Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thanks to Father Barnes I

I was in turmoil all day, thinking about comments on recent posts. Two were from hostile on-line "advisors," a third from someone dear to me. All three led me to question whether I have lost my direction; instead of offering the "good news" of Catholicism, have I strayed into haughty, uncharitable criticism of those who don't agree with the Church? Has the monster taken control from Dr. Frankenstein?

Then I entered church for a 5:00 p.m. baptism, picked up the weekly bulletin, and concluded that Father Barnes's bulletin message had been written expressly for me. This is not the first time I have been struck by a comment, message, or homily by Father Barnes and how it seemed to nail squarely an issue I was thinking or worrying about—bullseye—like the guy's inside my head, or something! Though that's a scary thought, I bless the day I entered St. Mary Star of the Sea Church and found that "FB" was the pastor. Without good priests we would have no church. Without Father Barnes I probably would not be a Catholic.

The comments that I fretted over were a mixed bag. The two from "Anonymous" contained plenty of nasty vituperation with a few pointed zingers thrown in, mostly about my arrogance and pomposity. Set aside the schoolyard mud-throwing, and together they suggested that I had been far too critical of both non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics who bring trivial objections against the Church.

The third commenter, my dear friend, called me to task for being too critical of a recent dinner companion, also in a post. There were no schoolyard epithets involved, but the basic message was the same: Who do you think you are?

You don't want to hear about the soul-searching triggered by these comments. Let me just say that I didn't feel I could dismiss all of the comments out of hand. Father Barnes's message was like buried treasure discovered after a long, long search. The picture here shows our beloved Padre on the steps of the rectory on a Tuesday, "bulletin day," as he writes one of his thoughtful messages. Today's message spoke straight to my heart:

The other day, I was debating how to say something to somebody and I was reminded how important the words we speak (and write) are. They contain the power to encourage, but also the power to discourage. They can build up, but they can also destroy. . . . I think—though I'm no expert on this—as a culture, we've lost an appreciation for the seriousness of words.

Father B then went straight to the Catechism:

CCC #2477: Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and work likely to cause them unjust injury. . . .

CCC #2478: To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.

CCC #2479: Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

Father Barnes concluded:

The words we speak and write matter. Our words have the capability of doing a lot of good, but they also can do a lot of harm. Let us treat our words seriously . . . so that they are always a means of loving our neighbor.

I can't say it better. I'm still not sure which side I come down on: Were my criticisms in recent posts justified? Was my tone even-handed, or was it unfair? I can only look forward now anyway; I can only pray that from here on in, as much as possible, I adhere to the good Padre's counsel.

He has never steered me wrong yet.