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The Case of Mr. Holier Than Thunderbolt Versus Mrs. Barest Minimum Catholic

October 3, AD2013 6 Comments

\"Anabelle

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.)

Filed in: Law

About the Author:

Anabelle Hazard is a practicing Catholic, non-practicing attorney, happy homeschooler, penniless novelist (of Catholic novels “Sand and Water” & “Fireflies Dance”), and long-winded blogger at Written By the Finger of God.

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  • ME

    Very well written! I agree with you. As I was just thinking to myself the other day… I’m a practicing Catholic, but for many years it didn’t seem I was getting any better at it. Some days I practice a little harder, and it feels a little more fruitful. :)

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Absolutely! Very insightful.

    JPII was a Philosopher, Benedict a Theologian, and Francis? A shrewd and wise Psychologist.
    To me, his charism is that he sees right through all the games, and one of the biggest games he’s seeing played out is exactly what you’ve mentioned above: that what often looks like chalk and cheese is actually the same worldview being played out. But, owing to his Ignatian Formation, should we expect anything else?

    To me, the key to interpreting him is that lens, but most bloggers are used to the two ‘lenses’ of his predecessors, and his lens, I suggest, is completely unfamiliar territory for them.

    That’s why I believe I’ve not read on blog article on the main Catholic blogs yet that’s grasped this (until yours), or if they have, they’ve hidden the fact effectively.

    When you say, ‘They likely fell in love with themselves’, is what the Holy Father means by ‘narcissism’ in the Church, to my mind – and that’s exactly what narcissism means – and yet most commentators are twisting it to mean an ecclesiological (institutional) ‘inward looking’/navel-gazing, or some variant on that, and not in terms of the human soul in the context of our ecclesiology.

    You say:
    ‘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.

    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?’

    - Spoken just like one of the best Jesuit Spiritual Directors around!

    When thinking ‘spirituality’ too, most people think more Contemplative or Mystical. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, etc. Jesuit spirituality, on the other hand, is very concrete – like the soldier he was – and his loyal soldiers know the battlefield of the soul inside out.

    You’ve grasped exactly what makes him tick – and why his papacy is so exciting. He sees the elephant in the room. I bet he takes no BS.

    I imagine that if I met him, it would be like standing spiritually naked, meeting someone who can see straight into my inner self.

    • Anabelle Hazard

      Thank you for your kind words. I didn’t realize my Ignatian roots were showing :) I do love our Pope –he inspires, corrects and challenges me.

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  • Gary Adrian

    Anabelle, I normally agree with you, and there is much to agree with here as well, but I think that your two examples are both, basically, conservative Catholics. Both recognize the rules are to be followed, one does it with gusto (and judgementalism), the other does the bare minimum. The problem is that the type of ‘Mr. Holier than Thunderbolt Catholic’ is a very rare occurence (except on the internet). I think that we have both, liberal and conservative Catholics, have both personalities to a lesser or greater degree.

    If that was your intent, then the rest of my comments are my own musings and are not important, but if you are setting the ‘Holier than thow’ as the conservative, and the ‘bare minimum’ as the liberal, my comments may be valuable.

    But I think now that we have the famous ‘Pope Francis interview’, we are all piling up on ‘right wing’ Catholics who are so judgmental and Pharisee like. In reality these evil ‘right wing’ Catholics, only seem to exist in our imaginations and in the blogesphere. Yes, they are out there and for the few in number that exist, they really ‘mess things up’. I belong to an extremely conservative parish and I have only heard charitable and loving discussions about Pope Francis. Yes, you will hear from those that are concerned about ‘clown masses’ and poorly catechized Catholics, but it is out of genuine concern for the souls of so many fallen away Catholics. What will happen to there souls? If we strictly agree with Christs words in the Bible, they are headed for Hell. Personally, I have seen 90% of my generation, leave the liberal Catholic parishes for the world. While at my ‘conservative’ parish, maybe at most 10% of the younger generation are leaving the Catholic Church. I have seen more true charity at this ‘right wing’ parish, then I have seen in the multitude of ‘liberal’ parishes that I have attended. Perhaps at this point in my comments I appear to be falling into the ‘Holier than a Thunderbolt’ Catholic, but that is not my intent. Personally, I feel that I am very weak. If I was in a liberal parish, I would not have been able to return to the Catholic Church, I just don’t have the strength to resist my own temptations. It takes quiet and reverence for me to be able to connect with God. I know myself, I was away for 30 years.

    So in effect, it isn’t that I feel holier than a Thunderbolt, I in fact feeling more sinful than a once a year mass attending Catholic. My concern is that there are millions of others just like me, that can’t get connected with God without adequate Catechisis, good hard hitting sermons, reverent masses, etc.

    Yes, there are some extreme conservative Catholics that are as judgmental as you say, but they are rare, most judge themselves very harshly but recognize that by following Christs high standards, they find it easier to get close to him and to show true charity. Yes, many times they don’t ‘encourage’ non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics very well by badmouthing them on their blogs. They spend too much time preaching to the choir and not enough time evangelizing those that need it. But honestly, how many non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics do you think are reading conservative Catholic blogs.

    As for the liberal side, my experience is at the very least, ‘Hey dude, I can contracept, support same sex marriage, get divorced, get involved in fornication, and God still loves me because he knows that I am a nice person.’ How do we reach these people, not by condemning them, but by convincing them. At the same time, if these are the people that are running our CCD and RCIA classes, they are spreading this same poison to thousands of other Catholics. When Catholics who teach CCD and RCIA, that are true to the magesterium are given the boot in favor of these ‘liberal’ Catholics, because they talk about Hell and Satan once in a while, we have great concern. We want the bishops to know about our concern. But now we are told to shut up and just accept the those that teach heresy to our children and new Catholics.

    • Anabelle Hazard

      Hi Gary, yes my examples were the voices of conservative Catholics, both of whom recognize the law but have used different approaches to it. since we are on the same side of the Church law, we are alienating each other by either refusing to grow and understand the other.You don’t stike me as holier than thunderbolt and I actually agree with your musings. I don’t know how to reach the liberal Catholics but being a former one, I switched sides by God’s grace when I read the source itself… Encyclicals and catechism…. All without a writer or preacher’s bias or opinion clouding it. But largely because my conservative husband was on the opposite side and I thought I could prove him wrong. I think if someone close to you confronts your position enough without being threatening, in Gods time when a heart is ready for conversion, truth will be found.