging (we can and should judge actions for what they are - i.e., we can judge a theft is happening when we see it - but motives and hearts can only be judged by God*).  When these people - others showing apparent weaknesses or faults - become the butt of jokes online, for all to see, how does that square with what St. Paul is teaching?  Don't waste your God-given talents this way.

When you respect the fact that God gave to all a free will, you then understand the need to use reason and to be a good witness in every respect.  Mocking, having fun at the expense of others weakness' in faith, or their sinfulness (grave or venial), "scoring points" on the best put downs or expressions that will get the highest traffic  - none of these things are God-pleasing. In fact, it's corrosive to authentic evangelization.  Think of someone you really love who has strayed from the faith and picture them witnessing some of the "edgy," and "in your face" stuff going around in Catholic circles online, complete with sophomoric name-calling and labels. This is the stuff of gutters, not the high road Catholics should be taking to be good witnesses.  Just because the latest fad in reporting involves this kind of behavior does not mean it has a place in Catholic media or social media used by Catholics.  A popular approach to writing, speaking, or reporting in any given age does not mean it's the virtuous approach.

A caution about subtle forms of vengeance

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

Some get satisfaction when another is called out in a very public way . This can be, for some, a subtle form of interior vengeance, in my humble opinion.  Imagine all of those men waiting to throw stones at Mary Magdalene and how their own self-righteous anger brought them a fleeting satisfaction. One could imagine them laughing at her as they were about to move in for the kill until Jesus stepped in and humbled them all. ** In addition, there is no regard for whether every element of the thing called out is true, and just as importantly - whether any attempt was made to get validation from appropriate sources, including the targeted person.

Before we accept  and run with a public criticism of another we should stop and ask ourselves whether the critic made any attempt to have a rational discussion over his concern with the parties in question, or did he just repeat something to a broader audience found elsewhere.   A truly virtuous person, who has a concern over something someone else has done, will look first for alternative explanations, rather than attribute, even if only in his heart, immoral, unethical, or simply un-virtuous motives.  Fr. John A. Hardon says imprudence is usually involved in rash judgment.  It helps to know his definition of imprudence.  I've used underling for added emphasis.

Sins against prudence that are either by defect or by excess. Sins by defect against prudence are: rashness, which acts before due consideration has been given; thoughtlessness, which neglects to take the necessary circumstances into account; and negligence, which does not give the mind sufficient time for mature deliberation.

Everyone should reflect on that before typing another key or producing any other media.  Please pray for me, as I pray for all of you.

NOTE: The Catholic Virtual War Series continues with many more posts made.  Click that label link, then scroll to see the many titles.

Updates and notes:

*Added for clarification.
** Added to help make the point
- Quote in St. Francis picture changed since it does not appear in his writings. 

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