…And in All Things, Always Charity
Recently, I took part in a Facebook discussion on the building of the Shrine of Mary, Mother of Mercy in the archdiocese of Johannesburg.
While serious concerns were raised, I got very worried about the sarcasm and expletives used. I was also shocked at how people allowed “emotions” and biases to override rationality.
Some were not even listening to each other and were speaking over each other’s heads. In brief, charity was wanting.
Unfortunately, this is characteristic of many online dialogues among Catholics, especially on “thorny” issues.
The letter “Francis Not My Preferred Pope” by JH Goossens illustrates this point — and I mention it as an example because I was one of the recipients of his ire.
Firstly, he threw up Bible verses with no attempt to summarise their exegesis — which by the way, is not as simplistic as it may seem.
Secondly, there was mockery, with Dr Goossens believing he had administered “a refresher course in Christian morality…for free”.
Thirdly, he was inattentive to the facts by confusing his Jameses (he wanted the one in Acts 15).
Finally, he resorted to name-calling, labelling Fr James Martin SJ with words not worth repeating.
Dr Goossens could have easily put his opposing views, to which he is doubtless entitled, without the Bible-bashing, reading into the text instead of the text, being sarcastic to fellow disciples of Christ, and name-calling them.
The Marian Shrine Debate
And something akin was evident in the Johannesburg shrine thread.
Those “against” the erection of the shrine were so adamant to win the argument that they even went so far as to deny the legitimacy of Marian devotions, and even plainly expressed that the diakonia (service) was higher than the leitourgia (worship/prayer).
As Catholics we know that our life is equally based on the leitourgia, marturia (witness), kerygma (proclamation) and diakonia.
And the devotion to Our Lady is so ingrained in Catholic religiosity that there is no need to justify it.
Those who were “for” the shrine quickly applied the story of the Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9), with no attempt at exegesis either, to justify the cost of the shrine and the supposedly coercive methods of fundraising.
One woman commented on the goings-on in the thread: “Is this a Church? Are these Christians sharing one bread and one cup?”
Love is Our Greatest Commandment
We need to remember that Christ’s greatest and primary demand and the commandment to us is love. In fact, he said that love is our identifying mark as his disciples.
We can differ in view and, in most cases, we shall. However, let us do so with charity — love.
I once came across a saying which struck me: “In your arguments on faith, be charitable, for you may win the argument and lose the soul.”
At first, I thought that it meant that you may lose the soul of your opponent. I now think it also means that you may lose your (winner’s) own soul as a Christian, whose lifeline and fundamental identity is love (charity).
The tongue is the smallest organ yet it can build greatly and destroy utterly – James 3:5-6. Let us not destroy each other with uncharitable, irrational utterances.
This is what I learnt in my many years of Catholic schooling, which started at a very tender age.