I have never much kept up with Catholic “politics,” if that’s the word. I depend upon Always Forward, from our own Angelus, for daily news of the Catholic world.
And I read one blog: Neal Obstat, faithfully maintained by the wonderful Dr. Tom Neal, husband, father, and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology in New Orleans.
In a recent post. Dr. Neal wrote of his conscious choice to avoid being a “controversialist.” I couldn’t agree more.
That doesn’t mean you never say things with which people disagree. It means you don’t make a career, in or out of the Church, out of being a provocateur and a hater.
I was once graced to attend Mass with Tom, his wife Patti, one of his daughters, and the one and only Austin Ashcraft, a dear friend and teacher of Catholic high school boys who introduced me to Tom in the first place. We broke bread over a crazy delicious NO meal afterward, outside on the sidewalk, and I fell in love with the whole lot of them.
Anyway, Tom often offers a story or bit of wisdom or a reflection or an insight that you can really chew on and use. Just in the past week, he’s issued an invitation to pray as if we mean it, wondered why we so seldom, if ever, confess to our bad driving habits, and re-posted one of my all-time favorite: “All Rind, No Meat.”
In that piece, he describes a guy who’s talking to his confessor and has all these very deep insights about his very elevated prayer. The priest listens patiently and after a while says, “Unh-huh. So how’s it going with that sibling of yours to who you haven’t spoken in months?”
I have always felt this kind of incredibly useful reflection to be at the heart of Catholicism, the Gospels, and our relationship with Christ. This effort to know ourselves, to see ourselves clearly–in order both to use our gifts and to work ever more toward learning to love one another as he loved us, and our neighbor as ourselves—is the very point of our ongoing conversion.
What good is our prayer, our doctrines, and even the Sacraments if they don’t break us open and challenge us to love the most difficult of our friends, families and neighbors?
Being conversant with every last abuse scandal, attacking the current Pope, or currying favor with the “movers and shakers” of the Catholic world (itself a contradiction in terms: our only mover and shaker is Christ, nailed to the Cross) are tacked-on trappings that, unless you happen to count a bishop or whoever as a dear friend over and above the mere office, are simply irrelevant to a life of faith.
For my own part, I sometimes joke that I have 200 readers and know each of the personally, which is not far from the truth. It’s not unusual, for example, for someone to sign up for one of my Writing Workshops, and the next day to ask for my prayers on behalf of a depressed colleague, sick relative, or confused child.
My goal is to invite people to seek truth, goodness, and beauty. I have zero interest in debating or arguing or making a “point” and thus simply block anyone on social media who makes a wilfully argumentative or asinine remark.
One branch of the arbiters of Catholic culture consists in just such haters, naysayers, complainers, and snitches: people who have succumbed to the temptation to solicit the maximum number of hits and likes by fomenting controversy.
Another branch comprises Catholic “personalities”: people who host “upbeat” afternoon talk shows, post flirty conversations that supposedly happened between them and Jesus in prayer, and hawk their Catholic-empire DVDs, T-shirts, and coffee mugs.
Christ never contrived to be controversial: he was controversial because his actions and words, his absolute fidelity to the Father, his conscience and his heart by definition subverted every worldly system.
I’m always struck by the times he told the people he’d just healed not to tell anyone: the polar opposite of social media, where we sometimes willingly, wantonly prostitute our integrity—both individually and collectively—for the sake of clicks and hits.
Could it be that the fewer people who know about us, the better?
Whatever the case, if we’re going to spend time in front of a screen, let’s make it be to read material of substance and quality, like Dr. Tom Neal’s.
Better yet–why not make our goal this Lent, two or three days a week, to set aside an hour and get away from the screens altogether? Why not view Lent as an opportunity, as often as we can, to seek out the nearest open church, drive or walk there, and go inside to sit, in awe, trembling and silence, before the Blessed Sacrament?
We want to invite the following of a Person, not a personality.
13 Replies to “THE PROBLEM WITH CONTRIVING TO BE CONTROVERSIAL”
I really love this.
Thanks, Mary Anne!
I think you’re making some good points here, but I raised an eyebrow about your comment about abuse scandals. “Being conversant about every last abuse scandal” isn’t contriving to be controversial. Being informed is a necessary first step to making sure abuse doesn’t keep happening. I guarantee you that for survivors, abuse is NOT irrelevant to their life of faith. Nor should it be for Catholics whose heart reaches out to them with compassion.
Thanks so much, Michael, point well taken. Maybe I should have said “endlessly reviewing every last abuse scandal–in lieu of examining my own conscience and changing my own behavior with respect to sex, using people as objects” etc. Once I know the problem, in other words, my question would be how can I contribute to the solution instead of adding to the problem? How can I be in solidarity, in the most meaningful way, with the victims? Can I admit that in some horrible way, because of past or present behavior, I’m in solidarity with the perpetrators? This is one place, among many, that the teachings of the Church on marriage and the family make so much sense to me. My fidelity to them, as a single celibate woman, I believe goes toward the purity of heart that in turn goes toward the healing of the Mystical Body that is obviously deeply deeply wounded in this area. I have such a bad track record in this area myself, granted many years ago, from my life in the bars that my instinctive reaction to sexual abuse of all kinds is to know that I am in some sense complicit, or have been complicit in it. So that’s what I was trying to get at. Not that abuse scandals in the Church are irrelevant, God forbid, to my life of faith, but rather what is my fullest response to them? The expression of public outrage, for me, with no corresponding interior action, just leads to more outrage and a kind of addictive craving to foment and express more. No-one else is transformed, and I’m not either.
Tom Neal. Sounds like a person I need to read. I would think you are famaliar with Bishop Robert Barron, LA Bishop. I read him just about daily & have been reading his Word On Fire Bible. The Word On Fire Bible is excellent. Thank you for blogging.
Thanks, Bob, yes, I’m very familiar with Word on Fire–they’ve re-posted some of my stuff from time to time. Glad you are finding some good spiritual meat!
I saw your photo on Instagram and I can’t get over the two light sources. Wha time did you take this photo? Every time I read your pieces, I find my spirit lifted. And then I pray.
Well that’s the spirit, David, thank you! I just took the pic on my iphone, early morning, maybe 6? I was standing on my second-floor balcony, which faces west, and the two lights are just highish-mounted lights, maybe motion lights, in the parking lot area of the driveway. It had rained and a heavy mist had settled–I’m in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena. So yeah, this very “ordinary” scene was temporarily revealed in its mystical otherworldliness…I’m so glad you “got” it!
Michael Larson – Oh my, the abuse victims are victims of the ultimate betrayal – put your trust in someone & just cannot fathom how betrayed they must feel.
May we be true to the One True mover and shaker… and true to our hearts in the process… and act a fool along the way… 🙂
Ha, here he is in the flesh–right on, brother! I demand a po’boy next time I’m in NOLA!
@Heather: thank you for your thoughtful response. I appreciate you taking the time to clarify. I belong to an organization called Awake Milwaukee. We are a group of committed Catholics who are trying to walk with survivors to work for transformation and healing in our archdiocese. This is why this was so important to me. You can check us out here if you’re interested: https://awakemilwaukee.org/.
Oh Michael, this is absolutely incredible, your organization. I just read “Survivor Story: How I Found Healing Through Scripture.” Weeping. Your own work and the approach of Awake, it seems to me, is just what I’m pointing toward. Hatred of the perpetrator, no matter how seemingly justified, is not the same as concern and compassion for the victim. What you are doing constitutes compassion and concern for the victim. Many thanks for this–people, check out Michael’s link.