Daily Archives: September 2, 2013

It’s not always a matter of what someone says but how he or she says it.

Years ago, one of my best friends discovered the “Most Holy Family Monastery” website, and, being the kind of person who keeps an open mind in order to shut it on something solid (and also the kind of person to come to people directly rather than third party), he called them up. He said a lady answered, identifying her as “Sister” whatever. He said to her, “I was watching some of your videos, and you raise some pretty strong criticisms of Pope John Paul II. I am inclined to agree with what you have to say, but I have a few questions. This is very important to me because I teach Theology of the Body at my parish, and I want to make sure I’m not teaching something wrong. You’ve done a good job explaining to me what you think is wrong, but what do you teach other than that other people are wrong? What is it that you have to say?”
The “Sister” called him a “Pope-olator” and hung up. So he called back. I forget how it went, exactly, but he was originally interested in an authentic discussion and was so ticked off by her rudeness that he just kept calling, and she kept ignoring his calls or picking up and hanging up. At one point, early in the process, he got hold of her and said her behavior was not becoming of a nun, hanging up on him and refusing to answer his question that he asked in charity. Eventually she said that if he didn’t stop calling, she’d report him for harassment!
There is a certain temptation, into which I fully admit to falling prey, to focus on the negative. Sometimes, that can be necessary, especially on a matter where it’s important to explain to people why a certain line of reasoning is wrong, but it’s also important to emphasize Truth in a positive matter. So, in some of these internecine squabbles among otherwise conservative, tradition-minded Catholics that boil down to style, you will hear both sides say, in defending themselves, “Can you point out anything I’ve said that goes against Church teaching?” And the answer is usually a roundabout “no,” because honestly both “sides” are acting within the relatively broad spectrum of ideas the Church allows (e.g., there are more approaches to philosophy and theology than Thomism). If there are disagreements over *ideas,* they’re usually about the philosophical argumentation than about the core ideas being presented, or else it’s a matter where the Church’s teaching leaves room for interpretation (just as an example, whether “Amazing Grace” is appropriate at Mass).
More often, it’s not the ideas themselves but *how* they’re presented, because the person tends to be, as Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS, puts it, “strident.”
A good example is the criticism of Pope Francis, which satirical Eye of the Tiber sends up in this post. Advocates of a “hermeneutic of rupture” are so eager to paint Francis as a “progressive” that the media are interpreting everything he says or does in as liberal a way possible (and thus contrasting him to Benedict, even though their differences are primarily stylistic), and the “traditionalists” are more than happy to comply with the media’s interpretation. So it gets to where, in some circles, *everything* His Holiness says or does gets nitpicked, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, if someone merely questions some of his prudential judgements, as I have done from time to time, we immediately get lumped in with the sedevacantists.
One of the greatest books on education and rhetoric in Western tradition is St. Augustine’s _On Christian Doctrine_ (the original Latin meaning of “doctrine” being “teaching”-in other words, “How to teach Christianity”). Augustine says, regarding the age old Platonic debate of philosophy versus rhetoric, that it doesn’t matter if something’s true if no one reads it. He says it in the sense of “nobody will read a boring science textbook,” but it also applies to this context as well. A “sinners in the hands of an angry God” approach only works if you’re preaching to a captive audience: the old “preaching to the choir” thing. An argument I’ve used in the past is that the “choir” needs encouragement, but that’s just it: the choir needs *encouragement*. Yes, there are badly Catechized Catholics who need to know that some of what they’ve been taught is wrong, or that they have *not* been instructed that some things are evil. However, they also need to be taught what’s *positive*. We’re supposed to be sharing the “Good News.” When all a person ever shares is the “Bad News,” even if that person is 100% orthodox, it’s going to turn people off.