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.


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)

the look of love

“Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being.” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 128)

Many have pre-judged Amoris Laetitia: on Love in the Family simply on the fact that it was written by a pope. What does a celibate man know about family life and love? This celibate man appears to know quite a bit.

There are many priests and bishops, of a more clerical nature, who live in a privileged cocoon, spouting doctrine and wagging their fingers from on high at the great unwashed below. We know what our current pope thinks of those in the hierarchy who seldom step foot out of their ecclesial palaces. Francis has preached repeatedly against clericalism. He has urged the ordained to immerse themselves in the lives of those they are called to serve. A true shepherd, he says, takes on the “smell of the sheep”.

Francis is a true shepherd, who knows his sheep pretty well.

When Francis talks, he often veers from prepared text and speaks from the heart. He does the same in his writing. Amoris Laetitia shines brightest when Francis steps aside from the obligatory referencing of Vatican and Synod documents. There is an honesty to his words when he speaks practically about love in the family. This is the pastor from Buenos Aires who purposely lived among the people, not a silk-clad bishop who reigned from his diocesan enclave. Francis may not be married, but he has observed and pastored to family life in all its joys and struggles.

Take, for example, this excerpt from a section in Amoris Laetitia titled “Joy and Beauty”,

The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in the “gaze” which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves, even if they are infirm, elderly, or physically unattractive. A look of appreciation has enormous importance, and to begrudge it is usually harmful. (AL 128)

The look of love. It empowers and affirms us. Without it, we feel ignored and question if we are truly loved. Francis offers some examples when love’s gaze is missing within the family,

“My husband does not look at me; he acts as if I were invisible”. “Please look at me when I’m talking to you!”. “My wife no longer looks at me, she only has eyes for our children”. “In my own home nobody cares about me, they do not even see me, it is as if I did not exist”. (AL, 128)

Theological or ephemeral musings about love are often hard to grasp when our feet are mired in the mud of reality. Francis, instead, gives easily recognizable examples that nudge our conscience. In this case, he is nudging us to gaze intentionally at those we love. The look of love, after all,  is no small thing.

Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being. AL 128

the sour taste of envy

“Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity.” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 95)

Love is not jealous  (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Tell that to the green-eyed monster claiming life-long squatter’s rights in my brain! Every time I try to evict the little bugger, he raises another example of someone’s superior achievements compared to my own meagre efforts.

  • Mothers who managed to raise families AND have a career AND find time and energy to complete post-grad degrees AND look beautiful while doing it!
  • Bloggers who never miss a beat in their writing, consistently producing brilliant pieces that I wish I wrote. (Don’t they know about writer’s block???)
  • Anyone with a blog or any social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) who obviously has more “friends” than I have.
  • Friends who have written and published one or more books while I keep dreaming of starting one.
  • Women my age who will proudly bare their gym-toned arms or Zoomba fit legs now that the summer sun is around the corner.

Why, oh why do we torture ourselves with this soul-sucking competition? Why can’t we focus more on our own goals without feeling we are being left in the dust by others? Why can’t we feel pride in every step we take on our life’s journey, without mentally measuring the leaps and bounds of those on a similar path?

Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia,

“Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy.” AL, 95

Envy certainly produces a sour taste in families. Competition seems wired into our human nature. Siblings are quick to accuse parents of favouring one child over another. Families judge themselves and each other based on the size of their homes or the success of their children. Parents feel slighted if adult children give affection and time more readily to the in-laws than to them. Envy sours the love needed for peace within and among families.

Francis goes on to remind us that love always respects diversity,

“It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.” AL 95

Ah, there it is. A reminder to stop and acknowledge our differences, without mentally placing them in a hierarchy of achievement. We not only have different gifts and talents, but different life circumstances, joys and challenges.

Difference viewed side by side, not as one automatically better than the other. Difference that is a cause for celebration, not envy.