Earlier today as I was surfing the Catholic web, I came across a site about priests and bishops who take admirable and courageous stands. The lead was about a Bishop who attended a Mass outside of his diocese where the celebrant was not exactly the model of orthopraxy. I looked at the comments offered and was shocked by the incredible lack of respect and the harsh judgment leveled not just at the offending priest, but the particular bishop, Vatican II, and other peoples. It isn't a first. Over the years I have noticed in the Catholic blogosphere a tendency to play a game I call "Pin the heresy on the cleric/pundit". I have seen rivalries come about with each side's loyal minions rushing to the defense of their fearless leader. It has gotten ugly. I have seen it in parishes and dioceses as well. I have seen it become the mainstay of some publications. I cannot wag a finger, though, I have picked up more than a few mallets to play a rousing game of "Whack-a-cleric" myself. But about a year back, it started to stir within me just how wrong this was. There is a huge difference between being the Persona Christi and trying to be His replacement.
It is a fact that humanity in all its glory, in all its ugliness, in all its benevolence, and in all its cruelty can be found in every aspect of the Church on earth. Why? Because human beings populate the Church on earth (aka the Church militant). As God chose that His priests would be drawn not from among the angelic choirs but among human beings, there will be sin and foolishness co-mingled with holiness and sanctity. Our call as Catholics is to correct charitably the offenses and cheer the sanctity. I noticed on the aforementioned website that those who pummeled this particular bishop and priest did not leave positive comments in the places where other priests and bishops had taken heroic stands. Yes, there are clerics and laypeople who do bad things, who manipulate the Gospel to another end, and who are con artists. When we answer such behavior with a reaction more akin to a shark reacting to blood as opposed to a nurse responding to the same blood, we not only fail to address what needs to be said, but only make the situation worse.
It make me sad when I see the "Oh, there's Michale Voris...hey, it's Mark Shea...Woah, there is Bishop so-and-so...Yee Haw...lookee..here come Fr so-and-so...let's string 'em up, get out the clubs, and have ourselves a Catholic pinata party!" We can all sing a rousing rendition of "They'll know we are Christians by our clubs, by our clubs, yes they will know we are Christians by our clubs!" Oh wait, that is not how the song goes? My mistake! That is the problem. While we pummel each other and refuse to hesitate to strike our fellow Catholics, think about how that looks from the outside. For those who hate us, all it does it give them ammunition for dismissing us as hypocrites. For those searching, it makes them wonder why they would want to be part of such a group. It only deepens scandal.
I would invite all the various devotees and their fearless leaders in this hodgepodge of critique and counter-critique to do a lectio divina with any of the following: I & II Corinthians, The Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John (ch 14-17), the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), each of the Eucharistic Prayers, or the Letters of Pope St. Clement to the Corinthians. In essence, spiritually put the club down, step away from it, take a deep breath, and remember, while you are not personally responsible for that guy or gal, you very much are responsible for what you do! It is one thing to defend the faith, but any defense is based on a presentation of truth (see the writings of St Justin Martyr) rather than a personal attack on those for whom Jesus prayed, "Father may they be one, as you and I are one." (John 17:22)