Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kind, True and Necessary

Devout people are, as a class, the least kind of all classes. This is a scandalous thing to say; but the scandal of the fact is so much greater than the scandal of acknowledging it, that I will brave this for the sake of a greater good. Religious people are an unkindly lot.
 — from Fr. Frederick William Faber's Spiritual Conferences
It is comforting to read Father Faber's words and know that devout people of the past treated each other as badly as they do now. I am wondering if that is why God permits the Church to be purified from time to time with persecution, so that we will be shaken out of our petty squabbles and remember the Savior who should be at the heart and center of our lives on earth.

Someone sent me an article from the National Catholic Register in which my friend Catholic author and speaker Colleen Hammond is ridiculed by name. Colleen's book Dressing With Dignity and her articles on fashion have helped many young ladies learn to dress with both style and modesty. Colleen is a warm and incredibly witty lady as is her book. She has always shown me a great deal of support and kindness. It is one thing for a writer to take a swipe at a worthy adversary, which can be done without depriving the other person of their dignity. The remark about Scooby-do is a childish insult intended to do nothing but demean Colleen rather than welcome intelligent debate. It is unfair that her name was mentioned in the article since the point could have been made without doing so. If a person really feels the need to offer fraternal correction to another it can be done so without derision. If you do not like someone's book, just go to Amazon and write a review.

When I read the article in question I was still reflecting upon the wonderful time I had in New York with a group of purely secular writers, editors and agents, who appeared to be supportive of each other as well as being very polite to me, whom they did not know at all. It struck me that some Catholic writers cannot even pretend to be nice to each other, for the sake of propriety if not for the sake of charity. Or maybe they can be nice only to people who think exactly the same way they do. In that case, what happens to the beautiful  and genuine diversity of the universal Church? I wish people would be comfortable with who they are and not have to make others the target of facile humor and snark. I am disappointed in the National Catholic Register for allowing such goings on.

In the meantime, another friend sent me an uplifting article by Elizabeth Foss. It is worth pondering. Mrs. Foss says:
Is it necessary? Does this need to be said? As our communications lurch forward at reckless speed and it becomes commonplace to tweet, share and blog every time we sneeze, children have to be intentionally taught the value of silence. Without quiet, we cannot hear. Without quiet, there is no white space; there are no boundaries. Does what I’m going to share contribute to the holiness and happiness of our community? In a big, busy family, quiet is a valuable thing. 
It’s a simple three-fold filter: true, kind and necessary. The people who use it are happier, and the people who live with the people who use it are cradled in grace-filled communication.


MadMonarchist said...

"Or maybe they can be nice only to people who think exactly the same way they do."
-I think you hit the nail on the head right there.

Jacobitess said...

A beautiful post, and a just motto to keep in mind before pushing the 'post' button.

However, truly devout Catholics have been so kind and warm in my experience (as well as cold and snarky) that I cannot unequivocally agree with Father Faber's observation.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, MM. It is easy to love and be kind to the people we like, but Christians are called to do more.

Jacobitess, I am very happy to hear it!

Julygirl said...

What happened to discretion?? When I was growing up, rudeness was considered a social taboo. Now, unless one speaks out about EVERYTHING they are considered a fraud. Someone should print T-shirts that say...."KEEP YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRY, (and unkind thoughts,) IN THE HAMPER!"

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Julygirl. Some of the comments on the Register article are incredibly uncharitable and mock those who wrote in support of Mrs. Hammond. One would never guess it is a religious publication. No more donations from me until a public apology is issued to Colleen. Why do so many Catholic discussions have to resemble a bar room brawl?

Dymphna said...

Have you noticed that this happenes whenever you have a blogger or Catholic newspaper writer who is trying to show how sophisticated they are?

Christine said...

Sigh. How right you are! And it isn't just the Register--it's everywhere in the Catholic blogosphere. Courtesy, discretion--forgotten concepts among many Catholics today...

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Dymphna. It is almost funny. It is a good thing that Colleen has a sense of humor.

Yes, Christine which is why I find myself more and more with the historical fiction crowd.

Mercury said...

Yes, it's uncalled for. But I've read some of that book, and I think the book makes implications of sin and scandalous immodesty that are simply not fair to make: pants and swimsuits are more or less written off as objectively sinful. I've read what eminent moralists on the 1940s and 1950s had to say, and even they didn't think so.

I suffer from tremendous scrupulosity, and I hate to say it, but if I were a woman, I think a book like Mrs. Hammond's would send me to the edge of despair.

And Simcha's example of the young man who now sees immodesty and impurity everywhere where he once had no trouble - I am the same way: items of clothing I once thought were innocuous now have me freeing an fearing, etc. Was my grandma a sinner for wearing a bathing suit? Is my sister in danger of he'll because she plays volleyball?

So I think the dig was uncalled for, but surely some of the modesty crusaders can use some criticism in their claims. And Elena, you are one of the most charitable, sensible, and intelligent voices I have seen on the topic. This is of course not directed at you, but to people who led to thongs like a girl I saw asking on an Internet forum if she committed a mortal sin by wearing a tanktop. Or men who were once untroubled by certain clothing items (pants, decent swimsuits) now overwhelmed with worries about impurity at every turn.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for the kind words, Mercury! I know what you mean and I do understand what she was trying to say although I would not let it bother me if I were her. I dress the way I want and am at peace with it no matter what others say. And I don't even notice anymore what other people wear unless it is something really lovely. But to single out Colleen who has an upbeat, positive message was just plain tacky.

The entire book Dressing With Dignity is worth reading and should be read before critiquing the book. I do thank you for giving a more substantial critique of the book rather than merely dismissing it as "poorly written."

I would never let ANY book on clothes upset me. People need to know their faith better and not let a book make them feel sinful if they have not sinned.

I think I am beginning to understand the vitriol leveled against the book. It must really make some women feel uncomfortable with themselves. But it's just a book. You agree with what you like and ignore what you don't and use it for positive change if changes needs to be made. Colleen did not write it to make people sad but as an encouraging guide to those who wish to improve. If you don't agree with her and like the way your clothes are, then just wear your pants and shut-up about it. I have never seen so many people so uptight about clothes(not you, Mercury.)

Mercury said...

Thanks, Elena. True, we should be strong enough and level-headed enough in our faith to the point where we don't let simple books scare the heck out of us.

But that's the problem, especially when someone asserts sin, and especially grave sin (I don't know if Mrs. Hammond does). Some of us aren't. Some of us are VERY uncomfortable, and very weak in our confidence in God.

To give an example, I once heard a talk given by an FSSP priest going into detail about what is licit and illicit in terms of marital chastity. I will spare the details, but I will say that what he said was presumably based on St. Alphonsus, and it scared the living daylights out of me, and led to the impression that marital love in all its forms must be expressed with a constant fear of sinning.

Of course, it ignored all of what has become consensus opinion in the past 150 years (and I don't mean the freaky "mo' pleasure is always mo' better" crowd, but eminent moralists including Frs. John Hardon, John C. Ford and Gerald Kelly, as well as Pius XII). Even though I've spoken with orthodox confessors and spiritual directors who assure me that I haven't a thing to fear and should just ignore the priest, who is wrong to use the specter of mortal sin in the way he did, still I cannot shake the fears.

If my marriage is in fact reunited, which I pray for daily, that one talk has me afraid of mortal sin with every look, touch, and desire. I do not imagine a woman inexperienced in faith would be much different when someone tells her she is sinful for wearing something (and I don't mean dressing liek Lady Gaga).

elena maria vidal said...

Colleen's book is very cheerful and motherly. She does quote some saints and popes who were strict about immodesty. That must be what scares people. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't, don't worry about it.

I love St. Alphonsus and he is the last person who would want you to be scrupulous. The remedy for scruples has always been having great confidence in God. Ignore the feelings of scrupulosity knowing you have made a good confession. Otherwise it is debilitating. That is why St. Alphonsus encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Sacred Passion for there is love there great enough to save a thousand worlds.

Mercury said...

And he also encouraged absolute obedience to one's spiritual director / confessor (I guess as long as they themselves submit to the teaching of the church), and he is also the one who laid down the principles of moral theology that state that if a good number (especially an overwhelming majority) of theologians in union with Rome share a certain opinion, then it is safe to follow that opinion. In fact, the moralists of the age before Vatican II used Alphonsus' principles and came to different conclusions than he did on some issues (not just involving purity). And that is okay and to be expected - he would have agreed with that.

St. Alphonsus himself suffered tremendous scruples. I think he saw it as something of a blessing, but later spiritual writers say it is absolutely not one. I can attest that the only blessing of it is that one has to learn how to almost blindly trust God in the face of tremendous mental hardship, obsession, and uncertainty.

elena maria vidal said...

Well said!! Yes, obedience to a solid confessor is the cure for scruples. They can be overcome. St. Francis de Sales was also scrupulous for awhile. In fact, he thought of taking his own life until Our Lady delivered Him. He is a joy to read. I love his Sermons on Our Lady, published by TAN.