Most serious Catholics have had this experience: all on fire for some bracing, difficult truth that seems central to our lives, we march forward in a fine, fervent frenzy, and rip a new asshole for everyone in the room — in service of the truth. Because, as it says in scripture, “The Lord thy God wants you to rip everyone a new asshole.”
The problem with this approach is twofold:
(1) People are generally not much swayed by the, “Listen up, jerkwad, and I’ll teach you something” approach.
(2) The truth takes a while to sink in. Not into them, but into you: just because you think you know something, that doesn’t mean you really know it. Or, it doesn’t mean you know what to DO with the truth.
And so, for instance, gung-ho and ablaze with the information that we should be open to life, an obnoxious twentysomething brandishing her NFP manual in its original wrapper may think she has something to say to a crowd of grizzled old matrons. She may think she’s stirring up a righteous flame in some old, moldering cinders by proclaiming the truth about what it means to be truly generous, truly compliant to the will of God. She may think she’s doing some good (and looking pretty swell in the process!). But more likely than not, she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Either she’s flat-out wrong, and just hasn’t got the habit of fact-checking yet; or else it turns out that life is a little more complicated than it seems when you’re an obnoxious twentysomething.
Just so you don’t think I’m lecturing you (and I had the idea for this post long before the “Why doesn’t the Church just make a list” discussion), I’ll share one of my most cringe-worthy example of some misguided gung-hoery. This happened about ten years ago:
At Christmas every year, the local newspaper would print sob stories about needy families, to solicit donations so that unlucky folks could have a nice holiday for a change. You know: little Johnny is waiting for a liver transplant, and is hoping to collect 100 teddy bears; elderly Mrs. Smith is raising her grandchildren and would love to give the little tykes a pair of rollerblades and a new Xbox.
One year, they printed a little blurb about a young couple — a man and his perpetual “fiancee” –expecting their second child. There were some problems, I forget what: unemployment, disability, threatened eviction. They weren’t asking much — just wanted to have a nice Christmas for their son, and maybe find a few baby items for the little one on the way.
So I got a brilliant idea. I wrote to the editor and, in the boldest and most stirring terms imaginable, exhorted this wretched couple to offer the finest gift a mother and dad ever could to their offspring: to get married. I plugged in a few handy statistics about the relative happiness, educational and vocational chances, and dental health of the child of married parents. I urged them to do what I knew was really in their hearts: to take the leap, tie the knot, make it real. I offered to pay for their marriage license, “and,” I concluded grandly, “I will even throw in a bottle of champagne.”
So, they took me up on it. They came to our apartment. They did want to get married, it turned out — they had just never had the chance, or something. But, well, hmm. As it turned out, the boyfriend had been married before. In the Church. Might he get an annulment? Well, technically he was actually still married. He was planning to get a divorce, but the mother wanted custody of the son, and there was also some complication about a warrant for his arrest . . .
Well, I ended up buying the girlfriend some maternity shirts, and a couple of toys for the little kid. I think they had to take a taxi to our house, too, but I was too embarrassed to offer to pay their fare. The conversation was . . . a little awkward. And now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure I bought her the wrong size shirt. So, all in all, I believe the general message that this lucky couple got from Super Catholic me was: ”Merry Christmas, and here [rrrrrip] is your new asshole. Now get out of my holy, marital house, jerkwads.”
So you see, the moral of this story is: don’t be fancy. Don’t be smart. Do things the regular way, like by praying, being nice, and donating money to charities that know what they are doing. If the Holy Spirit wants you to do something really spectacular, He’ll probably make it almost impossible for you to avoid it. Remember Jonah? Gulp.
So, good people? How about you? When’s the last time you shot your mouth off in the service of Truth, Justice, and the Magesterial Way, and got showed up for the know-nothing numb-nut you really are?
Or is it just me?