Friday, April 17, 2009

I Am Not a Watchdog

A while ago, after a link was posted in a lay Dominican newsletter, I started following Fr. Zuhlsdorf's "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" blog. I am a fan of what is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the mass (formerly known as the Tridentine and/or traditional Latin mass), and I thought it'd be interesting to follow developments related to Summorum Pontificum. Reading him eventually got me subscribed to American Papist's blog (AmP).

Prior to this, my main source of "Catholic news" was, which is a really good, factual report of what is going on with the Holy See, and particularly what is going on with His Holiness himself. I started subscribing to that many years ago, while Servant of God John Paul the Great was still pope, and I am still subscribed. But the news that I found coming through Fr. Z's blog and AmP and, through them, others was not the same kind of news.

AmP is authored by a youngish fellow in the D.C. area, Thomas Peters, and as with all young folk, he tends to be somewhat impetuous (I should know!). This aspect came through really clearly in his blog, in particular his criticism of Cardinal Shönborn at a less than traditional mass. I disagreed with him, specifically on the weighty accusation of liturgical abuses. He did not recant but rather continued in his skeptical criticism, despite assurances from the cardinal's office. This along with similar reactions to other happenings in the Catholic world got me to unsubscribe from AmP.

Fr. Z, on the other hand, is a priest, more mature, and a usually offers a balanced report on the topics of goings on in and related to the Church, so I stayed subscribed to his blog. Yet at the same time, his zeal for the Extraordinary Form I think prejudices him against the worthy celebration of the Ordinary Form, which I personally believe to be the norm based on my experience--I've heard of real liturgical abuses, and I've seen and experienced celebrations that did not reflect my own preferences for the sublimity which is the Eucharist, and no doubt the average celebration could be improved!--but overall, I tend to prefer it, having attended both an FSSP parish and several diocesian parishes in different states/dioceses.

But I digress. Along with the biased coverage of the Extraordinary Form, Father Z also surfaces a lot of the more general this-is-happening-can-you-believe-it? type stuff. The general tenor of his and many other Catholic blogs is a sustained state of outrage. It seems that there is almost daily a new bit of news that maintains the furor, and I succumbed to it. It felt good to be "righteously indignant."

In fact, it was this same indignance that prompted me to post several posts on this blog that are, in my opinion, borderline in terms of their goodness, and one in particular that I strongly doubt to the point of regret at times (about Bishop Lynch and Notre Dame).

Sometime in the midst of all this, I started getting more and more connected via twitter to other Catholics (mainly due, I think, to I am generally glad to be more connected to the online Catholic community, but here again I've found a number of folks who tend toward the same vein as Fr. Z and AmP--the sustained outrage fostered by seemingly justified reporting of news.

My problem is that I was bothered by this tendency towards the negative. I think Fr. Z himself is bothered as well as he in recent times posted repeated requests for good news. I suspect that, at least for some of us, this seemingly positive activity of being a watchdog--staying abreast of the various political, social, and ecclesiastical goings on in order to, theoretically, take some positive, corrective action--is actually detrimental to our spiritual growth.

To me, I liken it to Catholic gossip: "Did you hear what so and so did?" "Oh my! How terrible!" "Yes, that is bad.. how could they!" Of course, it is veiled under a positive pretense, and perhaps we do need some folks to do this, but at least for myself, I felt it was not positive. I found myself regularly becoming angry and upset. I found myself regularly thinking hostile thoughts towards the purported antagonists. I found myself blogging and tweeting and retweeting--sharing the outrage.

I do not think this is a good thing. I'm not one to put my head in the sand. I know that our Lord said he came to bring a sword. I know that he spared no harsh words for the false teachers of his day, and that he took a whip to those in the temple. But that God, that angry God, is not the main story. The anger is the exception; it is passing, not sustained. It is borne out of love, not a reaction to perceived injustice or injury. The message of the Gospel is first and foremost that of God's infinite and divine love, his compassion, his sacrifice, and his resurrection--his conquering of death that we celebrate so greatly in this Easter season.

St. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. Not one of them is anger or outrage; in fact, he says "hatreds, outburst, and outbursts of fury" are works of the flesh that lead to disinheritance of the kingdom of God. In counseling us on what to think on, he says:

Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

St. Peter tells us that if we suffer for doing good, this is grace before God and that our Lord did not return insult for insult--when he suffered, he did not threaten. No, rather St. Luke records that even during his crucifixion, he asked the Father to forgive us, forgive his executioners. St. James counsels us to be slow to anger.

So what does all this (and more!) say to us? to me? It says that I should judge the fruit of things, even things that could seem on the surface to be good, Catholic endeavors. The fruit of my participating in the watchdoggedness, the gossiping, was not good; it was not the fruit of the Spirit; it was not what the Apostles urged us toward, nor is it in imitation of Christ on the whole. Very rarely did he act harshly, even though he spoke the truth unabashedly, and even then, it was with divine wisdom--it would be foolish of me to assume such wisdom.

Rather, I think I should err on the side of the main of the Christian message, err on the side of meekness, humility, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, love, joy, and peace. It is this conclusion that led me to, not without hesitation for the nuggets of goodness in them, to unsubscribe from Fr. Z's blog, unsubscribe from Catholic World News, and unfollow a number of folks on twitter who seem to give themselves over to reporting these sorts of gossipy type tidbits. (So if I've unfollowed you recently, that's probably why.)

I'm not saying that we don't need folks to keep an eye out and raise awareness when the Faith is under fire. I am saying, however, that I don't think I'm one of those--at least not now, and I suspect that for many, like me, it is not our calling and is, rather, an opportunity for us to be drawn away from where we should be with God and each other. For those in doubt, I suggest examining the fruit in your life to see if you think it is bringing about goodness or not.

Peace be with you.