One of the great struggles of our time is to want what is good, but to realize that, simply wanting what is good, is not enough. We must want what is good in ways that are upright, just, peaceful, and serene.

As Christians, and particularly Christians who engage on the Internet, we run the risk of desiring to influence the culture, and correct the errors of our days, (which are both good things), but we can do this in ways that are hostile, unnecessarily argumentative, and sometimes just plain mean.

It is not enough for us to do that which is good, e.g. speak the truth, we must do this in ways that are good, i.e. we must speak the truth in love.  And even though love must sometimes be firm, and unambiguous, it must in fact be rooted in love.

This fact is not always evident in the discussions that take place on blog comboxes, between Christians, let alone Christians and non-Christians. Too often, our discussions are marked by impatience, name-calling, unnecessary harshness, leaping to conclusions, all or nothing thinking, rash judgments, oversimplifications, and many other negative tendencies which tend to poison the discussion, or shut it down altogether.

Again, it is not enough  to want that which is good, we must want what is good in a good way, and to seek to achieve it in a good way.

I would like to take some reflections of the theologian Jacques Philippe who speaks eloquently of this  need for a “double goodness.”  His reflections point not only to an external goodness, but also address the need for an internal righteousness that helps us maintain serenity, and avoid the impatience and the combative attitude that too easily leads to sin.  I am here quoting from his Book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace:

Not only must we be careful to want and desire good things for their own sake, but also to want and desire them in a way that is good. To be attentive not only to that which we want, but also to the way in which we want them.  We may want something which is good, and even very good, but we can want it in a way that is bad.

In order to understand, [let us take an example]. It is normal that the superior of a community should watch over the sanctity of those in his care. Is an excellent thing, and conforms to the will of God. But if this  superior gets angry, irritated or loses his peace over the imperfections or the lack of fervor of his brothers, it is certainly not the Holy Spirit that is animating him.

And we often have this tendency. Because the thing we want is good, even seen as desired by God, we feel justified in wanting it with that much more impatience and displeasure if it is not realized. The more a thing seems good to us, the more we are agitated and preoccupied to realize it! [Kindle Edition Loc 669-85].

And here we see a very good description of the impatience of the modern age, especially of those who live in the 24/7 news cycle. Too often, we want immediate results and we fail to see that the proclamation of the gospel is often a long-term process.

In particular, many Catholics have impatience with the Church,  wanting immediate action, strong pronunciations, and quick solutions to problems that, frankly, have set in over several generations, and whose philosophical roots stretch back several centuries.

By nature, the Church is slow and deliberate, thinking more in centuries, than in 24-hour news cycles.  There is a patience built in to her ways  that often infuriates those of us caught up into the fast pace of modern world.  Yet this patience,  is born in many centuries of experience that rash solutions often cause more harm in the long run, and often harm the innocent along with the guilty, the wheat is harmed in puling up the weeds too hastily. Frankly one strategy of the Church is to out-live her opponents, and it hasn’t worked too poorly. And, I will say, in my own life, I have seen many good reforms take root and grow, but it does take time. We are in a far better condition today in the Church than we were in the 1970s and 80s.

Prudential judgments  about when and when not to punish, or how quickly to respond and in what manner,  are, of themselves, judgments about which reasonable people will differ. It is not, therefore, sinful for someone to wish that the Church would act more swiftly or more severely in a certain matter,  or, conversely, more slowly and with greater leniency in another matter. Where sin sets in however, is when those who disagree with the approach,  adopt a dogmatic attitude, as though the proper course of action was dogma, rather than the mere prudential judgment it is.  This flawed premise, tends to rob the critics of serenity, which then ushers in, quite frequently, strident language, unnecessary denunciations, and unkind or uncharitable things said of Church leadership, or of other fellow Catholics.

Jacques Philippe goes on to say:

Our wanting must always be caring, peaceful, patient, detached and abandoned to God. It should not be an impatient wanting, hurried, restless, irritated, etc….

All of the Saints insist on telling us that we must moderate our desires, even the best of them…. St. Francis DeSales goes so far as to say “nothing retards progress in virtue so much as wanting to acquire it with too much haste!”…..

A desire that causes us to lose peace, even if the thing desired is excellent in itself, is not of God. It is necessary to want and desire, but in a free and detached way, in abandoning to God the realization of these desires, as He desires and when He wishes. [Ibidem].

Therefore we do well to consider not only if our goal is good, but if the means to that goal is good and Godly. It is clear that one way Satan can easily delude us is tempt us into a false sense of righteousness. And thus, having determined that our goal or purpose is good, we reflect poorly on the means to that end. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day often had good insight into what was right, but they erred in their harsh treatment of others, and their egotistical and exaggerated sense of self-righteousness. And thus their pride eclipsed what was good in them.

We must be careful, my fellow cultural warriors, for in the battle for what is right (a battle both good and necessary), we can sometimes loose our way. Even if Satan cannot trap us by having us deny the truth, he can still trap us by robbing us of charity. And though we claim to see the light, we are enveloped by the darkness of of mean-spirited rhetoric, unnecessary critique, rash judgment, disrespect, insubordination and so on.

I realize that the “the world” often defines down love and charity simply to mean being agreeable and “nice.” It cannot be so reduced. True love reverences the truth and must sometimes speak to hard things. That the world is wrong about this does not however give us the right to wholly abandon love’s rightful requirements.

As Jacques Philippe notes above, a lack of inner serenity is a sure sign that our desire to set things right (good though that desire is in itself) is not of God. We would be on the battlefield for our Lord must ask a purification of our desires. For, it is not enough to want that which is good. We must also be willing to pursue that which is good in a way that good.

The Photo at the upper right is the Coat of Arms of James Cardinal Hickey, the Archbishop who ordained me. The motto is appropriate for our consideration here: “The Truth in Charity.”

In this video Fr. Francis Martin reminds of the patience we are often called to have in the battle. especially the patients to slake that desire to throw lots of people out of the Church in our anger and frustration. There are times when excommunication is necessary. But as this video reminds, much must also be left to God.

9 Responses

  1. Peter Wolczuk says:

    The matter of impatience reminded me of; Psalm 90:4 “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” NIV
    Overall though, I am reminded of; 1 Corinthians:13 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” NIV
    I just learned about the copyright requirement to mention the NIV when quoting it, up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher. So, I will start here.

  2. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    Good lesson. The title also reminded me of a bit of trivia most people don’t know. Howdy Doody had a twin brother whose name was Double Doody.

  3. Annette Strachan says:

    Once I had a thought that I was not responsible for the sins of others. I have plenty of my own, along the lines

    of what I have done and what I have failed to do.

  4. Nick says:

    If you pray for a sinner’s conversion and trust in God, you’ll be serene knowing God will take care of the sinner.

  5. RichardC says:

    That is a great St. Francis de Sales quote.

    On the website where I play chess and try to be a positive Catholic presence in the theology/religion channel, I feel like I have fallen into the errors you warn of 10,000 times, Monsignor.

    Recently I read something by Pope Benedict where he used the term ‘egotistical’ or ‘egoism’ or some such like term. Apparently, he did think much of my commentary on that word either. If the source of the word is Freudian psychology, then I think that there are two reasons to avoid the word: a) most people haven’t read enough Freud or else can’t remember what they have read to use the term meaningfully, and b) Freud’s concept of the soul, in which the ego is part of it, probably can’t be reconciled with the Judeo-Christian concept of the soul, which to my best understanding, is the best understanding of soul.

    Recently, I thought of a way of defining the term egotistical/egoism that may jibe with the way people use the word. St. Augustine said (De Trin. xv), “Not because they are, does God know all creatures spiritual and temporal, but because He knows them, therefore they are.” Maybe egoism can be defined as the belief, implicit or explicit, that, because we are, God knows us. Maybe, Descartes’ famous saying, “I think, therefore I am,” is reducible to that.

    Here is another possible definition of egoism: The belief that doing or having is more important than being. I got that from a quote by Blessed John Paul II about being that Cardinal Dolan recently used. I think that would be an adequate definition of ‘vanity’, also.

    My reason for disliking words such as ‘egotistical’ and ‘egoism’ is that I think they can be used in a way to make people ashamed that they exist.

    St. Faustina (Notebook 1, paragraph 98): “But Satan has only as much influence over the soul as God allows him, and God knows how much we can bear. “What have you gotten out of your mortifications,” says Satan, “and out of your fidelity to the rule? What use are all these efforts? You have been rejected by God!” This word, rejected, becomes a fire which penetrates every nerve to the marrow of the bone. It pierces right through her entire being.”

  6. Ms. Jennifer says:

    I feel like this article may have been written just for me because I can definitely be self-righteous and harsh at times. It’s a struggle not to be. My husband and I are the only people we know our age who don’t drink, have never done any drugs, have never done anything improper before marriage and the list goes on (I guess that’s me that’s me being self-righteous…) It is very lonely for us and the so-called “conservatives” in our own families and religious communities are sadly, some of the worst hypocrites we know (see, now that’s me being harsh). The only Christians I can relate to or look-up to are a handful of Catholic bloggers on the internet, and the internet isn’t the real world so it’s not the same. I knew some people in our same position back in college. They were so lonely in their virtue that they ended up joining cult-like organizations within the Church, but that killed their virtue, just like how you described. They ended up like Anakin Skywalker right before he turned into Darth Vader. Your advice is definitely advice that should be followed to avoid such a dismal fall.

  7. Leo Holahan says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,

    I agree we must want what is good in ways that are upright, just, peaceful, and serene and to do the right thing for the right reasons. It is vital to realize when we have failed in Charity and make amends.

    Thanks for the Post!

  8. TimH says:

    Guilty as charged.

  9. happyhockeymom says:

    Fabulous post Msgr! Something I am truly just now learning in my life and I will bookmark this post so as to return to it often.

    As I discovered so much of our Catholic tradition, I became angry and resentful at what we had been denied for so long. In the process – of wanting to see tradition restored – I pushed people away fromteh beautiful things tradition has to offer because of my anger, pushiness, and hypocrisy. I wanted it all to happen NOW! And I often see this on a traditional Catholic forum that I frequent.

    One of the best things to ever happen to me was an SSPX priest recommended I read a book called “Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence”. A great reminder that all is in God’s hands and that Satan MUST have God’s permission for anything he does – re: see the book of Job.

    So now, finally, after several years of being upset and angry, am I trying to learn to focus on myself and growing in holiness, sharing the good and the beautiful in tradition with others, and leaving the rest of to God.

    May he forgive me and have mercy on me for all the harshness and wrong I did in His name!

    We always need a good way to the good end!

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