|Taking of Christ, Caravaggio, c. 1602|
Have you been offended and scandalized by things others in the Church have done? This post may offer a few helpful thoughts.
This Catholic Virtual War series is aimed at people who want to probe the teachings of the Church more deeply on the virtues - those things that guide our responses to that which we encounter; it is not for those looking for a quick read. If you don't have time now, bookmark it and come back later.
For the purpose of this post, I want to set aside discussion of the sex abuse scandal, which is in a league of it's own, and with another set of principles to be addressed.
This post has more to do with the scandal many are feeling from a failure by members of the Church to fully and properly pass on the faith since the 1960's, and hindering families who tried to keep the faith, and whose children were lost to nonsense being pedaled as Catholicism. It also has to do with persecution from within the Church. It is along this line that I want the discussion to proceed.
As with all posts in the Catholic Virtual War series, I will allow comments that do not name names or organizations, and that do not give away so much information as to make it virtually known. We can raise the bar by talking about positions, principles, and underlying philosophies, not people.
Introduction: Jesus, wounded by His Disciple
Saint Augustine, in his discussion, "On Patience," has had me reflecting over and again on this passage since I found it some years ago:
This patience the Lord taught, when, the servants being moved at the mixing in of the tares and wishing to gather them up, He said that the householder answered,Leave both to grow until the harvest.That, namely, must be patience put up with, which must not be in haste put away. Of this patience Himself afforded and showed an example, when, before the passion of His Body, He so bore with His disciple Judas, that ere He pointed him out as the traitor, He endured him as a thief; and before experience of bonds and cross and death, did, to those lips so full of guile, not deny the kiss of peace. All these, and whatever else there be, which it were tedious to rehearse, belong to that manner of patience, by which the mind does, not its own sins but any evils so ever from without, patiently endure in itself, while the body remains altogether unhurt.
Jesus endured that kiss, just as he does our own, so many times, not wanting to give the offender and his offense away.
Judas was a priest - a man with a vocation and chosen by Jesus. Like each of us, Judas also had a free will and he chose to exercise it in a way that caved to his own concupiscence in the form of greed. He then caved to the sin of despair; rather than entrust himself to the mercy of God and pick up his cross, he hung himself on a tree. One lesson we get from this is that, just as most Apostles were loyal while imperfect and sinful, a small number will be imperfect and act with great evil. Some will repent and some will not.
Priests and bishops have a free will and they do not always use it well. The most orthodox, holy, and tradition-minded priests I know have told me the most merciful thing to do is to pray for them (yes, mercy is needed for them, just as we hope God will have for us). I was counseled to never talk about them in a negative way without first spending much time before the Blessed Sacrament on their account, and entrusting them and their faults to Mary, and first exhausting all private ways of expressing my concern, even unto writing to the Vatican. This "time out" before Jesus always had a calming effect on me and, over time, took me from what was probably a form of anger-turned-to-hatred, into genuine love and concern for their souls. Dwelling in the faults of others is not Catholic because it is not Scriptural (Jn 8:1-11).
This doesn't mean we should not work for what is right in the Church when we think bishops and priests are in error, or not doing enough to protect the lambs from wolves. Often times, we see the damage more than they do because we are on the battlefield where casualties are piling up. This is why I believe there is a disconnect at times between the laity and the bishops. They need to put their ear to the ground more and listen to the stories from wounded Catholics, many of whom continue to have salt poured in those wounds. The anger spills out on to the internet. That said, we can't be a people who act on anger and wounded-ness. We have to apply the Gospel and virtues always, even when it is not convenient or fashionable to do so.
No way to cover it all in one post...
In this series, we will eventually probe the topics of anger, including righteous anger, using the Summa. But we will also explore hatred, which can happen when anger becomes sinful. We will also do a deep dive on fraternal correction of others, including prelates and superiors. All of these things require in-depth study. So, they are for another set of posts. I ask you to hold discussion of that for a later time.
Scandalized to the point of open wounds and anger
In a discussion elsewhere, a woman explains how she has been wounded by scandals in the Church. Here is my response to her. Her story is like the story of many, and with the vacuum of sound Catholic teaching over the years we were not simply left without knowledge of the more obvious truths of the faith, but we were left unequipped with knowledge of the virtues and how to be guided by them. As I said in another post: Trying to teach the faith without applying the virtues is like trying to drive a car with square wheels.
My answer, copied below, between the asterisks (with a few corrections, sub-headings, and additional thoughts), should not be construed as a response to any specific situation or type of situation. It is laying out some general, Catholic principles that can be used as a discernment guide in the future. Some issues are complex and require digging into other principles - things I hope to get into in this series as time goes on (you can always click the label at the bottom under the social media buttons to find other posts in the Catholic Virtual War series).
This information is intended for use by readers to look inward, not at all those other people.
A reminder from the beginning of my post, the context is not clerical sex abuse.
WoundedYou, like I once was, are a wounded Catholic - wounded by scandals at the hands of others who should be leading us. Sometimes, I wish our bishops would ponder this a little deeper in their own discernment of how to proceed when people alert them of yet another scandal about to take place in their diocese, or at the hands of a Catholic politician, etc.
I too was scandalized for years. I was first led into scandal by Catholic priests, religious, and "youth ministers" that I trusted to pass on to me, Catholicism. I looked for bread but was given stones.
I was scandalized a second time by it all. That is, when the cloud of ignorance was lifted and I learned the truths of the faith. This led to a deep anger, one that made me bitter and hate-filled towards those who offended me, and at those who led so many others into scandal.
At the same time, I noticed joy on the faces of the very solid, orthodox priests at Assumption Grotto who would provide me with catechetical instruction, spiritual direction, and serve as my Confessors. I didn't understand how they could be so joyful with all the misery that was in the Church. It would take time for me to grasp that they knew far better than I just how grave the situation was, and that they lived through more persecutions and injustices than I could possibly know. They were not in a state of panic, anxiety, or outrage. They showed interior peace that intrigued me and caused me to want to understand how it could be so for them. In time I would learn from their example, and their counsel, that disquiet is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit, nor is a pre-occupation with the faults of others.
A priest teaches how we should respond to injustice
My pastor, in his Monday Night Catechism, which he teaches most years and is open to all (and may be coming soon again) told us a story from when he was a boy. He was talking about the virtues. He was wrongly accused of something at school and punished. He said something I paraphrase here that was unexpected to me and it stayed with me: "Even though I was innocent of that offense, I was guilty of other offenses." He then proceeded to teach us about that part of our Catholic faith that helps us to cope with injustices [and how to offer up these sufferings]. That some of those injustices could come at the hands of other Catholics, even from members of the hierarchy, should be no surprise. Jesus was persecuted from within the establishment of his day. These things will always be with us and it is not that they happen in our lives; it's how we respond to them. That is what God is looking for. [Nothing happens without his willing it or permitting it. This reminds me of the other point my good pastor made about his boyhood experience: He said these were opportunities to practice and sharpen our practice of the virtues. This is why God wills or permits these things, so we can strengthen what is weak in ourselves.]
We students asked the good pastor if this meant we should not speak out when justice seemed to demand it. He offered some distinctions, which I thought were helpful. One that I recall was that we could talk about the faults or offenses of another without falling into sin, but only with those who have a need to know. He helped us to further distinguish this by saying that this usually meant someone with the authority to do something about the thing we are concerned with. I don't recall the example he used, but I have used something like this: If you see the kid next door throwing a wild party with drinking, drugs, orgies on the front lawn, etc., while the parents are away, then you are justified to tell the parents when they return. You are justified to call the police and tell them. But one would not be justified to go on the internet and tell the world that this went on, with enough detail to know who did what. This is what we call detraction, and it is gravely wrong to reveal the sins or moral failings of another without a just cause, and to those who do not have a need to know. "Need to know" can be debated, certainly, but before revealing any moral wrong committed by another, one has to give it careful weight and not act with a doubtful conscience (look that expression up if you have not heard of it).
The priest explained that when others may be harmed by the thing in question, it is reasonable to warn others, and in many cases, a duty. This too has ground rules, and reading Aquinas can give us those boundaries. We can't just throw things out to the wolves that will lower someone's reputation in the eyes of others, if they have no need to know. And, that is where serious discernment must take place - not about generalities, but about specifics and details.
The proper metric
Because we see a manner of handling a problem on the nightly news or a leading magazine, it does not make that manner right. The standard for Catholics is our Catholic faith, not what is popular in any given age, to do. TV and news is full of scandal about the lives of the celebrities. These things are not in harmony with Scripture. This is why I say that even certain, popular journalism styles are not necessarily the best way to present the faith. If those styles violate virtues or or involve vices, then they are out of harmony.
This gets in to a kind of consequentialism, where the ends justifies the means. We believe we have a right to put something out there because our aim is to restore a good where evil has come about. Every single thing we do to try to root out that evil, must be devoid of evil. Evil cannot be used to right a wrong. The more virtuous the approach, the more pure it is, and the more pure it is the more God-pleasing it is.
Not leading the little ones into scandal
There are lots of ways to lead others into scandal, some not so obvious.
One reason we don't advertise the faults of others is because that exposure could needlessly scandalize souls who are not equipped to handle the information. One way to illustrate the point is this way: What if a neighbor tells his friend, the man next door, that his wife had a drunken orgie in the yard, while he was away on business, and it is told to him in front of his 5 and 12 year old children? No one in their right mind would do that, right? A person exercising prudence would wait to speak to the man alone, if he felt it was necessary to reveal this to his friend. Why? To not scandalize the little ones.
Likewise, there are people - teens and adults - often standing nearby, but not visible in cyberspace - whose faith is very fragile and weak. When a scandal is thrown out without thought about who might be watching or listening, and their capacity to handle that information -- people whose faith is weak -- they could throw in the towel. I've been contacted by a person recently who told me that talk of all these scandals in the Church has really scandalized her to the point of wanting to leave the Church. It's not the first time I've heard from such people. Most of the time, they won't tell you. I continue to talk to her, and others like her, whose delicate faith is challenged by these things. In our quest to get the road paved, we seem not to think about who we might run over in the process. If we lead someone to leave the Church because of things we said, that they didn't need to hear or need to know, who do you think will be accountable on Judgment Day? These you cannot count when you just put something out there on the web.
I want to offer something from St. Dorotheus, Abbot, which I noted from the June 4, 2013 Office of Readings, 2nd reading. This is precisely what my pastor was talking about the lesson I shared earlier. This is a partial quote (with my comments in brackets):
ON SPIRITUAL PEACE
"The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully - misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor, and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man.But perhaps you will offer me this objection: 'Suppose my brother injures me, and on examining myself, I find that I have not given him any cause. Why should I blame myself?'
Certainly if someone examines himself carefully and with fear of God, he will never find himself completely innocent. He will see that he has given some provocation by an action, a word, or by his manner [and sometimes, despite an examine, a provocation can still be hidden to us]. If he does find that he is not guilty in any of these ways, certainly he must have injured that brother some how at some other time. Or perhaps he has been a source of annoyance to some other brother. For this reason, he deserves to endure the injury because of many other sins that he has committed on other occasions."
|Salvador Dali, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, 1951|
Just remember who did this to Him. I'm not talking about the one who betrayed Him, those who handed Him over; those who put the nails into His hands and His feet or divided his garments, or thrust the spear into His side. I'm talking about me and you. We made these wounds. Who was more innocent than Jesus and undeserving of such persecution and punishment? Can we possibly say that the pain we feel on account of the injustices we have received at the hands of others, including at the hands of other Catholics, even priests and bishops, is greater than that for which we are responsible? (reminder from earlier, the context is not clerical sexual abuse).
I suppose when I have exhausted an extensive search for lies and falsehoods in my own life, I can then turn my attention to all those other people. For now, I need to get my own house in order so I can stop wounding and scandalizing others by my less than Catholic behavior.
Please pray for me, and pray for those who cause you pain.
*post edited at 12:30 with clarifications and corrections.
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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
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- Diane M. Korzeniewski
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
- Diane M. Korzeniewski
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