Monday 15 June 2015

Ministry to Angry Catholics

I'm being denounced somewhere or other, which doesn't really matter, and mostly I'm thanking heaven that my critic is too chivalrous to denounce me by name.  Meanwhile, he is a lot more intelligent than the few critics who have  also slagged off your humble auntie online. Naturally I wish he would not attribute to me uncharitable motives for the things I write, but I imagine he is sorely tried by my colleagues.

There are several polemical Catholic blogs out there, and I read three or four from time to time. The most extreme is probably "Mundabor" which is highly  (like, Not Safe for Work or Little Brothers highly) critical of Pope Francis from the traditional side of things. Mundabor is so extreme, when I mentioned him to two VERY polemical conservative Canadian Catholic bloggers they looked embarrassed and said, "Oh, do people admit to reading Mundabor?"

Personally, I am a big fan of the Freedom to Read--for adults, not kids, mind you--so as an adult I'll admit to reading anything I read.  Therefore I don't read anything I would be too embarrassed to admit to reading. Thus, I will have a look to see what our hot-tempered Italian correspondent in London has to say today, but I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey. I leave it to Saint Thomas to Aquinas determine if it is worse to read an Italian Catholic slagging off Pope Francis than to read hysterically terrible lady porn. Personally, I think the porn would be worse for me.

Anyway, there are a lot of angry Catholics out there. Angry, angry, angry. However, I don't think the fact that they are angry disqualifies them from membership in the human race. Many Catholics have good reason to be angry.

I didn't know that, of course, until I grew up. I had lived a pretty sheltered existence with my tolerant parents, and nobody I knew (then) had been messed with by priests as a child, or had been walloped by nuns, or been to a Mass performed by Bishop Remi de Roo, and I wasn't even that conscious that the Catholic faith was taught WAY differently and much more carefully a decade before I was born. My childhood parish priests seem to me now pattern cards of orthodoxy. Well, the most important ones, anyway.

Instead of being angry, when life got me down--e.g. the pagan-to-me hijinks at university--I got depressed instead. This is actually less healthy than getting angry, for what is depression but taking out your anger on yourself?

My attention was recently brought to Angry Catholics by a youngish Jesuit brother online who was denouncing LifeSiteNews and the Angry Catholics who called up a Jesuit community in Ontario  many years ago to complain mightily about.... Well, he didn't say, but I fear from what he did say that it was a photograph of a Jesuit of that community saying Mass on a bale of straw. 

Each of us no doubt has our opinion on whether or not a priest ought to say Mass on a bale of straw when a nice solid coffee table would do just as well and probably better. At any rate, it came as a surprise to this chap, when a novice, that Catholics could get so angry about something like that. Removed from the past 60 years of Church history, it doesn't seem worth phoning up the SJ switchboard about, but I imagine this was--forgive me--the straw that broke the Angry Catholics' back.

Had I been at the switchboard, I like to think I would have made an appointment with each and every Angry Catholic who called or wrote in. Try to imagine me as a Jesuit priest. I realize this is hard, so just turn me into a red-headed guy with a brush cut and freckles, not too tall, but not too pudgy.

Anyway, I would meet every one who accepted my invitation in my office in two chairs in front of my desk and invite each one to have a go at me. They could say anything they liked. They could curse me up and down and sideways and question my parentage and insult my mother and cry and scream. I would draw the line at punching me, however, for obvious reasons.

And once they had it all off their chests, and I had handed them the tissue box, and they had blown their noses, I would fetch my secret whiskey bottle, and we could have a proper drink like men and women.

They would probably say, "Sorry about that, Father. I know it's not really your fault."

And I would say, "That doesn't matter. Now go to chapel and tell God an edited version of what you just told me. And when you look at the crucifix, remember that Our Lord took those wounds for everybody."

Because guess what? Being Christ-like means voluntarily taking the stripes for other people out of love. I'm not sure it would be appropriate for me to sit there and take the screams of fellow Catholics furious with priests who say Mass on bales of straw or create other scandals, but I suppose if I am ever the editor of a Catholic newspaper, it might be appropriate for me to sit in my office with Catholics who feel betrayed by Catholic media and let them cry and carry on. In fact, I think it would be my duty. Anger shouldn't be left to fester. 

I think we need to honour the anger of Angry Catholics. Their honest anger, of course. Saint Thomas Aquinas praises Righteous Anger, but he is very down on Wrath. We also have go to stop being so whiny about the slightest criticism. What people on social media claim is "nastiness" is sometimes not nasty at all. It's merely disagreement. 

At any rate, I definitely think we should stop being so prissy. Of course, I don't feel like becoming a Catholic polemicist. I don't have a taste for it, and I sense that there would be terrible spiritual dangers in it for me. However, I don't feel like condemning Angry Catholics either, or just ignoring them, or commenting on how sad and ill and damaged and twisted, etc., etc., they might be. Mostly what I'd like to do is have coffee with them and say, "So tell me your story." And, if asked my advice, I'd send them off to a church or chapel afterwards, to tell the same story to God and wrest answers to their questions out of Him.

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