This plea goes for sinners whose souls are heavy with old-fashioned sins of the flesh, and also for sinners whose souls are heavy with the even older sins of pride and presumption.
I’ll try to keep this organized, but it’s not easy, speaking from the howling, fetid depths of insanity to which I have recently sunk.
I get an awful lot of letters from people who are concerned, terribly concerned, about the recent turn my writing has taken. A good many of them start out this way (and if you think I’m picking on you specifically, you’re wrong. I’m not kidding when I say I get a lot of these letters):
I’ve been reading you for many years, and I’m disturbed and disappointed by your recent use of vulgarity and your turn toward critical, biting language.
And I says to myself, I says,
There is no way you’ve been reading me for many years. If you had, you’d be looking at my current stuff, comparing it to my stuff from several years ago, and you’d be thinking, “Wow, what a change! Compared to the old days, this woman is two derma peels away from turning into Mother Teresa!”
That’s me! So, with my recently acquired trademark generosity, I thought I’d share with you some tips for how to approach me when I’ve pissed you off.
Here’s how not to be like:
The Crystal Ball-Gazer
Let’s say you read something I wrote that upsets you, and your first impulse is to think, “Good grief, this woman is a horrible human being. Why else would she say such things? But wait! Christian charity. Okay, let’s see . . . okay, probably she has something awful going on in her life. Yeah, that would explain it. She’s going through some kind of private turmoil, and it’s spilling out into her public voice.”
This may or may not be true, but I’ll tell you one thing. I get an awful lot of these “I’m terribly concerned about what you must be secretly going through” when I make some statements; and zero of them when I make other statements. Statistically speaking, your concern for me seems to have far less to do with how upset I am and far more to do with how upset you are about what I am saying.
For instance, if I said, “The clouds are dripping blood and the very grass under our feet has become like unto knives, because of what has transpired regarding that greatest martyr of our times, Kim Davis!” you’re all like, “YES. Preach it! Our Lady of Constant Sobbing, intercede for us!” and you share it with all your friends.
But if I say, “I see some serious problems with Donald Trump,” you’re all, “Oh, you poor thing, do you have lots and lots of secret cancer? I’ll pray for you.”
I’ll take the prayers. But don’t think I don’t notice the pattern.
The Spiritual Blackmailer
You tell me you were thinking of becoming Catholic, but now, all because of me, you’re not.
Yeah, this is baloney. You know why? Because you have been saying that exact same thing to six other bloggers for the last eleven years, and we have all noticed it, and we just plain don’t believe you.
Yes, we all know each other, and we all compare notes. We meet on Wednesday nights in a torchlit, underground cavern where we roll around in a pool of money, dry ourselves off with the velvet bed curtains torn from the boudoir of St. Ludobutt the Meek, and then hunker down for a long night of “Bubblegum bubblegum in a dish,” which is how we divvy up available souls. One for me, one for you, one for that new gal on Patheos who let on that she thinks Angels With Dirty Faces is kind of snoozer. Oh, the moral peril of it all! Is outrage. Is so, so outrage.
Listen. I understand that a bad example from a Catholic can have a big emotional impact, and can make it really hard for people to make that leap to signing up for RCIA. This is a real thing that happens to real people. But if you’ve been telling me for years and years that you were right on the verge of converting, and the one thing that held you back is that one person . . . then that one person is you.
More times than I can count, I’ve been told that we’re called to be good evangelists, and that, as such, we have to present our best, brightest, prettiest, perkiest, shiniest, most decorous face at all times, because that is the kind of thing that is attractive to people.
Well, it is to some people. But what about to others? What about the people who were raised listening to loud music and cussing, and all their happiest memories are associated with good, kind people who are zero percent bright, pretty, perky, shiny, or decorous? What about them? You really think they’re going to want to join a church that requires all its members to act like they belong on Leave It To Beaver? Good luck with that approach.
Look, Paul was an evangelist to the gentiles, and I’m an evangelist to the assholes. It’s a heavy mantle, but I’m willing to take it on.
The Selective Pearl-Clutcher
You keep telling me that, as someone with a public platform, I have more power than I realize, and so I have a special responsibility to model courtesy, civility, charity, restraint, kindness, grace, and compassion. You tell me that I must, at all times, keep in mind how much influence I have, and that if I can’t muster up these virtues you admire so much, then I do not deserve to have a public voice.
Well, I’ll pray for you. Probably you have lots of secret cancer, that’s all.
Image: Monster Soup by William Heath [Public domain or CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
When my mother was a new Christian, she was in with a crowd that put great stock in outward appearances. Since she had many more kids and much less money than everyone else, she felt horribly self-conscious about her house, which was shabby and cluttered despite her constant housekeeping. She got in the habit of saying, if someone stopped by, “Oh, please excuse the house. We’ve been away all day and I haven’t had a chance to tidy up!” or “Sorry about the mess around here! The kids have been sick and I’m so behind.”
Then one day, she just got sick of it. The smarmiest, must judgmental neighbor of all happened to drop in, and she said, “Well, I’m sorry about the house. This is how we live.”
I wish I knew the rest of the story. Did the judgy woman gasp and flee? Did she tell everyone that Mrs. P. lives like a pig and isn’t even ashamed of it? Did she (it’s possible) think, “Wow, that’s kind of refreshing. Someone just told me the truth”? It’s possible that the woman was even grateful that someone trusted her with some difficult information. It’s possible she went away and asked herself why it was that people felt they needed to lie to her.
Telling the truth is says something about us, and also something about the person we’re talking to. When we tell the truth, its a risk to ourselves, but also a great compliment to them.
The older I get, the less patience I have for people who try to shine me on. It feels rude to be lied to. Do you think I’m too dumb to know the truth? Too weak? Too shallow? Who has time for pretense? There’s so much nonsense in the world that we can’t get around. Why add to it by pretending to be someone we’re not?
I’ll tell you something. God is even older than I am, and he has even less interest in hearing lies. My brother Joe tells about a priest who had a big problem. And he was mad. Mad at the world, mad at his situation, and mad at God. So every day, he went into the adoration chapel, knelt before the Sacrament, and told the truth: “I don’t love you, God.”
Every day, every day he did this. Until one day he said it, and he realized it wasn’t true anymore.
I’d like to know the rest of that story, too. I do know that it’s never useful to lie to God. It’s never useful to lie to ourselves about what our relationship with God is. It’s never useful to run away from God, and refuse to talk to him, if we feel like we can’t say the right things or feel the right things. No one has time for that, and it’s an insult to God to even try it. If you feel like you have to hide, then tell him that. If you feel that he’s not fair, tell him that. If you aren’t even sure he exists, tell him that. There’s no time for anything less than the truth.
Utter honesty is a luxury we do not always have with the rest of the world. Civility, duty, and charity often demand that we reserve such blunt honesty from other people, at least most of the time. So do what you need to do when you’re presenting yourself to the rest of the world. Sometimes it’s appropriate to lay it all out there; sometimes you will want or need to be a little more guarded.
But not with God. Never with God. Go ahead and tell him, as you open your front door, “This is just how I live.” It doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of changing things, if that’s what needs to happen; but God will not help you change until you are willing to talk to him about where you are. He is a gentleman. He only comes in where He is invited. Honesty is an invitation he always accepts.