Thursday, July 19, 2012

Easy Compromises Benefit No One

The Gospel is addressed, not merely to individuals, but to the culture itself. Evangelization is not simply adaptation to the culture, either; nor is it dressing up the Gospel with cultural elements, along superficial lines, so that with modified figures of speech... the job is done. Faith is always open to bridge-building; it accepts what is good. But it is also a sign of opposition to whatever in the culture bars the door against the gospel. Thus, it has always been critical of culture also, and it must continue fearlessly and steadfastly to critique culture, especially today.... Easy compromises benefit no one.
On the Way to Jesus Christ, 48-50

Reflection – Someone posted this on my Facebook page, and it seemed topical. It speaks to something I’ve been personally wrestling with on and off on this blog. I am a Canadian, which means I’m culturally predispositioned towards being nice, conciliatory, peaceable in my dealings with others. I don’t really enjoy having fights with people. In Canada we all get cooped up inside for six-seven months of every year, so our national character is to search for peaceful co-existence at all costs, as the alternative is freezing to death.

At the same time, I am French-Canadian, and have the full expression of the Gallic temperament: fiery, passionate, heavily invested in ideas and philosophies, extravagant in speech. Furthermore, I care deeply about certain grave social issues and ills, especially those around human life and sexuality. I have deep convictions, and am deeply convinced that our current social norms and practices are, in fact, killing people, and not only in the direct reality of abortion.

But then there is Internet culture, which is polarizing, argumentative, confrontational, and quick to degrade every discussion down to nasty personal wrangling and invective. And of course this culture of division and anger is not limited to the Internet—our public and private discourse is increasingly quarrelsome and vicious. As a Christian I reject that mode of discourse and strive to find another way.

But finally, just to lay out the full contours of my challenge, I am a Catholic priest, and have a most solemn obligation to present the whole Catholic faith as it has been handed to me—not my opinions about it or my own bright ideas, but the Catholic faith. I happen to agree with the Catholic faith (good thing!), which makes it easier. But I need to do that on this blog no less than in the pulpit or in the confessional…

Anyhow, none of this is to whine about how hard it is. I voluntarily started this blog, and I love it – I just said to my superior yesterday that this blog is not ‘work’ so much as an really enjoyable hobby. But the challenge is real, nonetheless. It’s a good challenge. We have to find ways to talk about things that matter, things that people have very different opinions about, and find ways to speak strongly and seriously about matters that are, in fact, strong serious matters.

So Ratzinger in the above passage certainly encourages me, and I hope he explains here why we cannot just ‘be nice’ all the time. Contemporary culture needs to be evangelized, and evangelization does have this aspect of prophetic confrontation and critique. I’m always struck by Peter’s first homily on Pentecost Sunday (Acts ) where he says, among other things, ‘You killed Jesus! But God raised him up…’ Not a feel good homily, eh? Not very Canadian…

Our culture, our society is killing a lot of people. And it is despoiling the innocence of millions more—I just read a story the other day about ‘sexy’ clothing being marketed to six-year old girls. And it is deadening the capacity to think, to love, to commit, of millions upon millions more—I’m thinking of all the young men captivated by pornography these days. And… so much else is going on, but again I’m Canadian and I really don’t want to rant.

But, as the Lord says in Ps 50:21, ‘You do this, and should I keep silent?’ We have to find words to say what is wrong, what is evil and destructive and harmful in the world today, or how else will the world ever repent? In my case, because of my intellectual bent, I also search for ways to present the underlying philosophical errors-relativism, positivism, atheism-that drive many of these destructive forces.

So this blog post is a bit of an apologia pro bloggo mea. I will continue, off and on, to struggle to say hard things on this blog. I will struggle to say them charitably and to use language carefully, but say them I will. Let us pray for one another and for the world, and for all the innocent victims of our culture who have been deprived of having a voice in these discussions.


  1. Keep up the good work, Father!

  2. Father Denis,
    I have been reading Simone Weil and I am thinking of the interpretation of the fairytale about the little taylor and the giant. They have a contest to see who can throw the stone the farthest. The giant picks up a huge rock and hurls it an enormus height and a great distance. The little taylor throws a tiny stone and then releases a bird form his hand which takes the stone and flies away so far that it is lost to view.
    Gravity or necessity Simone argues is the force pulling us and all creation down. From the sun is derived energy enabling trees and ourselves to stand and grow upright against this force. So the love of God shining on us like the sun overcomes the downward pull of earthiness.
    Whatever is moved by power, or the will (however that force is generated) it must somehow, somewhere pull to the ground. Whereas, whatever is generated by the spirit or the imagination can sour like a bird high above the earth and into the sky.
    I know my brain works way different than yours..but I am thinking of this as a metaphor of sorts for coercion and persuasion- a kind of comparison of tactics... How the goal _ spreading the gospel in our culture- can be accomplished - the means to that end...
    Ideally, you can open the heart of your..?enemy?..?brother? persuading them voluntarily to change belief or action. Coercion on the other hand employs a power- ?shunning? guilt? so that the person feels no option but to surrender. Altho, the process of persuasion takes more time it is more durable over time- less likely to cause a cycle of retaliation or revenge. When one is bullied into submission- it is human nature to fight back.
    There are times when it is not realistically possible to persuade- because the perpretrator is seemingly unmoved by persuasive appeals.
    What to do then? Withdraw? Bully more?
    I guess we just have to keep pouring out our hearts...not pound our fists...pour out our hearts.... Hard.
    ...Just what I was thinking about when I read your words today...

  3. father Denis,
    Speaking of culture... I read an article on the BBC website this morning about money... Talking about how a lot of our world financial "crisis" has its roots in theology... Interesting.

    I also got a letter from my parish about financial worries... And lots of churches are struggling with money these days.

    Just wondering does the pope have any direction for us here?

    It's not like we can all sell everything, move to the woods and eat squirrels... But does the pope write about this, and what does he say, exactly....

    1. The encyclical Veritas in Caritate has interesting principles and thoughts... it's outside the papal competency, of course, to provide specific economic solutions and programs,but he does give some very thoughtful social justice reflections in that document. It's a dense, tough read (I've avoided it on the blog thus far!), but worth it...


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