What a relief it is when pretense and romanticism are set aside and we come face to face with reality in its starkness and candor.
For those who work for the poor, not with soundbites or ideologies or doctrinal compromises but in reality, romanticism passes early and often. As St. Vincent de Paul wrote to his spiritual children:
You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting masters, you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.
If the corporal works of mercy, in which we give people that which we and they and all agree on the desirability of the gift given, can meet with anger, how much more are the spiritual works of mercy resisted–particularly the three in which we must communicate to one another his or her inadequacy:
- Instruct the ignorant
- Counsel the doubtful
- Admonish the sinner
Rarely will the beneficiary of these merciful acts feel them as unmitigated love and mercy.
Certainly some of the hesitancy will be due to pride, hardness of heart, indolence, or attachment to sin. And yet is is incumbent upon those of us who are exercising this type of mercy to examine our ways. As a sinner, anyone of us who acts to rouse the Christianity of others has inward access to the paradigmatic Instructor, Counselor, and Admonisher: the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit convicts us without condemnation.
Do we do likewise?
Resistance is necessary, because ultimately our enemy is not human, but the father of lies. There was a naive time when it may have seemed appropriate to participate in the pretended rapprochement of “The Common Ground” movement. There may have been time when it seemed appropriate to wonder whether we were instigating “liturgy wars” and “culture wars,” rather than simply upholding and teaching the truth. Were we “rigid?” Where we hypocrites? Were we Pharisees?
The McCarrick affair has thankfully put an end to the need for self-examination on points like this. It turns out that his rejection of truth, beauty, and goodness in other aspects of ecclesial life was perfectly consonant with a life of unrepentant, predatory sin. It made a terrible kind of sense. And so we must resist and admonish, with a new clarity and resolve. As St. Paul says, “Let your love be sincere.”
So what should our response be?
1. Practice the works of mercy–all of them.
2. Confess and repent.
3. Practice the virtues that are opposites of the vices of ecclesial corruption.
4. Pursue and promote the good, the true, and the beautiful.