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.