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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton and St. Francis de Sales

"Live in such a manner that one will
recognize clearly in you a person who
loves God with his whole heart."
St. Francis de Sales
I read this Chesterton quote on Mundabor's blog and found it interesting and thought provoking:
"If a critic tells a particular lie, that particular lie can be pointed out. If he misses a specific point, that point can be explained. If he is really wrong in this or that, it will be on this or that that the insulted person will eagerly pounce. But “malice and spite” are vague words which will never be used except when there is really nothing to pounce on. If a man says that I am a dwarf, I can invite him to measure me. If he says I am a cannibal, I can invite him to dinner. If he says I am a coward, I can hit him. If he says I am a miser, I can give him half-a-sovereign. But if he says I am fat and lazy (which is true), the best I can answer is that he speaks out of malice and spite. Whenever we see that phrase, we may be almost certain that somebody has told the truth about somebody else." 
  The Illustrated London News, 13 November 1909.
Notice that the person who accuses someone of acting out of "malice and spite" is responding to a true statement. If I'm acting like a hypocrite and someone calls me one, in humility it would be good to examine my conscience. But most of us are more likely to take the tactic of "a good offense is the best defense." And so, instead of checking out the truth of the statement, "You're fat and lazy" which may be tactless, but invites one to reflect on his health and consider going on a diet and taking a walk every day, we immediately respond in anger because "the truth hurts."

The person stung, depending on the state of his spiritual life, is just as likely to flair up using "vague words" to accuse his critic of "malice and spite." It's less painful than hearing and responding to the truth.

I think that happens a lot in the Catholic blogosphere. Some bloggers read something with which they disagree and immediately label someone "judgmental, mean-spirited, and full of anger and hate." But wait a minute! The criticism was true. The priest or bishop or laymen (or even the pope) whose action is being criticized really did make a statement contradicting a truth of the faith. Should error be allowed to stand without correction? 

Before blogging it was old-fashioned
gossip, detraction, calumny, and slander!
What is particularly ironic, however, is that the critic finds it perfectly okay to point the finger, begin the barrage of name calling and even judge the state of a person's soul. All this while continuing to say the other is "judgmental." It would be funny if it weren't so sad because I'm talking about people who probably both go often to daily Mass, pray the rosary, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, worship Jesus before the tabernacle, etc. 

Well, it really isn't that surprising I suppose. I've been involved in a lot of apostolates in my life: Right to Life, Natural Family Planning, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Cursillo, etc. and in every one the devil was busy stirring up division and dissent. Why should it be any different in the Catholic blog universe?

Our intellect is called the "seat of judgment." Making judgments is what using our mind is all about. No one gets through the day without making dozens of "judgment calls." Should I do this or that? Is this relationship in my life leading me toward or away from God? How am I going to resolve this difficulty at work? Shall I speak to the person who attends daily Mass who has a bumper sticker supporting a radically pro-abortion politician? Should I expose the bishops' adviser who sits on the board of a pro-abortion group? We discern through prayer how the Lord wants us to respond in making difficult "judgments." But judge we must. How else can we follow the will of Almighty God? Can anyone honestly believe that the saints didn't "judge?" That statement "Do not judge lest you be judged." refers to judging the state of a person's soul. Unfortunately our culture, particularly the mainstream media does that every day especially demonizing dead white males whom they want to  purge from history!

St. Francis de Sales has this to say about judging:
It is true that we can speak of infamous, public, notorious sinners, provided it is in a spirit of charity and compassion and not arrogantly and presumptuously. Nor should we take any pleasure from the evils of others, for this last is always the act of a mean and debased heart. However, I exclude the declared enemies of God and his Church. It is our duty to denounce as strongly as we can heretical and schismatic sects and their leaders. It is an act of charity to cry out against the wolf when he is among the sheep, wherever he is.
Sadly, today many of the wolves are within the sheepfold dressed in sheepskin. They profess their loyalty to Christ while, like Judas, they undermine the faith and preach what is contrary to His teachings. Some bloggers wear rose-colored glasses and excoriate anyone who tells the truth about the tsunami of errors and scandals afflicting Holy Mother Church.

St. Francis de Sales sowed in himself a gentle spirit and so he also gives this advice about discussing the faults of others:
Fidelity, simplicity, and sincerity of speech are certainly a great ornament of a Christian
life. David says: "I will take heed to my ways so that I do not sin with my tongue. Set a watch, O Lord, beside my mouth and a door about my lips." 
It was St. Louis' advice that to avoid quarrels and disputes we should not contradict anyone unless it were either sinful or very harmful to agree with him. If we must contradict someone or oppose another's opinion to his, we must do so very mildly and carefully so as not to arouse his anger. Nothing is ever gained by harshness.
How will you prepare for Christmas?
St. Francis has much more to say that all Catholic bloggers would do well to read and consider. But since we have no control over the reactions of others, we can be sure that sometimes, no matter how mildly we try to correct error, some will be aroused to anger and retaliate in fury. Whether their reaction is stirred by pride or ignorance or weakness, our reaction should be to pray for them.

I think for my Christmas preparation I will read St. Francis' Sermons for Advent and try to keep a better curb over my tongue whether in speaking or writing. Let's face it, we can all improve in treating our neighbors with charity whether they live next door and we speak over the fence or they live 2000 miles away and we "speak" on social media.

May we all have a blessed Advent season preparing for the coming of Christ.

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