Monday, March 10, 2008

A Red Letter Day

I'd like to begin this post with two quotes:

From The Spiritual Exercises

In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor's proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him sek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself. [22]
From the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas

Charity I call a movement of the soul towards enjoying God for his own sake. [ST 2a2ae 23.2]
Let me pull these two thoughts together. Charity is that by which the human heart moves toward unity with God. The dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises is the same: the person making the retreat is discerning how to align her heart with God's heart, to make God's will her will. One of the assumptions of the Spiritual Exercises is that
the Creator and Lord Himself should communicate Himself to his devout soul, inflaming it with His love and praise, and disposing it for the way in which it will be better able to serve him in the future. [15]
Think of this image of the human person: a man or woman who is pre-disposed to hearing God's word in his or her life. God, for Ignatius, is able to speak to each human such that the heart is inflamed and a desire to enter into relationship with God is enkindled. Charity is, as such, not a commandment but rather a response. The charitable heart is one that seeks to bring about unity and oneness as a response to the call of God. As Father Howard Gray expressed it once, the test for an authentic mystical encounter is generativity: does the lived-out response to the encounter with God bring life to oneself and to others? If it is not life-giving, if it does not promote the Kingdom of God, then one must be suspicious of it as a mystical encounter.

Charity is, from my vantage point, a unifying virtue. In its best moments, "Catholic Charities" facilitates this unity. It addresses the material and spiritual needs of others in order that they may move toward greater unity with God. In freeing women and men from the fetters of poverty and any form of oppression, a truly "Catholic charity" enables the newly-freed person to journey further toward unity with God. Is this not an aspect of God's Kingdom, that women and men may claim their truth before God? Where all humans are able to listen for and respond to God's saving Word?

I mention this because of a disturbing trend in the blogosphere that I have witnessed over the past few months. On various blogs it has become common practice to re-print texts of authors and add in commentary in red letters. Seldom is the commentary "charitable" and it often takes the form of ad hominem attacks on the author and (especially if it's a Jesuit) his "orthodoxy."

So here is my question: do the 'red letters' facilitate or hinder the movement of charity? Does the random this is a load of claptrap and this is an absolutely disgusting comment interspersed through an article actually help to bring about God's Kingdom or does it stultify it? Is this charitable or just mean-spirited?

When I see red letter comments in blogs it raises a few questions for me. First off, why not read and then respond to the whole article rather than making what often appear to be side comments responding to points taken out of context? It would seem the charitable [as Ignatius uses it] gesture to respond to the whole of an article or essay rather than belittling small points or individual sentences. After reflecting on the whole, one might ask how the best spin could be put on it. If there is no possible way, then raising certain questions about it might well be in order.

Take, for instance, the bemoaning of the word 'creativity' in some circles. Creativity, to my mind, conjures up notions of re-interpreting the tradition in a way that meets the needs of the present moment. Tradition is handed on through time and must engage with new settings and situations. Creativity does not, to my mind, evoke thoughts of "dissent." Creativity does not absolve someone of responsibility; perhaps, in some ways, it demands responsibility even more. But when Father General encourages

young Jesuits to study in a way that is creative, opens horizons, helps them see other points of view, other frameworks
I assume that he is asking us to act with faithful responsibility. The charitable reading is that young Jesuits are to learn the tradition and be confident enough to articulate it in new and innovative ways such that it can be heard in newly emerging and as-yet un-encountered contexts. I do not read this as a license to interpret willy-nilly and begin espousing heretical notions or engaging in 'dissent.'

I suspect this will elicit a few comments, so I'll wait for those to appear before writing anything further. My main point is that I think it would do the blogosphere - and the Church - a great service to re-evaluate our motives in writing and look at our dispositions toward others, particularly those with whom we disagree. Each of us should think of removing the log (or BLOG) in his or her eye before pointing out the speck of dust in the eye of another.


Jason said...

Ryan, I don't know if this post is prompted by any current commentaries, as my low-level hypertension prevents me from reading a certain set of blogs. You know, for health reasons. But I do remember that apparently it all depends on your definition of charity. Haven't you learned that yet?

No, true charity isn't an option for the Christian when the sinner's (always the other, never the self) immortal soul is at stake, as it may be taken of approval of "creative" behavior, apparently.

Anonymous said...

good post--
look for a package tomorrow--early Easter Present -- or only Easter Present--
Love ya!

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Ryan! Thank you for supporting standards of decency and respectable argumentation in the face of sleaze and cheap rhetorical stunts. It's a breath of fresh air to see some actual Christian thinking in the world of Jesuit-centered blogs, rather than the half-assed garbage tossed around by some in the name of "charity" and "fraternal correction."

Anonymous said...

Confess your sins online at:

Anonymous said...

Good one, Ryan!!! Thank you for standing up for the life you have chosen to lead. So pleased that a Jesuit is finally letting the self-proclaimed 'friends' of the Jesuits have it, but in a nice way, of course. Every Jesuit I've shown the other blogs say, 'why do you read this trash?' The only answer I can come up with is it reminds me why I'm NOT an orthodox Catholic and won't strive to become one anymore. Seems the more orthodox you get the less compassionate you become. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

It's just the latest variation on what the blogosphere has long called "Fisking" - that is taking apart a piece, bit by bit. The red letter stuff is new - usually it's blockquote of a portion, followed by italics from the commentor, and so on.

Named after a British? Australian? reporter named Robert Fisk whose work was regularly sliced and diced this way in the beginnings of the blogosphere.

Unknown said...

My thinking on the "my emphases and comments" sort of posting is that, like everything else, it depends on the person doing the emphasizing and the commenting.

As re. the comments of Fr. Gen., my opinion aligns, more or less, with yours. There are people, alas, whose experiences have left them, er, a bit nervous. As a consequence, I try to look at their disagreement with me in this case through the lens of affording them the most charitable interpretation possible. I don't know what experiences they may have had or what knowledge, fear, etc. they may be bringing to the table, so I have to condition my response to THEIR response accordingly.

I may not agree, but I have to respect that certain news items/statements may leave certain people, for perfectly plausible reasons, "unsettled."



Anonymous said...

Um, Joe, I think Ryan was talking about YOU when he wrote this post, not "certain people." Er.

Unknown said...


Charity bids me I place the best possible interpretation on that.

Therefore...uh...never mind.


P.S. I would hope that if/when Ryan took exception to anything I did/said/wrote he'd contact me directly.

Kiwi Nomad said...

I guess, like Jason, I have learned to confine my blog reading to ones I find helpful, and those are always charitable ones.
I have not been a 'proper' go-to-Mass-on-Sundays Catholic for many years. In 'real life' I have had some recent contact with a priest who tries to live by his understanding that God is Love. He seems to manage to find the inklings I do have of faith, and uses these to build me up. He may offer suggestions for what he thinks could be useful, but he never tears me down with criticism. As a result, I am left wondering about the source of his love. Instead of walking away, I am left pondering and sticking around.

Anonymous said...

You guys are too smart not to have seen this coming. Any successful television program needs conflict. Isn't this how this all began?

You're playing your roles very well.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, well said. Keep up the good work!