Thursday, May 8, 2008

Close Encounters With the Tin-Eared Evangelist

In my various forays in and amongst the fascinating blogs of Catholic and Christian scholars, apologists, and Deep Ponderers both professional and amateur, I have contracted the habit of reading the comment threads with some semblance of voraciousness. It's not that the Great Faithful Bloggers aren't sufficiently interesting, of course; most of them are people I'd continue to read even if they disabled the comments altogether. But the comments provide so many things that add to the reading experience, from the opportunity to engage in serious and interesting conversation with people who have not only actually heard of church history and teaching, but are skilled at discussing it, to the lesser forms of entertainment which are provided by the various stereotypical comments which give more clues to the nature of their authors than the authors would probably like to have revealed.

Who among us hasn't, for instance, encountered the One Track Mind, for whom topics of conversation ranging from politics to esoteric liturgical discussions serve but as an opportunity for this person to raise his or her favorite issue? The lengths to which some of them will go to tie their pet topic in to the matter at hand are quite amusing, yet pale in comparison to the person who makes no such pretext and doesn't even apologize for his or her off-topic ramblings.

Then there's the Pugnacious Pugilist, who sees every comment as a veiled insult thrown in his direction, and who takes offense at a comma and charges it with exclamation points. The Pugilist can get tiresome, of course, but his entry into a thread that has nothing whatsoever to do with him just so he can lash himself into misdirected anger does have a tendency to liven things up.

But one person I've encountered in the very recent past, particularly on blogs of those who are openly discussing the possibility of converting to an Apostolic faith, and particularly to Roman Catholicism, is the person I've started to think of as the Tin-Eared Evangelist.

Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with evangelism. If we believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ we ought to be more than willing to spread that news. But there's a bit from St. Paul about noisy gongs and clanging symbols which seems relevant here, and we ought to consider that Scripture passage before we rush a combox thread to try to force a Christian brother or sister to accept the Roman Catholic Church right that instant, as if instant Catholicism is worth having, or even possible.

But the Tin-Eared Evangelist is too misguided an enthusiast to stop and think about whether caritas is his motivation for trying to "help" the Protestant to convert. He rattles off that silly list about when each church was founded and by whom as if his victim--er, target--has never seen the like before; he speaks on God's behalf as if God is somehow incapable of communication without the Tin-Eared Evangelist's help; he makes Catholicism sound like the lot of the honest used-car dealer, and generally has the same effect as if you were to send a liquor-bearing St. Bernard amid a tea-party of teetotaling cynophobic spinsters in an equally misguided attempt to convince them of the innocent pleasure of alcohol.

The Tin-Eared Evangelist, though, only sees it as his job as a good God-fearing Catholic to straighten out all those poor Protestants who don't have the Eucharist or bingo. He's blind to the quite-likely backfiring of his most earnest efforts, because he thinks that any rejection of his message just means that the person he's trying to convert wasn't worthy of his efforts. He's a great dust-shaker, telling people in other comboxes why he won't return to the site of the Protestant--but then sneaking back in time and time again, sometimes under would-be clever pseudonyms, though his posting style fools no one. He's often as clueless as he is rude, and always does more harm than good.

Why is this so? If Christ Himself wishes for all men to be united to Him through His true Church, why shouldn't the Tin-Eared Evangelist do what he does best--indeed, why shouldn't all of us Catholics be out there copying his efforts?

Let's go back to St. Paul, shall we? (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a, NAB)
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
Is it love, true, sincere love for his fellow men that moves the Tin-Eared Evangelist to try to win converts to Catholicism? Or is it something else? Is there a little pride involved, a little of the thank-you-God-for-not-making-me-like-this-poor-Protestant-sinner attitude, perhaps? Is there not, maybe, a little of the pride of the hunter, who sees his Protestant brother not as a brother in Christ, but as a trophy to be won and displayed in some eternal trophy-shelf, under the hubristic plaque "Souls I Won For God"? Is there not some braggadocio, some petulance, some immaturity in thinking that a soul that has already struggled mightily with the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Christ as the ordinary means of salvation for all of humanity is going to be convinced by holy-card platitudes delivered with a street-preacher's compassionate sensitivity and a televangelist's humility?

To those of my Protestant or even Orthodox brethren who've been the targets of the Tin-Eared Evangelist's monthly-quota approach to discussing the Catholic faith, I'd like to offer an apology. We're not all like that, and as much as I'd love to see you worshiping beside me at Mass someday, I'm not inclined to interfere unduly in the work that God has already begun in your souls. I'm glad to answer questions or engage in discussion, and you'll always get the Catholic perspective from me--I'm not going to water it down or pretend we're really all just the same from a denominational standpoint. But what unites us, our faith in Jesus Christ, will, with God's grace and His persevering love, be more powerful in the end than what divides us.

1 comment:

Runningmom said...

"I'm not inclined to interfere unduly in the work that God has already begun in your souls." I just love what you said here! I may have to quote you sometime.

And you forgot doughnuts....the Eucharist and bingo and DOUGHNUTS after Mass - three universal signs of a thriving Catholic parish! ;)