Friday, July 23, 2010

When Johnny Can’t Reason

[A reprint from this day in 2007. -- DLA]

They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. In my experience, the best results can be had with a fresh road kill.

This is probably a different approach than the carefully reasoned one postulated by "John da Fiesole" at Disputations recently, entitled "The Church Pubescent." The highlight of his piece is a commencement speech given by retired television journalist Tom Brokaw to the 2005 gradutation class at Emory University:

You have been hearing all of your life that this occasion is a big step into what is called the real world. "What," you may ask, "is that real world all about?" "What is this new life?" Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2005 at Emory, real life is not college; real life is not high school. Here is a secret that no one has told you: Real life is junior high.

The world that you're about to enter is filled with junior high adolescent pettiness, pubescent rivalries, the insecurities of 13-year-olds, and the false bravado of 14-year-olds.

The Disputations piece was brought to my attention by my good colleague Philip Blosser at Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, in an entry entitled "Disputations on Tom Brokaw and the Church Pubescent." He made note of how our Dominican friend mused further on these words:

It's particularly frustrating that it's true of that part of real life lived by the Church Militant. Grace -- and not just an over-the-counter kind of buck-you-uppo grace, but the very Presence of God Himself within our persons -- is supposed to transform us into images of Christ. Yet in practice, contact with others -- which is to say, being confronted with the fact that we can't have everything our way right this instant -- transforms us into 13-year-olds.

Surely Christ's grace is stronger than our own petulance. But do we give witness to this by how we live and how we talk to each other?

It's a commonplace to say that on-line Catholic discussion sites are a scandal to the Church. Bitter hatred expressed in the most vile terms is only a few links away from most every non-self-contained Catholic website.

Most days, though, it's not the hatred that gets to me, but the sheer childishness of it. Someone disagrees with you? Someone's so ignorant you can hardly stand to have him around. Someone is a little too pleased with himself? Someone must be taken down a notch. Someone tries to take you down a notch? Someone's just asking for it ...

For three or four decades now, depending on who's counting, people have been asking Rome for that which should never have been taken away from them in the first place. If such is the injustice that it is made out to be, than surely extraordinary measures would seem appropriate. Not surprising, then, that an extraordinary measure (inasmuch as it is far-reaching, and unprecedented in living memory) has been undertaken. But there are those who have become accustomed to the status quo, who have invested their entire lives in it, and who are unlikely to go quietly into the night. Like that choir directress in the UK who had a hissy-fit over the thought of using Gregorian chant, and whose tale of woe has been making the rounds in the Catholic blogosphere of late.

So, in the long run, our Dominican friend is right, and it is a reminder to yours truly, of the inherent dangers of going too far in the course of proving a point.

Then again ...

The above being as it may, "John" assumes that he is dealing with people who are as open to a mutual search for the truth as would be himself. Alas, these aging adolescents of whom he speaks, by nature of the disposition that characterizes them in his writing, are less concerned with the truth or the common good, than they are with their own desires. They see something they want, and for that reason alone they must have it. Our resident Disputationist has the luxury of putting that impediment aside in his forum. Many of us who see the world and our place in it in a similar vein, are not so fortunate.

They have certainly been less than fortunate in the Diocese of Richmond, for example. Our friends at Richmond Catholic have brought to our attention, a memorandum that was issued several weeks ago by an office within the chancery:

From: "Pat Slater"
Subject: Mary of Magdala Celebration
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2007 18:12:15 +0000

St Nicholas in Virginia Beach is hosting a Mary of Magdala celebration on July 17th. The flyer is attached. Also, if you would like more information about the real Mary and her feast, you can visit

Keep cool and pray for all those who suffer from this heat.

Pat Slater
Office of Justice and Peace

In the wake of this release, the heat was most assuredly on, but not from the weather. After gaining the attention of their Bishop, our functionary was compelled to issue the following ... er, uh, clarification:

I sent out an e-mail last week about the Mary of Magdala celebration which is being held at St Nicholas Parish in Virginia Beach. I also attached a link to find out more information about Mary Magdalen at the Future Church website. Apparently this has caused some confusion and I apologize for this ...

By citing the link to Future Church I was in no way promoting the agenda of Future Church or implying that our Bishop was promoting the agenda of Future Church. The intention was just to make people aware of the contributions of Mary Magdalen, "apostle to the apostles," first witness to the Lord's resurrection, and leader in the early church. She is frequently misrepresented as a prostitute for which there is no biblical or historical basis.

Again, there was no desire to promote any agenda which deviates from present church practice.

(I had no idea that a matter of Church teaching could be reduced to "present church practice." Ah, 'tis another story for another day...)

But how to reason with such people, then? You can't. They don't listen because they don't have to. Listening to you is inconvenient. Listening to you means giving up what they want, the fruits of a life spent throwing tantrums at convocations with the like-minded. In the case of Ms Slater, that she is either a liar or a fool does not matter. If she is a liar -- in this case, about never intending to promote an organization which dissents from Catholic teaching -- it will never be clear whether she regrets their actions, or getting caught. Either way, it is unlikely that she can ever be trusted, which makes her expendable (or, having already been empowered to speak for a higher authority -- dangerous). If she is a fool -- again, in this case, overlooking an aspect of FutureChurch which would have been obvious to most people in her position -- then she would not gain from any wisdom that is imparted. She may yet be capable of redemption. But first, there must be consequences for her actions. You must take away something she wants. You must remove her from any position of influence over anyone else. Like any addict in denial, it is only when they lose that which enables them, that they can make the decision to change.

What's more, in the course of bringing their influence to bear unencumbered, the functionary becomes little more than a schoolyard bully, operating by sheer force of will, with little to keep their power in check. My childhood saga has made me a consummate expert on bullies, and I can tell you this; there is one thing a bully understands, and one thing only, and that is a force which outmatches their own, in very short and resolute order. You cannot reason with them; you can only beat them into submission.

The decision to resolve this matter is in the hands of the one who ultimately must live with the results; namely, the Most Reverend Bishop of Richmond. Why hasn't he done anything about it? There are two assumptions which may be operating here; one is that he can do something, the other is that he chooses not to.

If a Catholic diocese, on a practical level, is anything like the Federal government (and I can speak with some authority here), it can take a long time. You have to build up evidence over a sustained period, and you have to ensure that no undue discrimination was involved, or it comes back to bite you on the hindquarters. (Trust me on this one.) And when the dust settles, it takes forever to replace them. And if the infestation in the diocesan machinery is as dysfunctional as some Catholics in Virginia suggest, it is likely that a director of a "justice and peace office" will be among the last with which to be dealt.

It has been suggested that Bishop Finn of Kansas City and St Joseph (Missouri) wasted little time in cleaning house once he ascended the cathedra. But he also had over a year as co-adjutor to sniff around and engage others without the burden of the big title. This is a critical advantage, which Bishop DiLorenzo of Richmond did not have, and for which one can take a long time to compensate, once one is in the position itself.

For such as these, whether in Virginia, or "across the pond" in the mother country, tradition is something within their lifetime. It is not something "handed down," but is of their own creation, with a mythical origin to suit their needs. Tradition defined in such a shallow way, has little to distinguish it from mere force of habit. But saints be praised, their day is nearing an end, and acts of desperation are a sure sign of the desperate. Until then, nothing says it all like a fresh road kill.

Because sometimes, you have to make a big enough stink with someone to get their undivided attention.

1 comment:

Left-Footer said...

Absolutely right - make a stink when it's needed. St John the Baptist had no resevations about plain talk.