Monday, October 12, 2015

Troubling Trends in Catholic Blogging

Before I begin, I’d like to share two passages from the First Epistle of St. Peter:

19 For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace. 20 But what credit is there if you are patient when beaten for doing wrong? But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. (1 Peter 2:19-20)

 

14 But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, 16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17)

I share these two passages because they show there is a difference between being mistreated on account of doing right and being mistreated on account of behaving badly. Unfortunately, it seems some Catholic blogs fail to make this distinction. 

Catholic blogging, particularly that of the apologetics type, involves people offering their insights into the Catholic faith and the Church. However, we possess no authority ourselves. The best we can do is to point to what the teaching of the Church is and encouraging people to follow it. We can explain why we think that the Church authority properly applied should lead to a certain way of acting, but we have to recognize that there certainly is a difference between others disagreeing with us and others disagreeing with The Church. The former is no sin. The latter is—but it is the task of the Church, not the blogger, to determine how to handle such behavior.

Unfortunately, this distinction is not being made. There is a growing number of blogs which fail to consider that there can be different legitimate ways to approach how to apply the Catholic teaching to the world (I wrote about that HERE). The attitude is that if the person we see as an adversary does not support the same tactics I do, he or she is a person to be opposed. Moreover, even when the person is at odds with the Church, we act as if this gives us a license to set aside Christian charity.

That would be great

We have to consider the witness we make in our behavior and in our words. If we behave contemptuously of those we disagree with, do we bear witness to the teaching of the Church? Or do we bear false witness by leading people who read our blogs and our comments to think, “Man, Catholics are jerks”?

For example, there seems to be a growing tendency by some Catholic bloggers to push things on blog comments or Facebook until they get banned, and then treat the banning as a mark of honor in defending the faith. The problem is, sometimes I find myself appalled by what they said and did in the lead up to their getting banned or blocked. Labels like heretic or wrongheaded are sometimes hurled. Insinuations are sometimes made as to the intelligence or the good faith of the target. Then they profess to be shocked, shocked to find “partisan” behavior going on.

What is not said is that most of us would probably ban/block others who behaved in a similar manner to us.

Now perhaps some people might object that they are merely practicing the spiritual works of mercy of admonishing sinners when they attack someone they disagree with. But I think that St. Francis de Sales had some good words on the topic in his work, Of the Love of God:

When that great master of theology S. Thomas Aquinas lay in his last sickness at Fosse-neuve, the Cistercian monks around asked him to expound the Canticles to them, as S. Bernard had done. To which the Saint replied, “Dear fathers, give me the mind of S. Bernard, and I will expound the sacred words as he did!” Even so, if we poor weak Christians are called upon to put forth zealous wrath like those great saints we read of in the Scriptures, it behoves us to answer, “Give us their spirit and their light, and we will do as they did.” It is not every one that knows when or how to be angry.

 

Those holy men were under God’s immediate inspiration, and therefore they could exercise their wrath fearlessly, inasmuch as the same Spirit Which kindled restrained it within due limits. Such anger is not that “wrath of man” of which S. James says that it “worketh not the righteousness of God.” Although S. Paul calls the Galatians “foolish,” and withstood S. Peter “to the face,” is that any reason why we should sit in judgment on nations, censure and abuse our superiors? We are not so many S. Pauls! But bitter, sharp, hasty men not unfrequently give way to their own tempers and dislikes under the cloak of zeal, and are consumed of their own fire, falsely calling it from heaven. On one side an ambitious man would fain have us believe that he only seeks the mitre out of zeal for souls; on the other a harsh censor bids us accept his slanders and backbiting as the utterance of a zealous mind.

 

 Francis de Sales, Of the Love of God, trans. H. L. Sidney Lear (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 351.

In other words, even if we have the example of St. Paul in mind in calling out to others, that doesn’t mean we are following his example when we respond in a harsh way. We can do wrong because: just because St. Paul can be doing the will of God in shocking someone to their senses does not mean we are also doing His will in rebuking a sinner. Even if the person is doing wrong, that doesn’t mean we are doing right in how we admonish.

It’s not the purpose of my blog to single out anybody in particular (while I sometimes fail, my personal policy is not to write a blog against individuals but rather attitudes). Rather I offer my concern in order to let people consider their actions without feeling specifically targeted. It is my hope here to emulate Proverbs 15:1 though I acknowledge I can have my own blind spots. 

We the Catholic bloggers should encourage each other so that people may see that we act out of love of Christ and not think our behavior is a mark against the Church. And, if anybody should think this article is an example of not practicing what I preach, I ask your pardon.

2 comments:

  1. You've made an important point. I'm a Catholic blogger, and I was recently asked to give a presentation about how to use social media effectively. I collected all my best Facebook and Twitter and blogging tips, and finally decided to toss most of them away and talk instead about attitude. There's too much disedifying stuff littering the Internet. I told my listeners that every post, long or short, should do two things: clarify something, and encourage someone. I fall short of that standard myself more often than I like to think - but it's a standard worth keeping. Thanks for your writing.

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful. God Bless. :)

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