dialogue tips from scripture

2Peter1

The first reading in today’s liturgy could be a mission statement for online dialogue.

My two recent posts were on the topic of radical Catholic blog sites, and the harm and division that is caused when impassioned apologetics morph into hateful attacks. The disintegration of dialogue in our church and in the world cannot be blamed solely on the far-right. Liberals, too, can be just as guilty of hasty judgments and harsh words for those sitting on the other side of the ideological fence. (Mea culpa!)

The reading above is worth pondering…

faith with virtue

Be vocal in your beliefs, and you automatically open yourself up to accusations of hypocrisy. (I feel the sting myself.  Hubby often gently nudges me to live the nice words I write….sigh…) No one is perfect, but our faith is best expressed not through passionate evangelizing, but through our actions.

virtue with knowledge

Knowledge IS important in a dialogue. We might feel strongly for or against a specific issue, but if we want to engage in an effective discussion we must do the necessary head-work to understand the back-ground and roots of the issue we are discussing. (See an informed conscience…please!)

knowledge with self control

Ah, self control. Knowledge is never meant to be used as a battering ram or a means to inflate our egos. Dialogue is about effective listening and effective speaking. Speaking effectively allows others to understand what we are trying to say. This doesn’t mean that we need to “dumb down” our discourse, but some of the smartest and most educated people I know are also the most humble. They have an economy of words that draws you to listen and ponder what they have said. Pope Francis is a perfect example of this.

self control with endurance

For dialogue to succeed, we need to “stay at the table” when the going gets tough. I struggle with this, especially if faced with a bully. I hate confrontation, and usually respond with silence instead of sharing my views. We all have a right to be heard, and need to exercise that right.

endurance with devotion

Being committed to dialogue requires a passion for the process itself. We enter into dialogue not to change another’s mind, but with the hope to seek common ground. Each dialogue is a small step to mutual understanding. It’s not always easy and seldom gives you the satisfaction of having “won”.  We do it because we believe it is worthwhile.

devotion with mutual affection

Now here’s the crunch. Dialogue is almost impossible when the parties are divided by deep seated hatred. Think of the fragility of peace processes around the world. We need to let go of our own, personal bigotry against the “other” if we want to commit to dialogue. (I can already hear Hubby challenging me again!)

mutual affection with love

Ok…it’s one thing to ask me to “like” the person in a difficult dialogue…but, love? Yet, we all know that love is at the root of Christianity. Blog writers, columnists, and discussion board commentators that call themselves Catholic while spewing vitriol and venom are far from shining examples of Christian love.

Love. So Simple. So hard. So necessary.

radical catholic blogs: ignore or challenge?

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has written a commentary for Crux titled Radical Catholic blogs may be a cesspool, but saying so won’t help.  His article is a response to Fr. Thomas Rosica’s no holds barred condemnation of those who partake in “character assassinations” online. (See my previous post.) Rosica accused some Catholics of turning the Internet into “a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith”. (The full address can be found here.)

Fr. Longenecker believes that lack of catechesis is partly to blame for the rise in extreme traditionalism or fundamentalism in the church. He writes,

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, too much preaching and catechesis focused only on peace and justice issues, or presented a subjective and sentimental understanding of the Catholic faith. Pastors and catechists are not the only ones at fault. The Catholic faithful themselves have too often preferred a fuzzy, feel-good message.

Indifference, and indifferentism, have produced a notoriously lax and ineffectual form of American Catholicism.

Catholics who are looking for a faith with rigor, discipline and a tough line are invariably drawn to the traditionalist message.”

Longenecker believes that “Self-appointed online teachers fill the vacuum, and a poisonous, self-righteous extremism takes the place of true, simple, and humble piety.”

I agree that fundamentalism is fed on a perceived weakening and watering down of faith, a need to “get back to our roots”. Fundamentalism often morphs into an aggressive regression to simplistic, black and white thinking. Fundamentalism leaves little room for questioning and dialogue, for discerning personal circumstance and diversity. Fundamentalists often bully others into what they perceive as purity of belief and ritual.

 

Blaming a lack of catechesis and a “notoriously lax” Catholic populace is an over-used  tool for many clerics and lay alike. How many times were we told during discussions on the recent Synod on the Family that all problems in the family could be solved with more catechism classes? This is not only simplistic. It also bypasses the messiness of real encounter and true dialogue. It is easier to quote catechism and bible verses at a person than to immerse yourself in the reality of their life. It is easier to believe in and promote black and white teachings than to deal with the uncertainty of the grey, in-between.

Lonenecker did some online research on some of the “radical” Catholic blogs. The examples of nastiness that he lists show the lack of charity and basic human respect shown by these self-appointed arbiters of doctrinal purity. Their venom and vitriol prove that Fr. Rosica was justified in his condemnations.

Lonenecker ends the article on a note of resignation. There is no way to talk to these extremists, he believes, so we should simply ignore them.

Therefore, one must shrug, get on with the difficult calling of following Christ the Lord, and remember Rosica’s final comment: “We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

Really?

History is filled with religious and political ideologues whose incendiary words stoked the flames of bigoted hatred and division. Their modern day contemporaries surprise us with their seemingly effortless rise to power. How did they achieve such a strong voice? How did they get others to not only listen to them, but to believe and support what they are saying?

They do so by feeding on ignorance and despair, giving simple answers to complicated issues. They  promise heaven to those who feel the despairs of earthly existence. They target insecurities and feelings of inferiority by labelling and attacking the “other”. In doing so, their own egos are nourished.

Sorry, Father Lonenecker. Sure, we need to pray. We also need to shake off our complacency and speak out. We need to protect our church and our world from extremists, both religious and political.

Cesspools need to be called out for what they are. Shrugging them off will not take the smell away.

arrogant catholics

Love is not boastful

It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions. At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant. (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 98)

Pride and arrogance are never pretty. Pride and arrogance in a Christian are not only ugly, but also go against all that Jesus modelled in both word and deed. Pope Francis often echoes Jesus’s zealous criticism of the Pharisees of his day, challenging modern Catholics to judge less and dialogue more.

The recent death of Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN, has prompted a discussion on the legacy she has left behind.

On the one hand, this conservative nun built a media empire that was the envy of many American bishops. This anti-feminist woman showed that women can, indeed, be a powerful voice in the church.

On the other hand, her brand of ultra-orthodox Catholicism rankled many. Behind her folksy speaking style was a harsh, judgmental view of Catholics who did not live up to the high religious, cultural and moral standards promoted on her network.

Many years ago, I used to watch a lot of EWTN. There was some good, solid catechetical programming. The daily liturgies and prayers are, I’m sure, beneficial to many shut-ins. But, I was quickly turned off by the zealous orthodoxy of some of its presenters, including Mother Angelica herself. Interviewers and interviewees fed each other on a constant diet of “spot the heresy” and “point out the sin” in liturgical practise, doctrine, and the daily lives of ordinary women and men.

There is a big difference in seeking perfection in our own faith lives, and spending our lives scrutinizing the imperfections of others. Self-appointed heresy hunting is seldom wrapped in a cloak of charity and humility.

Father Thomas Rosica C.S.B. is also a founder of a Catholic media network, Salt and Light TV here in Canada.  (In my humble opinion, Salt and Light TV is to EWTN what BBC News is to Fox News.) Father Rosica is a respected scripture scholar and communicator, and also works for the Vatican Press office as a spokesperson for English speaking media.

On May 11, 2016, Fr. Rosica received the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. His Keynote Address is a brilliant synopsis of the change in tone and “branding” of the Church under Pope Francis. You can watch or read the full speech online at Salt and Light TV.

In his address, Rosica describes the culture of encounter and dialogue promoted by Pope Francis. Francis is showing to the world what we, as Catholics, stand for rather than repeating a long list of things we are against. Our pope preaches about the need to care for the poor, the marginalized, the migrants and refugees. He promotes care for the environment and the need for mercy in both the world and the church.

When speaking about the “Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere”, the usually calm Rosica gives an emotional observation of the harm being done by some overly zealous Catholics online.

It (the internet) can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Instead of using the internet as a graced platform for evangelization, those who partake in this character assassination have,

…turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

These are harsh words coming from a man skilled in diplomatic communications. For this reason, his words aren’t to be taken lightly.

I’ve written before about the heresy hunters that troll Catholic sites looking for victims for their inquisitorial endeavours. (I’ve been a victim myself.) The wonderful discussion boards at the National Catholic Reporter are often high-jacked by these self-righteous souls.

Pope Francis continues in Amoris Laetitia,

In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love. (AM 98)

The logic of domination and competition about who is the holiest or purest destroys love in the church.

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See also: EWTN: The Legacy of Mother Angelica  by Michael Sean Winters (National Catholic Reporter)

Can Catholic TV move beyond Mother Angelica’s legacy? by Raymond A. Schroth (National Catholic Reporter)