A number of years ago, I decided I would give up for Lent the gossiping and detraction and the little frisson of pleasure the goes with talking behind some peoples’ backs.
Of course I failed and failed. But the virtue of blessing people rather than cursing them with my words is something I aspire to and I find it starts with changing my thinking, changing the way I see people, to resist the temptation to react negatively and to zero in on the negative. I have also found that when I do resist, God will give me graces to discern spiritually things that I could not have seen otherwise so that I can intercede in prayer. Over the years, I have gained a great deal of control over that tendency to indulge in constant judging and a critical spirit so that I can see what’s before me, without chatter in my mind going off in a constant stream of “oh, why doesn’t she do something about her eyebrows” or worse.
But like everyone else, sometimes someone or something will get to me and throw me off the gracious stride that with God’s help I hope to maintain. Someone might say or do something that gets under my skin, or I have my spiritual shield of faith down and a little fiery dart from the enemy comes in.
So, what am I likely to do? I go directly to prayer with my Divine Mercy or Rosary beads. Ha ha ha. I wish. Well, okay, I do sometimes. But I confess, I am as likely to find a friend with whom I can vent. And I tend to exaggerate when I vent and generally people laugh, because, to paraphrase Dr. Kerr on Facebook: “though you wouldn’t know it by listening to me, I can be quite funny.” Unfortunately when I am venting, my humor could be at someone’s expense. Or it could be in the category of “Did you see that?” i.e. needing confirmation that something I noticed was weird and odd and off base.
Now—some might say that when I am venting, I am “telling the truth,” just as they might say when someone is drunk and says all kinds of nasty things, that drunk is telling the truth. No, I am venting. Which means I am exaggerating for effect, using hyperbole for the purposes of humor and I am creating a cartoon version of the person or situation in question. I try to be careful with whom I vent, to be sure I am with friends who understand that I am venting and know what I am saying is not the result of sober second thought or what I really think overall.
All this is a long preamble to something Dr. Kerr (who is very funny and a great satirist) wrote in his Theology of Dad column a while back in which he said some nice things about me, but also raised some concerns about freedom of speech for those who work for the Church, or by extension, me, since I write mostly for papers that are owned by dioceses.
He writes in a post entitled Self-Censure, his emphases:
I know so many people who work for the Church in different degrees. So many. And yet see so little freedom in them. So little.
And it’s not in the way that my non-Catholic family would think: it is not fear from doctrinal repressers or conservatives. Exactly the opposite. The hardliners are few and far between, people should realize – though they don’t, because it doesn’t fit with their liberal narrative. The fact is, liberals are in the vast majority everywhere and always. Thus, to be orthodox is to be in an unwelcome minority. Everywhere and always.
These people are in the majority because most people–even those who work for the Church–are embarrassed by the Church’s traditional beliefs. They don’t want to be embarrassed by the Church’s beliefs and so don’t want to have the traditionalists around to present them. They want to be part of a new, modern, sophisticated Church.
And so conservatives who work for the Church are very careful not to rouse these people’s ire. They mutter in corners carefully by themselves, while the liberal majority shines gloriously and unCatholicly in the bright hallways of their institutions.
These people have a survival instinct I was not born with. But I am not really in admiration here. It’s prudence to a fault.
But it is not right for people who know to keep silent, especially if teaching the Faith is a part of their job.
Don’t try to be everyone’s friend; don’t blow sunshine, as one of my friends says. That’s not honest, authentic living. That’s the stuff worthy of politicians, which I mentioned in my previous post. The best people have a sort of stable personality. I don’t mean they are uniformly cranky and negative. These are the types of people whom you know what they stand for. They have the courage to disagree with a superior, and yet keep peace. They have the courage to write about what they believe, and not keep silence on Facebook, blogs, etc. Keeping their beliefs secret is not what Christ called them to do.
That is the imprisonment of fear. We have to free up the Gospel from all restraints. One of those is professionalism over truth. There is no fine line between excessive prudence and the toleration of falsehood. There is a yawning chasm between the two. And you can adopt a million acceptable positions in between.
Are we moving into a world where we cannot have private thoughts and exchanges?
What is the proper Christian attitude? We have a number of virtues to bring in to this, not only prudence. Love is doing good for others. What is the good that can be done in any given situation? Often it lies in sharing a reflection on the situation in light of the Gospel. The fact is, most people don’t know the Gospel and they have no real truth or wisdom to guide them. And this can be done very sensitively and rather interestingly.
Share the Faith and make it interesting.
Look at it this way. The Church does not pay you a competitive wage. So why are you working for it? Because you love it! Well, then love it actually!
In the post, Colin makes a distinction between private and public thoughts, a distinction I made above between what I say when I’m venting vs. when I’ve thought about something and giving a calm, considered opinion, speaking the truth in love.
The problem with social media–Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on, is it is so, so tempting to let your private thoughts rip, to vent, to tell the world in perhaps an exaggerated fashion that someone or something has annoyed you.
Maybe my blog would draw more traffic if it were more controversial and I let rip with my rather amusing but snide venting. Conflict attracts visitors. Do I engage in self-censure?
Some of it is for reasons of prudence, for sure.
But most of it is I want to stop being a person who needs to vent, a person who reacts negatively to people and events and needs, therefore, to blow off steam.
As I said earlier, a lot of it involves learning how to overlook offences on the spot, so that one does not even get to the point of anger or hurt and needing to forgive. That does not mean becoming a doormat because it is amazing how clear-headed one can be when one is serene while someone is spewing the contents of what I call the “nozzle of weirdness” over you. Ah, to be given the grace to discern by the light of the Holy Spirit exactly how I am supposed to pray for this person, to exhibit God’s mercy and healing power and perhaps given words to say that heal rather than condemn.
Have I gotten into trouble for having orthodox Catholic beliefs while working for the Catholic newspapers? I would say that if I have gotten into trouble (and there’s been extremely little of that in more than 10 years), it’s more on the level of being imprudent from time to time, or for being misunderstood. My superiors have been excellent in their dealings with me: good, solid Catholic men, all of them.
Another thing that you learn when working in the media and you are not the publisher or the final decision-maker, is that it’s a lot like playing on a sports team. You don’t make the rules and you play the position you are assigned. If you can’t do that, your tenure on that job may be short; at the very least it will be full of conflict and your bosses will not appreciate your orneriness.
You have to learn what kinds of stories are the stories your news outlet is looking for. And yes, it is true, the newspapers I write for are not looking for “gotcha” stories critical of the Church. They are meant overall to counteract the constant negative barrage found in the mainstream media; to tell stories that are not being told there, positive stories, inspiring stories that show how the people who make up the Church are carrying out their mission in the world. I know we get disparaged as “lap dog catholic media” for that, but it is what it is.
My beat, which includes Parliament Hill, and the Supreme Court of Canada, puts me in the position to cover the cutting edge political and judicial stories that are of interest to Catholics. But my favorite stories to write are like this or this or this.
When I worked at the CBC, there were a whole other set of restrictions on what I could or could not report on, but within the ground rules set by others, I was able to produce a body of work that I am proud of.
From Galatians 5:
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would.
18But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, impurity, licentiousness,
20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, selfishness, divisions, heresies,
21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of which I tell you beforehand, as I have also told you in time past, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23Meekness, self-control: against such there is no law.
24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
26Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
Against such there is no law.