Friday, June 24, 2011

"In the field they may be with you"

One of the truest clichés is "misery loves company." This is true because evil is a sucking vortex, no matter where or how it rears its ugly head. This is why humility is so necessary. I believe that it is humility, even more than prudence, that allows us to resist evil. You see, if you are humble you are not convinced of your own righteousness. As Matthew Archbold wrote recently over on Creative Minority Report (with a deep diaconal bow to Fr. Erik): "I don't want a religion that accepts me for who I am. I know who I am and am unimpressed. I want a religion that calls me to be better than I am even as I resist it."

In his Letter to the Galatians, the apostle wrote: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another" (5:13-15-ESV).

Now, what constitutes charity in a given instance differs. For example, as a parent, it is really true that I often love my children more by putting foot my down, which makes them unhappy, at least for awhile, than by just letting them do what they want. Charity, caritas, means that I love another by loving her/his destiny. This is why authentic friendship demands honesty. Just today I sent a friend a FB message in which I expressed a thought, a feeling, that I know I shouldn't have. My hope, which is a form of trust, is not that my friend will delicately talk me out of feeling the way I feel (feelings, while real, are fickle and most often secondary or tertiary), but accept it and help me work through my anger. To paraphrase Archbold, I want friends who love my destiny, even when I don't!

This is what I mean when I write that when it comes to charity one size does not fit all. Over the years I have developed a three-fold way to evaluate how I make important decisions that affect others, which certainly applies to blogging. First, I ask myself, is it, according to my best judgment and the best counsel I have received, objectively the right conclusion? Second, even when I can conclude with integrity it is the right conclusion, are my motives good? Finally, how do I plan to go about following through? I can think of two examples in the past several years that I have done the right thing, for the correct reasons, but blown it in how I went about doing. In both cases I was too passive-aggressive.

I remember when Pope Benedict conditionally lifted the excommunications of four illicitly ordained bishops from the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). I wrote a pretty critical post about how he really should've been better advised, that he should have known before he issued the document, not after, that Williamson (one of the bishops) was a denier of the mass murder of European Jews in Germany during the reign of the National Socialists. I still think that judgment is correct, but the spirit in which I expressed it was not. But then I remember reading the Holy Father's letter to the bishops of the world, in which he cited the text from Galatians about not devouring one another, but to love and serve each other. I was more than happy to make up for what was lacking in my critical post.

Dr. James Dobson used to warn about Christians forming a circular firing squad whenever someone was "caught" misbehaving. No matter how well-intentioned, this is not charitable. There will be scandals in the church until Christ returns in glory. St. Augustine, preaching on Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV), says that the Lord is the One who sows the seed, but
"He showed how that the enemy who sowed the tares was the devil; the time of harvest, the end of the world; His field the whole world. And what says He? 'In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, to burn them, but gather the wheat into My barn.' Why are you so hasty, He says, you servants full of zeal? You see tares among the wheat, you see evil Christians among the good; and you wish to root up the evil ones; be quiet, it is not the time of harvest. That time will come, may it only find you wheat! Why do ye vex yourselves? Why bear impatiently the mixture of the evil with the good? In the field they may be with you, but they will not be so in the barn" (Sermon 23 On the New Testament)
This post is obviously not apropos of nothing, nor is it a plea not to act charitably in a tough love sort of way, in diakonia of the truth for the good of others and the unity of the church. Rather, let's be mindful that misery, indeed, loves company and that sometimes, in our zeal, the line between good and evil can become barely visible. Prayer and fasting, counseling together, seeking advice, and, above all, being humble, are what open us to grace of which we are always in dire need so that we can clearly discern. After all, St. Augustine himself was a great servant of both truth and charity as he engaged in controversies that threatened those he was called to serve and/or the unity of the Church.

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