So, the other day, Fr. Rosica spoke about Catholic presence on the internet and how sometimes they turn “the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!” He’s mostly speaking of conservative Catholic bloggers as well as those who target his group, Salt + Light, so some might be cynical about the objectivity of the article. I’m not here to quibble about the group or its alleged political leanings. What I am here to write about is the rather bizarre sight of seeing on Facebook some Catholics share that post with approval and the next day turn around and savage people they dislike.
Now of course Catholics have to stand up for what is right, and sometimes this means taking a stand. We can't be silent and allow evil to triumph. But, we also have an obligation to practice charity towards our neighbor in doing so and we have an obligation to remove the beam from our eye before removing the splinter from our neighbor’s (see Matthew 7:3-5). In other words, if we support something when we apply it to our neighbors, but are blind to how it applies to ourselves, we’re hypocrites—and people will see our hypocrisy. The thing is, when they see our hypocrisy in living the Christian life, they won’t listen to what we say about the importance of them living the Christian life. If we don’t practice it, why should they?
That doesn’t mean false charges of hypocrisy like those people who cite Matthew 7:1 and claim we’re judging them by saying “X is wrong.” I mean real charges of hypocrisy like accusing someone of savaging the Pope and responding by savaging that person. If savaging is wrong for the modernist or the radical traditionalist, it’s wrong for us to savage them, even if we must rebuke them.
For example, we might take pride in never being disrespectful to a bishop. That is good. But do we show contempt for a politician or a fellow blogger instead? That is not good. We can oppose Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump when they do wrong. But if we openly treat them as enemies to vanquish, and not as fellow sinners to love, why should non-Christians believe us when we say we don’t hate people who have same sex attraction or have an abortion? How we treat the people we oppose will make a more immediate impact than the eloquent arguments we make defending the faith. Remember the words of St. John: “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God.” (1 John 4:20)
It’s hard. While I won’t dredge them up for this article (they involve real people who might not appreciate having their names or situations splattered across the internet), I have behaved in a way where my behavior in dealing with people I morally opposed had a greater impact than the words I wrote. I still take part in Facebook mocking of people who do things I find morally wrong and the defensiveness they probably feel alienates them from changing. We might win the battle of words but we don’t win the soul of the one we talk with.
Unfortunately, some people hear this and think it is a call to “sugarcoat” the truth so we don’t offend people. That’s not the case at all. Sometimes people will get offended regardless of what we say or do (see John 15:18-25). We can’t help that. But we can help it they’re offended by our unjust way of speaking. So let’s not think our presentation is a part of the Christian teaching. Yes, we do have to say “X is wrong.” Yes, we do need to stress the importance of avoiding X to save our soul. No, we can't say “You’re an evil bastard who deserves to go to hell because you do X."
I think this is especially important when people hate us and curse us for speaking the truth. Jesus said we had to bless those who curse us, not respond in kind. The modern social media has a bad tendency to turn vile. We’re called bigots and homophobes and transphobes (last week, I didn’t even know that one was a word—and suspect it wasn't) because we refuse to abandon our beliefs that some actions are morally wrong. But if they are going to accuse us of these things, then let us be innocent of the charges. And if we’re going to speak against the gross disrespect of the Pope by a blogger, let us not treat said blogger with gross disrespect in our response.
It may not change what they think of us. But at least we’ll then be innocent of the accusation of hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:19-20).