Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When the Monstrance is an Abyss

There's a very interesting essay in today's New York Times entitled "When the Cyberbully is You." The essay considers the phenomenon of the online mob and "shaming" a person via social media. Most of us are familiar with seeing stories go "viral" and re-posted or re-tweeted. Outrage and indignation spread from one person to another, their contagion seemingly infecting all it touches.

I am reluctant to consider myself a "victim" of cyberbullying but, I will admit, I've had more than my fair share of trolls who have visited this page. Most of them, sadly, are fellow Catholics who feel themselves commissioned by God to point out flaws or anonymously post hurtful comments. It's hard to develop a thick skin when someone is taking shots at you...but I've grown increasingly indifferent to cowardly criticisms.

The author of the Times piece quotes Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. Some years ago, I taught this to my seniors. Quoted is, however, but the first of the two-sentence apothegm. IN §146, Nietzsche writes, "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster." By this we should understand that we can be be transformed into what we most loath. We may rightly feel outrage at an injustice but, in our attempt to bring about order, we can stray easily into the realm of injustice.

Such, it seems, is the error of many in cyber-shaming. We are indignant at another's comment, or joke, so we attempt to "right" the scale by "calling him out." Stupid comments made on Twitter, things that should be reproved with an eye-roll or a, "Did you really write that?" become, through mob-shaming, the cause for a person to lose a job. Maybe that's justified, maybe it's justice...but I'm not so sure that a mindless mob is ever the best arbiter of what is just. It certainly wasn't the case for Jesus.

The second line of §146 is equally interesting. Nietzsche continues, "And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into you."

For me, this is the irony of the vicious so-called Catholic bloggers. They would be the first to extoll hours spent in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament but then, when they turn to the internet, they manifest the presence of an abyss where neither mercy nor charity can be found. Rather than being themselves monstrances embodying the sacramental presence of Christ in the world, they are the monstrous inversions of a sacrament.

I wish some Catholic bloggers would ponder whether there is too-great a gulf between the time they spend on their knees in prayer and the time they spend at the keyboard. Has Christ's presence reached deep into their hearts to transform it? Or has self-righteousness and smug self-satisfaction succeeded in blocking the rays of Christ's merciful light? My (blessedly few) encounters with rage-a-holic bloggers forces me to wonder: are they themselves not guilty of the profanation of the Eucharist when their cowardly deeds and words serve only to destroy and break-down the Body of Christ they believe they serve?

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Such Great Voyages

During one of our many snowstorms this winter, I had a chance to re-watch Tony Kushner's Angels in America. The HBO-adapted miniseries was drawn from Kushner's play which debuted in 2003. The story centers around the AIDS crisis of the mid-1980's and traces how the lives of quite disparate individuals become intertwined in New York City. 

The opening scene takes place during the funeral of an elderly woman. The wizened rabbi stands before a plane pine coffin:

This woman. I did not know this woman. I cannot accurately describe her attributes, nor do justice to her dimensions. She was...Well, in the Bronx Home of Aged Hebrews there are many like this, the old, and to many I speak but not to be frank with this one. She preferred silence. So I do not know her and yet I know her. She was...
 (touching the coffin)
...not a person, but a whole kind of person, the ones that cross the ocean that brought with us to America, the villages of Russia and Lithuania. And how we struggled, and how we fought, so that you would not grow up here, in this strange place, in the melting pot where nothing melted. Descendants of this immigrant woman, you do not grow up in America, you and your children, and their children with the goyische names. You do not live in America. No such place exists. Your clay is the clay of some litvak shtetl, and your air is the air of the steppes - because she carried that Old World on her back across the ocean in a boat and she put it down on Grand Concourse Avenue, or in Flatbush, and she worked that earth into your bones, and you pass it to your children, this ancient culture and home.
You can never make that crossing she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross. Every day. You understand? In you that journey is.  
As raindrops splash against my window this Holy Saturday, I cannot help but to think the rabbi to be chillingly prophetic. We think nothing of trans-Atlantic travel these days, but we would hardly consider this a voyage. Are such Great Voyages a thing of the past? 

As Christians, we are heirs to the story of a great story originating with Abraham and traced through Jesus and passed down by saints and sinners. The Great Voyage of faith, recorded not only by miles logged but also by hearts made whole, is one in which we are always invited to embark upon. Such Great Voyages as undertaken in the past...these may no longer be possible. What we need today are Great Voyages of the future that will lead us in new directions. 

The conclusion of Lent is, at least for me, almost always bittersweet. The good intentions I began with many days ago are usually smudged and tattered and I know, in my heart, that I did not live out the Lent I desired. It's a terrible irony: I cannot even live my sinfulness well! All the same, after the shadow of Good Friday, I am looking to Easter's light to point the way for another year's journey. 

As the Church waits in hope for Easter's victory, I think it good to remain mindful that the journey of faith isn't a pre-planned itinerary, but something lived by each of us. Where we walk each day, where we set out in new directions, can all be avenues for bringing the Gospel to margins and frontiers. Sometimes these frontiers are places are very close to us - our homes, our friends - and sometimes they are very far away. Regardless, our faith in does not give us a journey. It makes us, in our flesh and bones, a Great Voyage that we undertake guided by Jesus. 

I hope those who read this have come through Lent a bit dirtier, a bit more ragged, than when they set out in February. I hope you thirst, having past through the Lenten desert. And I hope you are prepared for the great celebration when we feel the warm light of Easter's Victory and are refreshed in order to be the Great Voyage God calls us to be for another year. 

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame