by Michael Hamill
As I write people are mad about Fratelli Tutti. I saw someone on Twitter who said she was angry that it was addressed to brothers and not sisters. I have more contact with people who are mad because it says capital punishment is “inadmissible.” They seem to think they were entitled to something else, something they found less annoying. I don’t want to tell them that they’re wrong about capital punishment, but I do wish I could help them be less angry about it.
One cause of anger about things in the Church is, I think, confusion about two questions. One is what you want from the Church. The other is what you deserve from the Church. I want a placid Church, one in which we are protected from confusion about faith and morals and from worldly leaders. I think these are good things to want, but it doesn’t seem that I am entitled to them. A lot of people have had to live through bad times in the Church. We’re part of a big group.
Warren Carroll said that sometimes the Church is in conflict with the world, and sometimes the Church is a respected institution, adding that when the Church has a high status, “the wrong kind of men want to be bishops.” But I don’t want to say that things are always equally bad. I don’t agree that we should never get mad because this is as good as things will ever be. Things could get better. Maybe some of us will live to see it.
The saints have told us how to escape anger about such things. Be humble. Simple, but not easy, as they say. There are saints who are called “reformers,” Saint Charles Borromeo, Saint Philip Neri, Saint Teresa of Avila, for example. I don’t know whether Saint Louis Marie de Montfort gets the reformer title, but if he doesn’t it is for lack of success, in his lifetime, not lack of trying. Reformers succeed or fail at making things better, but whining isn’t in their arsenal. I can’t say Saint Catherine of Siena didn’t get mad, but I don’t think you can read her as saying she somehow “deserved” better.
For talking about problems in the Church without whining, humility is the key. I am told that humility can come from humiliations. Still, I fight to avoid them more than anything. If the Church is right, though, humility is a good goal for everyone.
To show that I am capable of criticizing the state of the Church, I will say that I wish humility were held up for us more as something to strive for. It may be that the Church in our time preaches it less than at any point in history. The modernists of the 1960s lost a lot of battles, but one they did win was for the Church to stop pushing humility on people. I read of a sermon given in a medieval castle in which the priest told the nobles that there were ploughmen who outranked them in the order of holiness. I don’t recommend that any priest try this but imagine a sermon in a university parish today telling the congregation that there were salesmen and beauticians who sat above them on the only pyramid that matters.
When you see the virtue of humility promoted again in the Church, when there are priests who talk about it effectively, it will be a sign that reform is advancing. Today, there are humble people in the Church living holy lives. Perhaps one advantage they have over their predecessors is that there is little chance they will be held up as exemplars. He may be annoyed at being identified here, but I will suggest that Jeff Mirus wrote well (and not entirely uncritically) about Fratelli Tutti because he approached the job humbly.
Chesterton wrote about humility as if he had sat through sermons on the topic from progressive priests in the 1960s. “The new philosophy of self-esteem and self-assertion declares that humility is a vice.” This seems right. So does this: “It is always the secure who are humble.”
It is not easy to be secure, especially on purpose. Nothing is certain in this life. If we are in a state of grace, though, God has brought us safe thus far, and if we continue in it, He will safely bring us home. I see no other source of security.
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