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.

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