Stoning the Prophets

Bl. Cardinal John Henry Newman

From time to time a blogger or preacher will offend. Sometimes we offend because we’ve made a mistake, we’ve been arrogant or careless or insensitive to others. It happens. Its a risk you take as soon as you start blogging or preaching. Blogging is especially tricky because it is an instant medium. You write fast and publish and you don’t have an editor. Sometimes you forget that discretion is the better part of valor.

When that happens all we can do is offer sincere apologies. On the other hand,  sometimes it is not we who offend, but our message. Often those who are offended cannot distinguish between the two, and mistake the man for the message.

So they start to stone the prophet. It goes with the territory. I have found that there are two types of ammunition used by those who stone the prophet: Hard stones and soft stones. The hard stones are easier to deal with. This is when someone gets angry with you, gives you a piece of their mind, condemns you and tries as hard as they can to hurt you.

The soft stones are harder to deal with. This is when someone who is truly offended pretends to be nice and sweet and kind and  helpful. Theirs is the language of hurt feelings and they play the emotional blackmail game, “How could you say such unkind things and hurt me so??” They dress their anger up in careful phrases and kindly words: “I have some deep concerns…I say this trying to help you…” But the kind words are not to make you feel better, but to make them feel better about themselves.

The only way I know to deal with this is to immerse myself as much as possible in the wisdom that comes from the Sacred Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the lives of the saints. These three sources help me to preach the gospel instead of my own opinion. Indeed, whenever I am challenged my reply is, “I have no opinion on the matter. I only try to proclaim the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church. If I have written anything contrary to that or extra to that, I’m willing to be corrected.”

If we preach faithfully, then we will drive some people away. It can’t be helped. But we will also attract others–and for the right reason. I am always suspicious therefore of any preacher or blogger who never offends anyone at all ever. If that happens, it seems to me, they are working too hard to please everyone–and that’s not the gospel–it’s just a way for the preacher to get some false love and affirmation.

So Bl. Cardinal John Henry Newman writes,

For it is our plain duty to preach and defend the truth in a straightforward way. Those who are to stumble must stumble, rather than the heirs of grace should not hear. While we offend and alienate one man, we secure another; if we drive one man further the wrong way, we drive another further the right way. The cause of truth, the heavenly company of saints, gains on the whole more in one way than in the other. — from The  Quotable Newman — Ed. Dave Armstrong


  • Cathy R.

    I hear you, these days it is hard to say the truth without “hurting” someone. I didn’t make this stuff up, it’s what the church teaches. I would never want to hurt someone on purpose. The church teaches what it teaches, as handed down through scripture & tradition.

  • Genty

    Too true, Father. I’m fed up to the back teeth of so-called political correctness taken to absurdity by those who leap to take offence at a discussion or point of view which is “unkind” and “hurtful”.
    I take a particularly dim vew of Catholics who whine that they are being oh-so-put down and humiliated simply because someone has preached the Gospel and the uncompromising truths laid down by Christ, in a forthright way. How horrid, how nasty. Boo-hoo. Jesus meek and mild, Jesus Prince of Nice?
    As if . . . . . . .

  • David L. Hall

    This is the good side of your old Fundamentalism. Amen and Amen.

  • Chesire11

    There is also a corollary to the preacher who fears to offend, and that is the layman who fears being corrected, and seeks out only those priests who tell him what he already thinks. I see that a lot on Catholic blogs. What frightens me is that it is so easy to recognize in others, yet is so terribly difficult to have the wisdom, honesty and courage to recognize when I fall into that trap.

    Father, please, pray for me that I may love and faithfully serve the truth, and despise my errors rather than serve my own vanity at the expense of humble fidelity to our Holy Mother.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Please stop beating yourself up! We love you! (I hope that’s not seen as a soft stone, or any sort of stone, actually) :)

    I worry I offend you sometimes too, talk drivel, or go off topic, and no doubt it’s the same for your other faithful ‘followers’.

    I like this blog because you get involved in serious debates without trying to colour them with your own prejudices and preferences (as much as any of us are capable of doing so, and normally better). You are thoughtful, and try to live just as you say: “I have no opinion on the matter. I only try to proclaim the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church. If I have written anything contrary to that or extra to that, I’m willing to be corrected.”
    That shines through your writing.

    Thankfully here, we don’t find the comboxes filled with schadenfreude if some group (without mentioning the ‘flavour’) ‘get’s its comeuppance’, for example, because you wouldn’t write a piece to give people the opportunity to gloat, unlike a couple of other priest blogs (without mentioning the ‘flavour’), here in England.

    It’s easy going round spouting off, justifying our words with cherry-picked ‘verses’ or factoids from some ‘Vatican Document’ or Pope Innocuous the Lesser, which have spread round the Catholic blogsphere like memes. It’s not so easy stomaching the real intention and context of that quotation which doesn’t actually support what they want that the isolated quote does. It’s often a ‘Yes, but…’ half-truth, when it comes to these instances.

    Whatever, it seems to me that Catholicism, in some quarters, is becoming more like a Westboro Catholic Church, where the See of Peter is sede vacante, now beloved Ben’s gone (‘We’re not as extreme as the SSPX, but Frank is just beyond the pale! He’s just going too far!’)…

    ‘If we preach faithfully, then we will drive some people away. It can’t be helped. But we will also attract others–and for the right reason.’.


  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Here’s a coincidental, and well-balanced Dr Jeff Mirus on the topic today…

    …Now, as I must always say in such discussions, don’t get me wrong. Personal piety is not only unique to each person; it is also necessarily imperfect. This is so true that the greatest mistake we can make with respect to piety as Christians is to sacrifice humility by regarding our own pious sensibilities as uniformly superior, while looking down on the pious sensibilities of others. But there are other pitfalls, too. The most important of these trap us into resisting or refusing either the teachings of the Church or her authority over ecclesiastical life, including sacramental life, based on our own pious preferences. Sometimes we even let our piety interfere with our own reception of grace, as when we disdain the Mass, concentrating throughout on the imperfections of a particular liturgy, if it should happen to be prayed in a way that is not to our liking.

    On more mature reflection, which of us is worthy of even the most poorly said Mass?

    There is room, then, for our own particular inclinations in piety, our own particular forms of piety, but because each form of piety carries its own imperfections and even dangers, there is always room for improvement as well. It is the job of the Church to warn against these dangers and to lead each form of piety to be more perfectly itself, more perfectly in tune with Christ, the universal God-Man, who has given us the gifts which actuate our own piety, and who expects to receive our unique and precious devotion unsullied, as much as humanly possible, by our own selfishness. …

    Personal Piety: A Case Study?