Friday, August 03, 2007

Tim On Critics

One of the most enlightening, human -- and, ergo, just plain good -- episcopal columns out there is "Some Seed Fell on Good Ground," Archbishop Timothy Dolan's weekly in-house note to his collaborators in Milwaukee.

In his latest go-round, The Tim -- who marks five years at the helm of the 675,000-member fold later this month -- speaks to a topic familiar to every last soul in a position of pastoral responsibility: criticism.

Hopefully for some, it's a useful meditation.
They say that, “Once you’re a bishop, you never have a bad meal, or hear the truth.”

The first I can live with; the second, I cannot!

I have to admit that the human side of me gets frustrated and exhausted with the avalanche of criticism that is falling upon bishops, priests, and the Church today. Everybody at times seems angry, fed-up, aggrieved, and my mail is proof of that. As one of my nieces observed to me, after spending a few days visiting, “Uncle Tim, you sure have an easy job. Everybody knows how to do it better than you!”

While my human side can get exhausted by the constant criticism, my spiritual side welcomes and needs it. I want people to tell me the truth, even if they know it might be upsetting for me to hear.


Well, for one, a bishop needs to listen. His people, his priests, his consecrated religious, the pastoral leaders, are as much a part of the Church as he is. They, too, have insights that arise from the graces of Baptism, Confirmation, and their own vocation. It is good for me, and good for the Church, to listen attentively and respect the people who share in my love of the Church.

Two, it helps my humility. It is good for me to acknowledge that I do not have all the answers, that my pride can get in the way, that I may be blinded on some issues of pastoral concern. To listen to criticism and unpleasant advice is good for my humility, a virtue very pleasing to Jesus, who is “gentle and humble of heart.”

Recently, in the Liturgy of the Hours (the daily prayer that bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated religious and an ever-increasing number of God’s people daily pray), the Office of Readings posed two examples of critics.

The first instance came from the Second Book of Samuel. King David was fleeing Jerusalem, and a man named Shimei followed him on the side of the road, yelling at him, cursing him, criticizing him, even throwing stones at him. The royal guard wanted to “lop off his head,” but King David stopped them, acknowledging that it was good for him to hear such criticism, as obnoxious as it was, and that being the object of such attack could help him do penance.

Then there was Micaiah, the prophet. The first book of Kings tells us that King Jehoshaphat consulted all the other prophets about the wisdom of waging war. All of them were “yes men” and told the King what they knew he wanted to hear. Not Micaiah. He told the king the truth, even though the king resented it.

I guess we all need a Shimei in our lives; we certainly need a Micaiah. Maybe our critics are really blessings.
Naysayers seem to be in particular abundance in the life of the church, and one wouldn't be chided for thinking that, these days, the internet has caused a million more of 'em to bloom.

Then again, as a veteran prelate once told me: "I get a lot of letters here -- and, more often than not, they're not all nice ones. Most of them aren't nice at all.

"But I'd rather get those than nothing at all."


"Because if they don't write, it means they don't care anymore."

And, indeed, that'd be the worst thing of all.

* * *

In other things Dolan, the archbishop used another recent "Some Seed" to respond to the media frenzy over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's "Responses" on "Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church," summarizing the press reports as follows:
"Enter the Chicken Littles! This Pope says Protestants are going to hell! I guess ecumenism is dead! Another sign of the arrogance of the Catholic Church! I’m embarrassed by the triumphalism of the Church! All our progress is washed down the drain! What an insult to those of other faiths!"
"The media — with some notable exceptions — rarely gets it right when it reports on the Church," he concluded.

"Does the Catholic Church believe it is the one, true Church established by Christ?" Dolan wrote.

"Yes, it does. Always has, always will.

"Does the Catholic Church honor and respect other Christian faiths, believing that they, too, share in the life and truth of Christ? Yes."

Chaos averted.