You sit and speak against your brother,
slandering your mother’s son. (Psalm 50:20).
As Catholics continue fighting on social media, a question that comes to my mind is whether some have crossed the point of no return. Charitable disagreement over how to apply Church teaching to voting and political solutions is acceptable so long as a person accepts the teaching authority of the Church and doesn’t try to evade it. The problem is, this year, charity is seems to be entirely lacking. People of one faction not only assume the other faction [†] is wrong, but assume they are maliciously wrong. I’ve seen priests attacking laity and each other because the targets disagree or are struggling to reach a decision the attackers think should be obvious. I’ve seen Catholic bloggers act like they’re doing God’s work by insulting people they disagree with.
The problem, as I see it, is a growing number of Catholics don’t seem to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. They seem to see each other as either allies or enemies depending on whether their political views match or differ. So, what happens when 2017 rolls around and we have to face whoever gets elected? Will we be able to unite to fight whatever evil the government promotes? Or will these burnt bridges separate us—leaving factions who are mutually anathema to each other?
The common objection is, “But these people are wrong! We have to oppose them!” They point to the example of St. Paul withstanding St. Peter to his face, and the examples of prophets from the Old Testament to justify their words and actions. The problem is there’s little to no charity going on. I think we would be wise to consider the words of St. Francis de Sales:
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, [Book X, Chapter XVI] trans. H. L. Sidney Lear (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 351.
I wonder how many people who are swift to denounce behavior they dislike, confuse that dislike with a zeal for souls? If we truly believe that people we disagree with are choosing wrong and endangering souls, why do we behave in such a way that will drive away the people we think need to change? Not only will it drive them away, it will keep them away. Some might leave the faith. Others might harden their resolve.
It’s one thing if people hate us because we stand up for our faith. It’s a different matter if people hate us because we behave badly in defending the faith. As St. Peter told us, “For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace. 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). In other words, if people accuse us, let’s not be guilty of what they accuse us of.
As we reach the end of this election cycle, maybe it’s time to take stock in how we behaved. Did we promote the faith so people might live according to it? Or did we behave badly enough that we can only reach out to people who happened to think like us to begin with?
I’m not going to name names. I’m not going to judge which person or blog I think has done right and which I think has done wrong. All I want to do in this article is to ask each Catholic to consider whether they burned bridges they should not have burned. If so, each of us should consider how we can repair the damage we’re personally responsible for and, if it is irreparable, to pray to God to heal the damage we caused.
If we don't, we’ll find our faith divided by a mass of charred wreckage of our own doing.
[†] I don’t like the dualism in American politics, but it is a reality we have to be aware of.