Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's "Nice" Got To Do With It?

I had a fun exchange with Father Philip, OP, at Mark Shea's blog today. A reader had written to tell a heartbreaking--but all too familiar--tale of mistreatment at the hands of colleagues, one of whom was a Catholic nun who thinks the Catechism is "outdated" (which makes one wonder what in Heaven's name she thinks of the Bible, as it is a wee bit older). Father wrote:
I've had to note many times lately to my readers that I've taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

There ain't no %$#@ vow of nice.

I think the time for "being sweet" to the enemy is last past...
And I said:
Well, Father Philip, I don't think that 1 Corinthians 13 goes out of fashion (at least, one of my confessors never seems to think so).

And my experience with liberal nuns is that their protective armor of smug dissidence is pretty impenetrable.

I'd recommend that the reader tell her seriously, the next time something like this happens, "Oh, Sister, just like yours once did long, long ago, my generation is now ready to Sing A New Church Into Being! We just like to sing in Latin..."
Then retreat. Some of these ladies have claws.
Whereupon Father replied:

That's what I mean by "not being nice."
:-) :-) :-)

The truth of the matter is that Christians are supposed to love each other. 1 Corinthians 13 spells it out pretty well: love is patient, kind, not selfish, etc. I've mediated on that passage many a time--usually because a confessor or spiritual adviser recommended it. But how do we show love to people who are supposed to share our faith, but instead seem to want to contradict everything our Church teaches? How are we to be loving examples of patient Christian witness when someone begins with that predictable, telltale phrase, "Well, I'm a Catholic, but..."

And this is where I think Father Philip and I are in agreement: it is always necessary to love your enemies, even when they're the worst kind--the ones who by their baptism are supposed to be your family in Christ. But it is not always necessary to show that love by being silent under their abuse, or by adopting a syrupy sweetness that refuses to waver or to say anything stronger than, "I can see you feel strongly about this, so since we don't agree let's talk of something else. The pachysandra is coming along fine this year, isn't it?"

Don't get me wrong: there are times and places when discretion is most definitely the better part of valor, and where getting into a vocal showdown with a heretic co-worker may be inadvisable, especially if said heretic is a professed Sister and possibly one's superior in the workforce. To everything there is a season, and that includes the compulsion to speak some home truths to an erring brother in Christ; there is a time for silence, and even a time to be nice.

But too often sincere Catholics and other Christians think that "nice" is synonymous with "Christian," especially the kind of "nice" that avoids confrontation at all costs. It's hard to see how that idea got started, considering that St. Paul is frequently far from "nice" when he calls erring members of the early Church to account for various misbehaviors or misdeeds; the writings of the Church Fathers contain denunciations of heresy, and of heretics. Consider this from St. Alexander of Alexandria, on Arius:

1. The ambitious and avaricious will of wicked men is always wont to lay snares against those churches which seem greater, by various pretexts attacking the ecclesiastical piety of such. For incited by the devil who works in them, to the lust of that which is set before them, and throwing away all religious scruples, they trample under foot the fear of the judgment of God. Concerning which things, I who suffer, have thought it necessary to show to your piety, in order that you may be aware of such men, lest any of them presume to set foot in your dioceses, whether by themselves or by others; for these sorcerers know how to use hypocrisy to carry out their fraud; and to employ letters composed and dressed out with lies, which are able to deceive a man who is intent upon a simple and sincere faith. Arius, therefore, and Achilles, having lately entered into a conspiracy, emulating the ambition of Colluthus, have turned out far worse than he. For Colluthus, indeed, who reprehends these very men, found some pretext for his evil purpose; but these, beholding his battering of Christ, endured no longer to be subject to the Church; but building for themselves dens of thieves, they hold their assemblies in them unceasingly, night and day directing their calumnies against Christ and against us. For since they call in question all pious and apostolical doctrine, after the manner of the Jews, they have constructed a workshop for contending against Christ, denying the Godhead of our Saviour, and preaching that He is only the equal of all others. And having collected all the passages which speak of His plan of salvation and His humiliation for our sakes, they endeavour from these to collect the preaching of their impiety, ignoring altogether the passages in which His eternal Godhead and unutterable glory with the Father is set forth. Since, therefore, they back up the impious opinion concerning Christ, which is held by the Jews and Greeks, in every possible way they strive to gain their approval; busying themselves about all those things which they are wont to deride in us, and daily stirring up against us seditions and persecutions. And now, indeed, they drag us before the tribunals of the judges, by intercourse with silly and disorderly women, whom they have led into error; at another time they cast opprobrium and infamy upon the Christian religion, their young maidens disgracefully wandering about every village and street. Nay, even Christ's indivisible tunic, which His executioners were unwilling to divide, these wretches have dared to rend.

"Wicked men...sorcerers...den of thieves...impious opinion...silly and disorderly women...wretches..." Not exactly a hand-holding chorus of Kumbaya, is it?

The saints and Fathers of the Church took their responsibility to guard against error seriously; they did not hate the men they chastised, but loved them enough to hope that their chastisement would lead them to repentance, so that their souls would not be lost. Loving our fellow Catholics does not always mean being nice to them; sometimes the greatest love we can show them is to be clear about their errors, as we would hope others would be clear to us about ours, and by our charitably-motivated insistence on the truths which they reject help them to return to the diligent and faithful practice of our Catholic religion.


Anonymous said...

Red - as an old professor of mine said.. "nice is not a virtue." :)

opey124 said...

You know, some people, including priests can be gruff and blunt. And I have heard people say "I don't go there because he isn't nice to me".

I like Fr. Powell. He is a good example of why we go to Mass, not because the people are nice to us!! Really, I like his blog. Not everyone is the same. I would much rather have someone who is gruff and too the point than someone who is to "sweet" to tell me what I am doing is wrong.
We have to get over ourselves at times.

Anonymous said...

Let's not use such harsh judgmental tones against 'liberal' views of nuns.

Usually the Sisters belong to an order which has a hierarchy of 'regulators', as well as professing vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, so as to hold their actions accountable.

Observing the mien of priests or Sisters in a Catholic school setting may give some understanding of the 'job description', but doesn't make one an authority on how nuns or clergy must behave. As a matter of fact, it's nice to know that the religious are human as well as the rest of us.

One thing that I know for sure, is that if a priest solicits young men, or a Sister does such and such ..., they are doing something not only wrong against God and Man, and surely does not fit the guidelines of the religious order, and an improper stance may seem an unfair advantage in a parish, but since their career is devoted to what they're doing, there may be a very valid reason for their point of view, which we in our non-ordained mindset may not be able to see.

As adjectives for views, we have words such as 'liberal','radical',
'conservative', 'mainstream', etc., but they are just adjectives, not what the person is.

The issue of correction is not a matter of brotherly love or niceness, and we cannot be judging each other in our worship or Catholicity--which is an issue also addressed in the New Testament.


CrimsonCatholic said...

Speaking of rebukes of heretics that you don't see anymore...

"While Eusebius and his fellows threatened, the Bishop prayed; but Arius, who had great confidence in Eusebius and his fellows, and talked very wildly, urged by the necessities of nature withdrew, and suddenly, in the language of Scripture, ‘falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst (Acts i. 18), and immediately expired as he lay, and was deprived both of communion and of his life together."

St. Athanasius, Letter LIV to Serapion

I'm not saying that I would wish for the enemies of God to burst asunder in the restroom, but I sure would like to see the CNN coverage afterward.

molly said...

Amen Red!