Showing posts with label anger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anger. Show all posts

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Enough Already! Reflections on the Need to Reject Emotion Based Response

As the abuse scandal goes on, we’re constantly bombarded with blogs, editorials, and commentaries that amount to saying “I’m angry and I’m going to tell everyone about everything I dislike about the Church and why I think it failed me!” I am not talking about actual victims here. They’re right to be angry over the pain suffered. I’m certainly not qualified to judge when they’re healed and would not dare to presume to tell them they should “get over it.” 

Instead, I’m talking about Catholics, not personally affected, who are letting their emotions drive their understanding of the situation. I get it that shock and anger are natural reactions to becoming aware of this wrongdoing. But if our response is led by emotion, we will not achieve any meaningful reform. Instead, we will only respond in a way that satisfies the emotion. We see this in the rush to judgment. Yes, certain bishops did conceal wrongdoing. Yes, we had a predator work his way up to the rank of cardinal. These things should not have happened and we need a reform.

The problem is, a meaningful reform requires us to be rational. We can’t just accuse our usual suspects, demand they be gotten rid of, and expect things to fall into place. But if you read the endless articles out there, you usually learn about the writer’s politics by the “reforms” they propose. We’re constantly bombarded by calls for women priests and the ending of celibacy on one hand, accusations against Vatican II and the “lavender mafia” on the other.

But when you think about these arguments, they don’t really make sense. Women priests won’t eliminate sexual abuse. It seems like every other week there’s a story in the news about a female teacher who sexually abused a student. Ending celibacy won’t end it. Protestant denominations have similar rates of sexual abuse, and schools—an institution that emphatically does not require celibacy—have higher rates of sexual abuse. Vatican II didn’t cause it. A high percentage of cases preceded Vatican II or involved priests ordained before Vatican II. As for the “lavender mafia,” that’s an ill-defined term that basically amounts to saying that some corrupt people in the Church with same sex attraction have received positions of authority and work together in some manner.

Arguing that these things be “changed” is not a blueprint for reform. It’s just assuming that everything would be fine if we just got rid of what we dislike. True reform requires an investigation into how these things could have happened and what could be reasonably done to prevent it from happening again.

Unfortunately, when we let emotions get in the way, we demand instantaneous fixes and think “reasonably” is a code word for “token reform.” But to avoid a “feel good” bandaid that achieves nothing or possibly to assume guilt until proven innocent, we need to evaluate the situation with the willingness to understand both what has happened and what the Church can do in response.

A reasonable reform (by which I mean a reform established by reason, not “the minimum reform we can get away with”) involves looking at the facts of the matter, determining what worked, what failed, who did their job, and who failed to do so. It means we think about the long term fix and don’t settle for scapegoats.

For example, consider the Pope’s words during the September 25 press conference, (ZENIT translation) for which critics accused him of being “tone deaf”:

I take Pennsylvania’s Report, for example, and we see that up to the first years of the 70’s there were so many priests who fell into this corruption. Then, in more recent times, they diminished because the Church realized that it had to fight another way.  In past times, these things were covered up. They were covered up also at home when an uncle violated a niece when the father violated the children. They were covered up because it was a very great shame. It was the way of thinking in past centuries, and of the past century. There is a principle in this that helps me very much to interpret history: a historical event is interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time in which the event happened, not with today’s hermeneutics. 

He’s right. To understand the behavior—and to understand is not to condone—we must understand the mindset that made it possible. In the past, things were hidden out of shame. That doesn’t justify the silence. But it does help us understand why things were tolerated in the past. If we understand them, we can try to change them. But if we don’t try to understand them—if we think being angry is enough—we will never overcome the evil.

I think we have a tendency to “fill in the blanks” when we have partial information. We insert the motives we think explain an evil and treat it as truth, demanding we be refuted even though the onus of proof falls on us to prove our angry assumptions true. Moreover, when proof is given to the contrary, we claim it is part of a coverup—because we “know” it must be false. Why do we “know” it’s false? Because it contradicts our preconceived notions about what happened. “Innocent until proven guilty” becomes “presumption of guilt that can never be disproved.”

This kind of emotional response will not reform the Church. It will instead lead people to assume that any solution that doesn’t immediately satisfy their need for vengeance is a coverup or attempt at stonewalling. That kind of mistrust eventually leads to schism while the problem goes on... and probably continues to exist in the rebellious group that thinks they eliminated the problem by rejecting the Pope.

If we want to truly reform the Church, we need to recognize when our emotions are interfering with seeking out truth. As St. Paul warns (Ephesians 4:26-27), “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.”

I think at this point, we’re leaving plenty of room for the devil and he’ll take advantage of it as long as we let emotion take first place.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Thoughts on Sinful Anger

Then the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it. (Genesis: 4:6–7)


 

21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:21–22)


___________________________

When I stopped and gazed intently,

I saw muddy people in that mire,

all naked and with indignant looks.

They struck one another not just with hands,

but with heads and with chests and with feet,

tearing each other with their teeth, bit by bit.

My good master said: “Son, now see

the souls of those who are defeated by anger…

 

 The Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Florentine by Birth, but Not by Character: Canticle One, Inferno, trans. Tom Simone (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2007), 70.

If one looks at recent disputes on Facebook or Twitter, it’s clear that they are filled with anger. Disagreements are now seen as affronts that must be avenged. Insults and attempts to destroy reputations are common. If it were just the worldly who did this it would be bad enough, and show us we have a lot of work to do evangelizing. But it seems all too often the ones who are savaging each other are those who profess a belief in Christianity. Where Tertullian could once write that pagans marveled and said to look and see how Christians loved one another, the modern worldly people can marvel and say how we behave no differently than them despite our claims.

This is not just a byproduct of refuting error a little too passionately. This is an example of Christians bearing witness to how we preach but do not practice, or as Pope Francis put it, "So many Catholics are like this and they scandalize. How many times have we heard—all of us, in our neighborhood and in other places—'But to be a Catholic like that one, it would be better to be an atheist.’ That is the scandal. It destroys you, it throws you down.”

Our Lord warned us of sinful anger, but we prefer to think of our own anger as “justified” and only the anger of others as being sinful. This is the danger of this generation. WE are crusaders for a righteous cause. THEY are vicious people. We believe God is angry at others, not us personally. But the problem is, our anger leads us to view those we are at odds with as enemies to be crushed, not as fellow sinners just as much in need of mercy as we are. Their sins may be different from ours, but we should not think that difference makes us superior. The deadliest sin is the mortal sin that sends us to hell. If we do not commit adultery, but instead we commit calumny, we endanger our souls just as much as the divorced and remarried we rage against.

We need to remember that we need salvation and we have a warning—that God will forgive us to the extent that we forgive those who wrong us. If we are determined to savage each other, how will we forgive each other. And if we won’t forgive each other, how will God forgive us?

Pope Francis has made it the mission of his pontificate to spread Mercy throughout the world. This means both making God’s mercy known to the world—urging them to accept it—and it means giving it to others if it we would receive it. But too often we think we will give mercy when they are as good as us, not before. Thus we become a scandal that prevents others from entering the Kingdom of Heaven while refusing to enter ourselves.

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves how we got here. How did we go from loving others to treating them as scum to be destroyed? I think each person will find the path to be different. But I suspect the path will show we allowed ourselves to forget the other person is a person first, no matter how abhorrent their views might be to us. I think we allow our revulsion with wrong views to become revulsion towards a person

But once we do reach that stage, we tend to think the obligation to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) can be set aside. We accuse (or imply) they knowingly holding evil positions out of malice. We don’t consider the possibility of the other being sincerely in error and needing gentle correction, or of being faithful but simply disagreeing with us (not the Church) on how to best be faithful Catholics. Unfortunately that leads to the hurling of mutual anathemas against each other on Facebook, and people divide into irreconcilable factions, each convinced the other is going to hell, and never considering our own possibility of winding up there.

Just as each of us forged our own path to get to this point, each of us will have to overcome individual obstacles (with God’s grace of course) to get back. We’ll have to consider what sets us off, what weaknesses we have, and keep them in mind when we deal with things that offend us. We should consider the fact that, if we cannot even forgive someone who slights us, how will we be able to emulate the martyrs who forgave their killers? And if we cannot forgive those who trespass against us, how can we expect God to forgive us?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Approaching the Sinner: Reaching Out in Love? Or in Judgment?

I can understand the reactions of the current rebellion in the Church—I don’t condone it, but I understand it. There is a dual reaction to anything that sounds funny. There is fear that those who are dissenters against Church teaching will get their way and change the teaching of the Church. There is also anger over the apparent inactivity of those responsible for leading the Church when it comes to these dissenters. When you think of it this way, it’s easy to start thinking of the Church in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” This is entirely natural.

However, even though it is natural, it is not what we are called to be as members of the Catholic Church. We’re called to take part in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-19):

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

God does not rejoice in the death of the sinner (See Ezekiel 18:31-32 and Ezekiel 33:11), and wants their salvation. He also sends His Church to reach them. In different ages, the Church can use different means to reach them. While individually we may have a preference for a specific method, we need to recognize that ultimately the teaching authority of the Church sets the tone, and we need to avoid undermining their work.

What we always need to keep in mind is that our task is not to take part in the condemning of sinners to damnation, but to reach out to them in love, telling them of the need for salvation, but letting them know that they are loved. At times, we need to admonish and warn the sinner. But if we don’t show our love for the sinner, instead giving them a sense of “you sinners disgust me,” then we will not be effective in our ministry.

Pope Francis gets a lot of flack here. Some Catholics accuse him of being too soft, too lenient when it comes to dealing with the sinners. But I am reminded of a similar story about another man named Francis—St. Francis de Sales. Consider this from an 1887 book on saints speaking about St. Francis de Sales and his approach as bishop of Geneva.

At times the exceeding gentleness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and one of them said to him, “Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure of the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn.” “Ah,” said the saint, “I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove, that is, gentleness itself. And are you wiser than God?”

 

[From: John Gilmary Shea, Pictorial Lives of the Saints (New York; Cincinnati; Chicago: Benziger Brothers, 1887), 67–68.] 

The concern for showing love for the sinner was not an example of “modernism,” or other errors. 

Unfortunately, some people fall into the other error. They believe that if we are called to love, we cannot say that what they do is wrong. That’s never been taught by the Church at all, and those who accuse (or praise) the Pope of saying so have missed the point. Our Lord Himself has spoken about the dangers of hell and the need to repent. In Matthew 7, (the chapter where He warns about judging—so often taken out of context), He warned:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

and:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’

But Jesus, even when warning of the reality of hell, never stopped loving the sinners. He loved the tax collector. He also loved the Pharisee.

So, this makes me think about how we are acting in the blogosphere and in the comboxes. What kind of witness are we leaving? Do we show that we love, and desire the salvation of, Obama or Pelosi? Or the person struggling with same sex attraction? Or the atheist? Or how about Fr. Hans K√ľng? Cardinal Kasper? Fr. Richard McBrien (who died recently) How that bishop or pastor you can’t stand? Do we pray for them? And by pray, I don’t mean “Oh Lord, please make Bishop So-and-so not be an idiot!” Do we show our love for these people in our prayers?

I don’t say this judgmentally. Lord knows I have been rude and sarcastic. I get pissed off with the Super Catholic who thinks they cannot err while the Pope can. So I certainly need to learn to practice what I am preaching here. Indeed, next week I might be back to being sarcastic and mocking of those I disagree with, and I certainly need your prayers.

I just ask that all of us who witness the Catholic faith, whether face to face, by blog, by Facebook or Twitter (or whatever else is popular out there)—let’s remember that how we act is a part of our witness as part of the Great Commission. And let’s pray for each other as well.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

TFTD: Don't Judge People You Judgmental @#$%&*#!!!

 

Reading the comments in response to Facebook articles, I came across one raging individual who was launching a tirade against the Church in response to an address given by Pope Francis on the topic of marriage. I found it rather sad, in a pitiful way. She was raging about how God didn’t care about same sex relationships and the Church had no right to judge people choosing to take part in such acts. Besides, the Bible had more to say about different topics besides that! (So which is it? God doesn’t care? Or that He just has higher priorities?)

I find that curious. This person has basically put herself in a no-win situation.

  1. If God exists (which seems to be a given since the woman said He didn’t care and caring depends on existing), and has made known how He wants us to live, then it stands to reason that someone so concerned about what He thinks would follow His teaching, after discerning what He taught.
  2. If God exists, and has not made known how He wants us to live, then how in the hell do you know He doesn’t care?

So, for this woman to prove her point, she has to assume that God has made known how He wants us to live, and has indicated He doesn’t care about sexual preferences. No such statement from God exists, though we do have many condemnations of same sex behavior in both the Old and New Testament. Jesus Himself defined marriage as being between a woman and a man:

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matt 19:4–6).

So, this woman has to deny the authority of Scripture when it comes to the verses she dislikes.

But I suspect the woman was probably given a false idea of Jesus as a Santa Claus who just loves people in a warm fuzzy way and never asks them to change their ways because sin is only what other people do. Also, I suspect that she equates “judge” with “say something is wrong.” But the judging Jesus is speaking of is the final judgment. God has the sole authority to determine how each person has sought to learn what is right and then carry it out to the best of his or her knowledge and ability

The second point of interest is that the teaching of Jesus, in the Bible, tells us that He intends to build a Church which He gives His authority and to reject the Church is to reject Him. If this is true, then the Church certainly does have the authority to determine what acts are compatible with being a Christian and which ones are not. That brings us back to the no-win situation above. If God makes His will known, then she needs to either accept the words of Christ as they appear in the Bible or provide an authoritative source as to why it is wrong. If He doesn’t, how in the hell does she know?

Again, the Santa Claus image of Jesus makes her think that God couldn’t say that what she does is wrong.

Really, this kind of mindset is a form of pride. It says "other people are sinners but *I* am not!” But Jesus came to save us because we are sinners and we are called to repent. If we refuse to repent, we refuse His sacrifice on the Cross. So the person who denies their sinfulness and refuses to ask whether they do wrong won’t be able to repent.

So the Church isn’t being judgmental. She’s more like the person with the sign saying, “Danger! Bridge Out Ahead!” Ignore the warning, and it won’t go well with you. Not because the Church is “mean.” But because God is loving and just. Justice requires that people who choose to do what they know is wrong answer for it.