If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

My father was a nice guy and he used to quote the old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I used to joke that this was the reason I valued monastic silence. The other entertaining quip is Dorothy Parker’s line, “If you can’t say something nice…come sit next to me.”

It got me thinking about this post some weeks ago by the Anchoress. She was cogitating about Michael Voris’ who invests a good bit of time waxing Jeremiah-cal about the errors, corruption and heresy in the Catholic Church. I guess we need the Michael Vorises of this world, but it’s not everybody’s style. Do some “professional Catholics” keep quiet about the problems in the Catholic Church because they are worried their plump salaries will be affected and they will be shot down by the hierarchy?

Maybe or maybe not. I’m of the opinion that most “professional Catholics”–those who are engaged in media work, speaking, catechesis, apologetics and evangelism realize that there is far more to be gained by emphasizing the positive than the negative. We should be out there communicating the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ and it’s fullness in the Catholic Church. The best antidote to the corruption, heresy and indifference in the church is for an army of intentional disciples to be joyfully spreading the good news through words and works. The best offense is the charm offensive…to overwhelm the opposition with the grace, goodness and joy of Christ.

After all, what good does it do to go on and on about the corruption, heresy and indifference in the Church? It usually doesn’t have any effect on those who are guilty. This is because they don’t see themselves as guilty, and more worrying, too often the only result of the jeremiad is that it bolsters the self righteousness and indignation of the “holier than thou” Catholics. The dangerous thing is that it is all too easy to gather a following and boost one’s own ratings by ranting about the sin and wickedness of others, and there’s nothing the self righteous like more than a feeding frenzy on the wicked.

I say that because I view with alarm the results of my own writing. When I am critical of others with a post that picks on either “rad trads” or “rad trendies” my hits go up and the comboxes get busy. Furthermore, when I do so I am praised as a “courageous priest” or given credit for being “one of the few good priests”. What a lot of nonsense!

My ambition in all my work communicating the gospel is to be positive, energetic and dynamic in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. When I criticize I try to criticize general trends and underlying problems. That I sometimes lapse into being critical of individuals I see as a fault of mine, not a strength. However, there is another, deeper problem with being all the time negative about the Church and other Catholics.

When we do so we fall into a wrong understanding of the church. The church is made up of sinners and saints. The wheat and tares grow together. The sheep and goats are in the same flock. The Lord said it would be so, and from the first disciples onward the church has not been pure. It has always been teetering along trying to avoid heresy and schism, falling into corruption and returning in repentance. I accept the fact that there are radical traditionalists and radical trendies in the church with whom I disagree. I accept the fact that the liturgy is often horrendous and the preaching dire. I wish the church were more balanced, more refined and pure. I wish the church were different, but my ranting about what’s wrong doesn’t do much good. This is the way it is, this is the way it will always be.

Furthermore, it is for me a mark of the church’s authenticity. So the church is not pure. We have heretics and sinners in the church. Wouldn’t you be alarmed if that were not the case? It is only cults and sects that maintain complete purity of life and doctrine, and they only do so by ejecting the misfits. It is interesting that Jesus did not excommunicate Judas. Judas excommunicated himself by leaving the table. At times the church must discipline and excommunicate, but more often we struggle along with the sheep and goats together.

Therefore I must do what I can do and that is, by God’s grace, attempt to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. I must do what I can do–to limp along trying somehow to be God’s good priest, and it is in realizing my own inadequacies that I begin to see the inadequacies of the others in a new light. They’re like me. They’re flawed and frail and broken. They too are limping along in the great race, and often stumbling in the beautiful struggle, and it is in this realization that one sees the whole church in a new way.

We’re all in a mess, and on every side and in every person therefore, the only thing that cannot be tolerated or forgiven is the unrepentant heart.

Why can the unrepentant not be forgiven?

Because they do not think they need forgiveness.


  • stinkcat

    I am not a fan Michael’s style, he comes off as a bit hostile and annoying. He is a bit of a gadfly, on the other hand, it is not bad to have a few gadfly’s to keep the rest of us honest. I also think it is perfectly reasonable to ask questions about people’s salaries when they get their money from the public. It should be done with the utmost charity because nobody likes to be told they are overpaid, even when they are.

  • Guy Fox

    I think Voris is spot on, and there is no easy way to say what is our present situation. Those dismissing him for his style are neglecting to address the valid issues he raises: declining demographics, the wolves among us, fake catechetics, clownish antics at Mass, effeminate language, and so on. Perhaps one unintended consequence of V2 is that the faithful laity is not so docile as it once was.

    • AugustineThomas

      It’s a lot easier to suggest that the orthodox are the ones who need to be watched and not the heretics!

      • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

        I wouldn’t say easier, quite the contrary, for the error of seemingly orthodox malcontents is more subtle and harder to sift. On the outside they seem to love the Church, but deep down they love the subjective version of a church that is their image, one whose head is themselves, not Jesus.

        • Guy Fox

          Say what? Where do you get this stuff? Please tell us about your thought process of how you came to this conclusion.

          • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

            Catholics pretending to be more Catholic than their priests or bishops or the Pope are commonly known as Protestants.

  • alaskamom

    Hi Fr. Longenecker, I find myself grateful for your comments about being too critical and how it can cause more division in the Church. I also come back to a question, how do we confront the corruption, and there is much of it along side many good people, that are tearing apart the community of the Church? Do we simple say, well God will take care of it at the end of time? Some times this is the only possibility. Yet, as I watched Michael Voris’ Mic’d up regarding the systematic squashing of his ministry from those unnamed people that run dioceses, all I can say is I have seen it first hand. I have seen one really fine energetic Catholic after another, priests and laity, that have been silenced into oblivion for simply teaching the faith with clarity. I will tell you I have never seen someone who teaches absolute falsehood regarding the faith so treated. How is that? What do we call this except a corrupt system. I wont even mention what it took to uncover the sexual abuse that had been covered up for so many years and the seemingly intentional blaming it on pedophiles rather than homosexual relations with post pubescent children and priests (this is not pedophilia, yet we keep calling it that). Why? Do we just remain silent, or only talk behind closed doors to keep things from going public and we keep a good face? How does one go about this and have some good affect? I to have watched good Catholic people become so angry at the corruption that they no longer have much peace of heart and seem to be holier than thou, as you said. This is no good either. So maybe you can give us more insight into these questions and inconsistencies. I know Michael Voris is doing this even if he is not as courteous as you would like. How polite was John the Baptist? Thanks for the response.

  • jmjhavemercy

    As a mother of 5, I try to give praise to my children where praise is due. Believe me, my job would be 100x easier if they never sinned. But we all know, from the day they are born, they will go wayward without correction!! When they are selfish, unkind ect., I call them out and try to make them see the error of their ways and how it harms them and others.

    There are times that a parish and individual members deserve praise for the good works that they do, however, if a individual member or parish council ect is following a dangerous path or actions contrary to catholic teaching, that needs to be addressed quickly so as not to lead others into sin!! We should hate sin and we should be careful as to our motive when using the phrase “If you do not have something nice to say…” !!
    Of course, we should not state people’s faults and sins to others as to gossip or to feel better about our own self (detraction, defamation, calumny). However, if the motive is to truly help others and the church and to fight evil, you do have something nice to say when you shed light on sin and evil. In fact, you may be saving a soul.

    As all of us know, the truth is sometimes hard to swallow and I’m not saying you must ram the truth down someone’s throat. However, sin must be addressed and dealt with and depending on our position i.e. parent, teacher, priest, we have an obligation and responsibility to protect those under our care. May our motives be pure; may we be a force for good; may we have the courage to stand against evil.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Well, father, guess why the media in general practically only reports on man bit dog, priest didn’t keep his fingers joined, blonde’s dress is so last fall, etc? Because wherever there’s an accident, there are always passing long-neckers checking out the carnage and then patting themselves on the back for their not being like that, but sort of awesome. Narcissus can like nothing but a mirror.

  • AugustineThomas

    I think the Church (emphasis on Church) is doing just fine.
    I’m glad to see Fr. Longenecker is progressing in his faith and wisdom.
    We definitely need more priests who now how to walk the line between admonishing heresy and loving sinners.
    (I think it can be a trap of Satan to go too far in either direction.)

  • AugustineThomas

    Are all comments moderated on this blog or do I and other thoughtful “trads” just get special attention?

    (“Trads”, since you guys, in the tradition of the KKK and Know Nothing Americans, get to decide our name for us! We can’t just be orthodox Christians, we must be some kind of dangerous force in the Church since we make you insecure in regard to your cherished beliefs about your own moral superiority and your close kinship with leftists who at least very convincingly seem to be trying to destroy the Church. Evangelization is one thing, teaming up with the Devil is quite another.. Christ never made compromises with the demons he found in people, he drove them into the sea.)

  • joxxer

    Voris is rough perhaps–but honest–and who else is saying these things?? Nobody. His comments are rarely disputed or challenged. Should he be a CHARMING marshmallow like Cardinal Dolan? And what was accomplished by Dolan and his welcome of Obama? ZERO!! I am not a fan of Voris, but it is time
    to get tough, tell it like it is—and not bend over and be kicked around.

  • Forever Faithful

    Michael Voris is a solidly Catholic truth-sayer. I applaud his courage and strength of conviction. If more Catholic leaders (clerical and lay) adopted the phrase “be not afraid” and told the truth more often, Catholics would become better educated and begin living lives more aligned with the true teachings of the Catholic Church. We are all sinners and there is a work of mercy called: admonish the sinner. Jesus admonished sinners, loved them, and offered them His mercy, but, he did not accept sin. May God love us, have mercy on us, and help us remain faithful to His laws and commandments!

  • JamesLin

    Fr. Longenecker, I appreciate your perspective and effort to continue this dialogue. By social convention and tradition we generally try to be deferential and give our fellow faithfuls the benefit of the doubt. However, challenging the status quo is also a valid response if we believe that our faith is being undermined and attacked to the detriment of the souls. It comes down to our perception of what is going on in our world. If we see that the Church is doing just fine (give or take) and we have done enough for the mission of Jesus Christ, then it seems reasonable to take a more moderate attitude. However, if the perception is that “the house is on fire”, then the same moderate attitude is not appropriate. This, I believe, is common sense.

    If we look to the history of the Church, we have great saints and reformers who bore witness to the faith with charity. Charity in truth. They loved the Church, but did not hesitate to admonish those who tried to undermine the Church and her teachings through heresy and complacency. St. Francis of Assisi is a good example of a strong defender of the papacy and at the same time a tough reformer of his own order. We can see that in St. John Fisher who spoke out against the heresy of Henry VIII. His loyalty to the Church is in sharp contrast to his contemporaries.

    My point is that while we should strive to engage our contemporaries in the spirit of fraternity in Christ, it does not mean that we need to be “nice”. Just as we need to hear the true teaching of the Church from the priests, not because it is “nice”, but because it is rooted in charity. We need to hear the hard truth about the consequence of sins and the good news of Christ’s salvific power. Again I think faithful Catholics can agree on this as well. So maybe the first question to ask is, “Is the house on fire?”

    May God bless you and your ministry