From where I sit, the online bickering between opinionated Catholics looks like a juicy scene straight out of divorce court. Care to see the eye view from a lawyer’s imagination? (Note: All characters are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)
The first party, Mr. ‘Holier than Thunderbolt Catholic’ thinks of everything in terms of “should’s” and “ought’s.” He sounds like a regular mandamus petition:
“I don’t care if you’re pope, but anyone who attends a Mass with Liturgical abuses/wears a skirt above the ankle/is Charismatic/lets her children reads Harry Potter/get vaccines/doesn’t breastfeed/doesn’t spank her children [insert more] is an evil sinner or heretic who will be struck down by thunderbolts and doomed to eternal damnation!” Points finger for emphasis. May pound judge’s gavel if carried away.
The opposing party, Mrs. ‘Barest Minimum Catholic’, likes to go surfing by what the Church requires as the foundation for her faith life. The defense brief is:
“Duuude, I’m not required by Canon law to vote for the other party/abstain on non-Lent Fridays/go to Confession more than once a year/veil at Mass/attend Latin Mass/receive Communion on the tongue/believe in private revelation/pray the rosary/use sacramentals/listen to St. Pio/have a dozen children/homeschool my children [insert more]. You can’t make me ride your mondo zealotry wave. It’s all rippin’ good in the comfort zone of my board.” Cross arms over chest, flash ‘hang loose’ sign.
Of course, I have my own opinions on those hot button topics and (major disclaimer!) the character’s sentiments above are not necessarily indicative of my point of view. Nor are they an open invitation for a debate. My point being: at one time or another, navigating my way through controversial gray matters, I too have echoed the voices and tone of the barest minimum and the holier than thunderbolts. Which is how I recognize what’s wrong with both of them: a heart hardened to change, to understand, to grow, to learn and accept.
At first glance the Mr. and Mrs. have nothing in common, but they’re actually mirror images of the each other, a manifestation of a split personality, of one and the same problem: a struggle for personal conversion. (They likely fell in love with themselves.)
I’m not advocating moral relativism here. What the Church Magisterium teaches under faith and morals cannot be compromised and there’s nothing wrong with firmly preaching or defending it. Sin is against the moral law, period.
However, there are matters that can be left to the discretion of individual Catholics, pertinent to their situation. No one blueprint fits all. This is why seeking spiritual direction from our consecrated pastors is key, discernment with the Holy Spirit is a gift and self-examination is an act of due diligence.
When it comes to choices that increase our personal devotion, preference for worship, enrich the faith of our families, affect the upbringing of children or intensify self-sanctification, what has me cringing is when legalism is weaponized to attack another Catholic or is misused as a shield to justify a stagnant faith. As my ethics instructor was quick to stress: save the legal advice for when your expertise is solicited. Love is a far better motivation for change, as it is the heart of a relationship with God. Change is more probable through encouragement, inspiration, persuasion, example, respectful dialogue…and with God’s grace.
The discerning Catholic, when confronted with contrary viewpoints would do himself and the Church a favor by resisting the knee-jerk reaction of his flawed humanity and established biases. Instead, he could take the golden opportunity to reflect in all humility: Is God calling me to change my attitude/lifestyle or intensify my spiritual life so that I can know Him more and better serve Him? Or is God challenging me to love Him deeper by understanding a different point of view/lifestyle/devotion so that I am not judgmental of others’ choices, be more compassionate of their plight and charitable toward them?
Jesus spoke of two commandments: Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself. He condemned the legalistic Pharisees and was condemned to suffer and die in the hands of an indolent Pilate.
(P.S. Yes, I know Jesus is coming for me, Mr. Thunderbolt, and also with you. I mean…Mea Culpa. Why Mrs. Minimum, you’re rockin’ that skirt and veil. Peace out, sister! I truly hope you both don’t divorce each other over the little things. May you kiss and make up and keep the same “Catholic” surname.)