I happened to hear Mass on EWTN this morning, and the Gospel reading was the one that haunts me most, the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30). Knowing that this tends to be a proof text for “liberals” that vita activa is superior to vita contempliva, or that it’s used as a proof text for “conservatives” that interest is OK in spite of the many Biblical teachings (including in the Gospels) against it, I tend to dread homilies about it. OTOH, as a passage in itself, I tend to see it as one of the most basic and hard hitting passages for examination of one’s own conscience: Am *I* using my talents the way God wants, or am I making excuses?
The visiting priest gave what turned out to be a very good homily, though it started out sounding like a combination of both the two common uses I alluded to. He began by talking about his lawn mowing business he had in his teens, and how successful he was at it, and the full time job he picked up just out of high school, until God called him to the priesthood five years later. However, it turned out to be about how God challenges us out our comfort zones, how in each stage of his ministry, he’s resisted God’s call, then answered it, then become comfortable in a role only to be called to something else. He talked of how we can become improperly attached even to an apostolate or ministry, a theme I’m constantly revisiting in my own life.
That ties in to the latest brouhaha in the Catholic blogosphere–this time after Michael Voris did a video about the salaries earned by people like Al Kresta and Karl Keating, and the responses to that video, and now the usual back-and-forth of who are truly the “faithful Catholics” versus “professional Catholics” out for money or ambition.
As someone put it in a Facebook thread just now: “There is so much jealousy among the faithful and there really is not reason for it. There is enough missionary millage [sic] to go around. Stop attacking Voris; it is not coming from God!” I agreed with the first two sentences, and then the person totally contradicted herself with the last sentence.
The priest’s homily also applies to more legitimate debates that have arisen in the past few years regarding certain “celebrity priests” who’ve been recalled by their bishops or Orders and responded either in obedience or rebellion.
In all these cases, people rally around their “heroes” who seem to be “under attack” and label the “attacker” as doing the devil’s work. Most of these things could be avoided if when A points something out about B, B is willing to say, “You may be right; I’ll take it under consideration.” C. S. Lewis stepped out of apologetics altogether for almost 10 years after some of his key arguments were refuted by Elizabeth Anscombe at a debate: during which time he wrote _The Chronicles of Narnia_ (which, in turn, got a lot of criticism from J.R.R. Tolkien). However, too often the reaction to such situations in the “New Media” is not humility but petulance and defiance, which results in a back and forth that comes to sound like a fight among children: “He started it!” “No, she did!”
Often, the argument in the comboxes or Facebook is, “X is doing God’s work. He [or she] is the only one speaking the Truth!” [or “the only one standing up for the unborn” or whatever]. That mentality is always a red flag for me and seems to be the salient point in all these squabbles. The phenomenon we have in the Church today is very much what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians:
I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to 5 Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 6 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? . . . Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.(1 Cor 1:12-13, 3:4-9)
Today, it’s “I am of Voris,” “I am of Catholic Answers,” “I am of Fr. Corapi,” “I am of Medjugorje,” “I am of EWTN,” etc. It sounds like the very thing we criticize Protestants for doing. There is only one person in the Church with the charism of infallibility, and that is the Pope, and even then only under specific circumstances. Otherwise, all of us, including the Doctors of the Church, are subject to human error. Some errors may be worse than others, but if we’re constantly looking for heresies under every rock, where does that put our own souls?
I spent most of this past April unconscious, following my aortic surgery, and I had a lot of hallucinations or dreams or whatever. In many of these, I and most of my family ended up in Hell. I even at one point said I would rather spend eternity in Hell with my family than go to Heaven and be “alone,” at which point I realized what a grave error I’d committed (and confessed as soon as I was able), that even if they all ended up in Hell, Jesus should be enough. A month or so later, a seminarian who was interning as a hospital chaplain was assigned to my floor, and he told me a story of his early days in the seminary–when he was lamenting to a classmate about the “loneliness” of their vocation. His classmate said, “Jesus should be enough.” He went to Adoration, felt God’s love surround him, and has never felt lonely since. It was a fantastic inspiration that he chose to tell me that story.
If you’re doing God’s work, you should be primarily concerned with obedience to His will for *you*. That may mean doing a podcast or a blog. It may mean speaking to stadiums full of people. It may mean pro-life activism. It may mean staying at home and praying, raising a family, or being pastor of a parish. As soon as we start thing of yourself (or someone else) as the “only person” doing God’s work, we’re demonstrating a lack of faith in God. “For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). Your apostolate isn’t about other people; it’s about you. People say, “God needs us to stop Planned Parenthood.” In some sense, that’s right, but only because God chooses that way. If He wanted to, He could force the conversions of all abortionists while you’re reading this, but He wants us to choose Him freely. The best way we can challenge the disobedience of others–be it the overt disobedience of Planned Parenthood or the more subtle disobedience of our neighbor in the pew–is to improve our own humble obedience.
As Bl. Teresa of Calcutta put it:
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.