Monday, October 12, 2009

On the separation of Church and hate

NOTE: This column appeared in the October 2 edition of "The Anchor", diocesan newspaper of my home Diocese of Fall River. I am so grateful for Fr. Tim's words, they echo exactly the sentiment that I have been feeling increasingly over the last several years, increasingly over the last several months, about the utter lack of charity and compassion so often in the voices of so-called believers. I encourage you to read on. - FT

By Father Tim Goldrick


The Second Vatican Council urged us to read "the signs of the times." The "signs of the times" are articulated in many ways: published in an article, illustrated in a piece of artwork, presented on stage, expounded in a book, etc. One has to keep one's eyes open. When I see a "sign of the times," I use it as a subject of meditation. I ponder how this sign relates to the Gospel and to the teachings of the Church.

The Church in any time and place either reflects the mores of the general culture or stands in opposition. The Church is at its finest when it opposes the violation of justice and basic human rights by a society that has its moral compass. Sometimes this can result in violence against Church members. It should never result in violence by Church members.

Throughout our Church history, Catholic men, women and children have died for courageously witnessing to what they believed to be right and just. "Martyr" means witness. There is an old saying, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." When the Church is persecuted, it is then it grows most rapidly.

Lately I've been meditating on an actual sign, that is a bumper sticker, that has begun to pop up here and there around the country: "Support the Separation of Church and Hate." What does this bumper sticker signify?

A tropical storm of rudeness has been gathering strength across our nation for some time. It has now been upgraded to a hurricane of hate. The "signs of the times" in our political system are lately signaling vitriolic hatred. This goes beyond incivility, disrespect, and political opinion to a frothing, shrieking, hatred instigated and sustained by a lunatic fringe.

News sources are full of reports of personal attacks against our democratically elected officials, up to and including the President of the United States. "Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!" is just not something one shouts publicly at a head of state, especially in his own country and in the very seat of government. Hurling one's shoes at the Commander-in-Chief of the United States is the act of a person rabid with hate. Fist-shaking, placard-carrying hate mongers began this summer to sabotage the town meeting format, even within our own diocese. I see hatred in the public square.

I fear this hatred may seep into the Church like a toxic oil spill. The Archbishop of Boston, according to reports, has been figuratively hung out to dry by those across the country who object to his recent television appearance. What did the cardinal do on television? He participated in a Mass of Christian Burial. The last I knew, burying the dead was a corporal act of mercy. Personally, I would probably conduct funeral rites for the world's most notorious sinner. Who knows what goes on between a flawed human soul and our merciful God? I will not be the one to presume.

I suspect hate at one time or another has targeted everyone who serves in the public eye. Priests and bishops are not exempt. Over the years, I have heard of a local priest who actually received death threates from a parishioner. He wisely reported it to the police. I have heard of a priest driven to the verge of emotional collapse by the hateful tactics directed against him by parishioners. With all the seething letter-writing campaigns that go on, there must be file drawers full somewhere in some Church office.

I myself was once denounced as an agent of Satan. The accusation was made as I stood in the sanctuary. I know I'm not perfect, but I'm certainly not the incarnation of evil. I deserve better than that.

There was once a man who would refuse to receive holy Communion from me. He would routinely block the Communion procession until he and I were face to face and then abruptly switch over to the special minister of holy Communion. I still don't know what that guy's problem was, but he certainly had one. My guess is that it was all about hate.

They say a parishioner frequently approached St. John Vianney to arrange Mass for "a special intention." Eventually, the holy priest inquired as to what this special intention might be. The answer was, "For your speedy transfer from this village of Ars." Hate is not new but it is increasing in ferocity.

There can be no place in Church or government for hateful words and actions. We must never condescend to the tactics of hate. Our task as Catholic Christians is to stand in firm opposition to hatred in all its forms. I have read the "signs of the times" on a bumper sticker. I cast my vote in favor of the separation of Church and hate.

1 comment:

  1. Article XIX of the SFO Rule states in part: Mindful that they (we) are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence ot the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.

    The above is not necessarily an easy admonition, but a wellspring of grace. Peace and all good.

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