Saturday, May 14, 2016

Blogospherical bitching and missionary discipleship

I probably point this too often these days, but I've been a member of the nebulous Catholic blogosphere for nearly a decade. Perhaps once I clear the 10 years of consistent blogging milestone on 19 July, I will shut up about it. Then again, maybe not. Who knows? I still find it somewhat astonishing that people have found a way to make blogging pay, that is, to become professional bloggers. I think it's important to understand the dangers of so doing, one of which is to you set yourself up as a self-styled expert on various, or even all, aspects of Catholic history, doctrine, and practice. Ah, the power of the Google! Despite my dismissive tone, all of this is fine by me because, by and large, Catholic blogging is a derivative, often parasitical, activity that frequently relies on ecclesiastical exaggerations and distortions.

Something I remind myself of on occasion is the fact that the vast majority of even faithful, practicing Catholics are not much concerned with matters those of us who can rightly be termed "Church geeks" find so interesting and important. This means that it is likely almost always the case that those who read what we post comprise a relatively small subset of Catholics: those with strong opinions one way or the other and who are looking either for affirmation of their preconceptions or someone with whom to debate. Another danger inherent to blogging is to pump out propaganda in the service of ideology.

It probably goes without saying (we bloggers are notable for pointing out the obvious) that the pontificate of Pope Francis is an absolute boon for Catholic bloggers. I would not be the least bit surprised to confirm a suspicion I have concerning Papa Begoglio: that he enjoys yanking chains. Such a confirmation would only make me like him more. What prompted this post is a certain smugness I sometimes detect from Catholic bloggers who seem to consider themselves a cut above what they perceive as the average Catholic. This manifests itself by smug and condescending responses to reactions they receive from their blogging, especially writing about the exploits of Pope Francis.

Anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to Pope Francis knows that he seeks to provoke. It's fair to describe his pontificate, at least to this point, as a provocation. Provocation is good - pro + vocation = for the call. At the center of his papal magisterium is the making of missionary disciples (see "What is missing from post-WYD Catholic commentary? 'Missionary discipleship'"). According to the end of St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus not only told his apostles to go and baptize in God's thrice-holy name, but first to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). In order to "make disciples" of Jesus, we must first become his disciples.

In my view, it is to help us become full-fledged, truly mature, disciples of the Lord that Pope Francis ceaselessly tries to break through our preconceptions and misconceptions of what that means. He is especially provocative when he speaks of "the globalization of indifference," on the one hand, and our need, as disciples of Jesus, to create "a culture of encounter," on the other. He speaks as someone not from Western Europe or the United States. Hence, it should neither surprise nor dismay us that people strongly react to his provocations and all that they entail. Isn't it easier to focus on personal piety (something we should never neglect- I try not use the word "pious" as a pejorative term), strict adherence to liturgical rubrics, and denouncing the decay of public morals than to engage like Jesus? Let's face it, even today, more than 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, Catholicism can still amount to so much dead ritualism. I am dismayed by the number of those who firmly believe the answer to this is to move backward and not forward. Pope Francis, it seems to me, is determined to lead the Church forward.

Why should Catholic bloggers be neither surprised nor dismayed? Because the Holy Father's provocations are having the intended effect! This is true even when what we experience is only the first order effect of irritating someone, as did Amoris laetitia, which changed no part of Church teaching. He's shaking us up, trying to awake us from our slumber, to engage reality according to all the factors that constitute it. He is intent on showing us that perhaps the surest mark of Christian maturity is the ability to deal with some ambiguity, especially that which arises from life's inherent complexity, which complexity ought to drive us to daily nurture our relationship with Christ.

My plea to my fellow Catholics, be they fellow clerics, religious, or lay people, who engage publicly is to engage well, in the manner of missionary disciples. Among other things, this means eschewing snarkiness and condescension, especially with regard to those we may provoke. Let go of the ethos of giving as good as you get, which is but an attenuated version of an eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth. The mark of a Christian, in the words of St. Paul, is not to "be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good" (Rom 12:21). I must admit, it is tiresome to hear Catholics who are intent on making their faith public criticize, demean, and berate those who take strong exception to what they write, even when those who take such exception act ignorantly and/or uncharitably.

For those members of the Catholic blogosphere not engaged daily and in person in pastoral ministry, just know that what happens there often makes what happens on-line pale in comparison, no matter what some might say. Aggression and passive-aggression are not exclusively the domain of the virtual world. Keep in mind that one cannot claim to serve Christ and fail to love, not even those who you treat you with contempt, but especially those who so treat you. Did not our Lord say,
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? (Matthew 5:44-47
As I am sure everyone reading this knows, Pope Francis has declared this year a Jubilee of Mercy. Central to observing this year as such is our individual and collective practice of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. I think it is fair to observe that practicing these make us missionary disciples. After all, they fulfill Jesus' commandments to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Practicing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are also means by which we die to self and selflessly serve others.

Moving from the general to the specific, among the Spiritual Works of Mercy are Forgiving Injuries and Bearing Wrongs Patiently, as is Instructing the Ignorant and Admonishing the Sinner. Let the latter two be balanced by the former two, or, as the late Rich Mullins sang, "Let Mercy Lead."

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