Brother Francis used to criticize a certain genre of Catholic journalism which majored in the scandalous goings-on in the Church. He used to compare such publications to the gossip who greets his neighbor at the fence with the words, “Have you heard the latest?”
One of the results of the Fall is that we sons of Adam can take a certain macabre delight in what is perverse and disordered. This is observed in the curiosity for blood and gore that leads to rubbernecking our way past car crashes on the highway. Those of us of a certain age might recall when Joe Theismann’s leg was broken on national TV. It was gruesome. The TV producers showed it over and over and over again. Why? For the simple reason that people liked to see it — at least some people did, enough, apparently to impact the ratings. The Germans have an expression they call schadenfreude, which is the joy that one man feels for the misfortune of another. I think a certain substantial percentage of people who tune in to the nightly news genuinely enjoy learning the grotesque details of celebrity suicides, violent crimes, freakish accidents, and disasters of all sorts.
Did you see that? That was horrible! Awww, gross! Let’s see it again… in slow motion.
And so it is with the scandals plaguing the Church. Some people, I believe, get a perverse delight out of hearing the latest, having a robust gripe session, an agitated hand-wringing party, or a low-down gossip fest. This is perverse.
In justice, I should contrast these disordered habits with a genuine sort of journalism that reports the facts, and a genuine kind of news commentary that analyzes the events and even justly exposes those who are guilty of crimes against the Faith and the faithful. Thanks to certain faithful Catholic news outlets and media apostolates, genuine ecclesiastical criminals have been caught and stopped. Others have been limited in their capacity to make trouble because their credibility has been justly undermined. Journalists who do such things should be commended, not condemned.
The assaults against Catholic faith and morals by modernists, liberals, and dissidents of all other sorts ought very much to pain us. They ought to pain us because we love Jesus Christ and all that He loves: His Mother, His Bride, His Revelations, and souls redeemed by His Blood. Knowing the grim realities which beset the Church, in more or less detail, is an obligation for Catholics, and obligation which varies widely depending on one’s responsibilities. The faithful ought not to imitate the proverbial ostrich burying his head in the sand, or a Pollyanna, pretending that everything is just fine.
We should avoid preoccupation with the villains in the Church and making curious news-gathering on their doings a kind of conservative or traditional Catholic entertainment. When tracking the machinations of malefactors takes precedence over our obligatory pursuit of truth, holiness, and virtue, we have a problem. God comes first, and we must render to Him the homages that are His due.
There is also the very grave duty incumbent upon responsible adults to shelter children from scandal. Let us take to heart the words of woe Our Lord spoke regarding those who scandalize children; millstones are not appropriate swim gear!
My friend Gary Potter, writing about Dom Prosper Guéranger, tells of the protective atmosphere that the great monk’s father, Pierre Guéranger, provided for his children:
Perhaps most significantly, when Napoleon made a prisoner of Pope Pius VII, Pierre Guéranger shielded his children from the news. The family continued to pray together for the pope as if nothing had happened, and Prosper would later remember an engraving in the home, one that was venerated by the family and that showed Pius VII kneeling at the feet of Our Lady of Sorrows. When the boy was seven and accidentally heard of the pope’s captivity, he was distraught.
While I’m quoting Gary Potter, let me do it again. In a more recent piece published on Catholicism.org, Doing What Can and Must Be Done, our old friend makes an excellent point, and he cites the intrepid Hamish Fraser to do it. The passage I quote from begins with a quick reference to Charles Coulombe and me, because he has just cited recent pieces we had authored:
Brother and Charles remind me of how the late Hamish Fraser, champion of Catholic orthodoxy and the cité catholique, once exhorted readers of his invaluable publication Approaches. It was in the early 1970s when the liturgical revolution was in full swing and nothing short of apostasy was evident among many who persisted, and were allowed to persist, in calling themselves Catholic. Hamish, a blunt Scot, said: “Don’t let the bastards drive us out of the Church.”
Allow me to add my own bit in regard to these… including the clerical homosexual network and apostates within: Ignore them. Why?
In the first place, think very much on all the bad news about the Church that flows seemingly endlessly, and you can wind up thinking yourself right out of the Church. This is what Hamish was getting at. One can quite literally scandalize himself by contemplating these evils without certain necessary spiritual counterbalances. [My emphasis.]
It should be noted that neither Gary Potter nor Hamish Fraser would mean “ignore them” in an absolute sense, as the above referenced ostrich. It is a question of not losing proportion, not becoming preoccupied. Also, we have to recall that the evils besetting Holy Mother Church are part of God’s permissive will, while supernaturally accepting these trials as occasions to increase our faith, hope, and charity.
Now I want to talk about those important and necessary “spiritual counterbalances.” What I want to highlight here is what I am calling the Catholic obligation to self-edify. By “self-edify,” I do not mean that the self is the source of the edification, but that we have an obligation to seek out edification.
The Gospel is the “good news.” As such, it stands in stark contrast to the common news that relates to our fallen race. Most news is bad. It weighs us down, depresses us. It can also make us lose our Christian fervor by always placing before our eyes the doings of people who are not at all seeking to live a life of Christian virtue. A subtle temptation to genuine Pharisaism enters here. After all, compared to such people, it’s easy to look good, isn’t it? We can therefore become complacent, slothful, vain, and proud. But we ought to aim higher. We ought to put before our minds eye better examples, higher thoughts, nobler aspirations. While shunning what is false, evil, and ugly, we ought to pursue with great energy what is true, good, and beautiful.
Reading Holy Scripture, the lives of the saints, good fortifying spiritual books: these things build us up, as do holy conversation, keeping company with good Catholics genuinely interested in pursuing holiness, observing the liturgical year with its accustomed fasts, feasts, and other observances, doing our best to penetrate into the spirit of the Church’s liturgical tradition, Marian consecration with its proper preparation, and, of course, the fruitful reception of the Sacraments of the Church. “For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
We have a Christian duty to edify each other: “Let every one of you please his neighbour unto good, to edification” (Rom. 15:2). Again: “Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).
A great responsibility! But how can we fulfill it if we ourselves “savor not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men” (Matt. 16:23)?
As we savor less of the good things of this earth during Lent, we should strive to savor more the things of God, to edify ourselves with the help of divine grace, so that, being made a reservoir of supernatural goodness in ourselves, we might become an aqueduct of the same for our neighbor.
Then we will be more fixed on eternity and less preoccupied with “the latest.”