I was reminded today of a story, one that I heard while studying graphic design in college thirty years ago...
"The Professor" was head of our department. Naturally, he was a man of scholarly bearing, but also carried himself with an air of sophistication. Freshmen were in awe of him, while upperclassmen found him to be effete and overly priggish. One day, an upperclass studio was having a critique of their work. Determined to unsettle his demeanor in some way, they devised a plan in anticipation of his arrival. He walked into the classroom, to find the entire membership of the class just sitting there calmly, with brown paper bags over their heads. Without so much as blinking an eye, he took no notice of this prank, and commenced to offer commentary on each piece hung on the wall. One by one, the students gradually -- and it should be conceded, sheepishly -- removed the bags from over their heads.
For some cultures, saving face is paramount in social discourse. This is particularly so among Asian Pacific peoples. In the Philippines, the term "pakitang tao" literally means "show people," and describes the perceived need to "keep up with the Joneses" for appearance's sake, even when one cannot afford it. They also tend to avoid speaking bluntly to another without sufficient cause, so as not to shame them in front of others.
Some people just know how to save face through their own efforts. It is possible to do so while admitting one's errors, which is a sign of great character. It is also not an easy thing to do, which is why so few of us ever master it. However righteous our cause, none of us are immune from the human condition. The saints knew this all too well, and would consider themselves the worst of sinners.
Several weeks ago, a weblog known as Traditional Latin Mass Arlington published two entries at the expense of two priests of the Diocese of Arlington. The entry of one in particular was inaccurate, if not slanderous. Here at mwbh it was necessary to come to the defense of one of those priests, and to call out the author of such outrageous claims.
It is difficult to determine whether there was ever a change of heart on the part of "Ken," the aforementioned author of at least one of the pieces. But there has been a change at the blog. There is an affiliated e-mail list, where residents of northern Virginia may share or receive notice of local celebrations of the traditional Mass. I saw a value in receiving such notices, so I took a chance and sent in my address. To my great surprise, it was accepted. Surely they must have known who I was. But it didn't seem to matter. What did seem to matter to a few of the listmembers was determined while reading the message archives. It seemed that such rancor was unacceptable to them, and they requested that the list restrict itself to sharing news about the Old Mass. And so that became the rule. Then in the past week, the two offending entries on the blog were removed. (As this is written, an excerpt of one of them is elsewhere on the internet.) One cannot help but notice the lack of an apology on the blog, on the part of its moderators, for ever publishing the offensive material to begin with. Presumedly they would be the heralds of some great Catholic restoration, in which case there is reason to be concerned. Were they sorry they published such nonsense, or were they sorry for getting caught?
Meanwhile, "The Professor" underwent a transformation of his own in due time. After I graduated, he encouraged me to submit a portfolio of my work to the civil service, which was engaged at the time in a government-wide search for aspiring designers, illustrators, and photographers. It was that portfolio, and his accompanying recommendation, that secured me the position in Washington which I hold today.
Closer to home, the disposition of "Ken" is yet to be determined. But if he would be so kind as to render an apology to the good Father whom he offended publicly, and whom I defended in kind, I would offer to buy the fellow a drink, and explain to him why this priest meant enough to me that I would take an unprecedented stand in this forum.
Then maybe someday, I would learn to write with shorter sentences. May hope breed eternal for all of us.