Can you say anything about the Catholic faith without other Catholics taking offense? No matter how benign, no comment on the web about Catholicism goes unchallenged. Moreover, the idea of trying to understand a person by reading carefully what they're actually saying, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, is fading quickly from Catholic discourse. No matter what you write, there are Catholics ready to take immediate offense, to explode in righteous anger, to threaten to report you to the proper authorities or, most of all, to correct. The most common responses are: 1.) Your soul is in danger. 2.) You're uneducated and need to be schooled. 3.) I hate the church and so I hate you. 4.) You're an unthinking tool of the Vatican. 5.) You're disobedient and must be reported.
Here is a not-so-farfetched exchange, based on some very, very real experiences.
Me: I love Jesus.
Father Martin, with all due respect, I don't mean to be critical, but I am compelled to point out that in your most recent post, you didn't say "Jesus Christ." As you know, Christ, from the Greek word Christos, meaning the Anointed One, is the nomenclature that Holy Mother Church uses to signify Our Lord's divinity. Father, do you somehow not believe in the divinity of Our Blessed Lord? I am terrified to conclude that you are also denying the Resurrection here. Father, I will fervently pray that you are not dwelling in error. I pray every evening for gravely misled people like you, Father, and I must say this: my conscience obliges me to correct your errors. Do you fear for your soul?
Me: You're misunderstanding me. Of course I believe in the divinity of Christ. And the Resurrection.
Father, forgive me for pointing this out, but I couldn't help noticing in your last comment that you said you believed in the divinity of Christ. What about his humanity? As you surely know that several ecumenical councils spoke definitively about his humanity (The Council of Ephesus, in 431 A.D. for example). I trust that you understand what that means, Father. This means that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 464). Do you believe him to be divine but not human? That is a heresy, as you know, Father, and I greatly fear for the church if priests are permitted spread such serious theological errors. It is the heresy of Docetism, (Catechism No. 465) where Jesus was not seen as a human being, but God simply "playacting at being human. Surely you're not suggesting that, are you? Please send me your email address and I will forward you all the references to the councils so that you may read them. I will do you the favor of awaiting an answer before I begin any formal canonical action against you.
Me: Look, I believe in both the divinity and humanity of Christ. I was only saying that I love Jesus. Can we perhaps move on?
I haven't followed this thread and I don't know what you posted about, but did you REALLY say that in your last comment? Move on??? Do you realize what it MEANS for a priest to tell a layperson like me to "move on"? Do you know how sick and TIRED we are of priests like you telling me what to do? I'll move on when I want to move on. It's this kind of clerical ARROGANCE that gave rise to the sexual abuse scandal. Is that what you want, Martin, a return to sexual abuse? And what's with the "Look," at the beginning of your snotty comeback? What's THAT supposed to mean? Frankly I find that incredibly insulting. I don't think you can ever fathom the anger that people like me have for priests like you. LOOK--as you might say to me--I studied theology too, am a lifelong Catholic and don't need to be told to "look" at anything. By ANY priest!!! I see what the church is up to. Read the papers!!! It's all about squashing the laity. Have you ever even HEARD of Vatican II???? For those of you as angry as I am, and SICK of being treated like dirt by the clergy, write to Martin's superiors. Friend me on Facebook and I'll give you all the addresses, which I got online at www.ImDisgustedwiththeChurch.com.
Me: I'm sorry I said "Look." To clarify: I believe that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. I simply wanted to avoid debating something about my personal spiritual life.
Just got a Google alert about "debating" and "Catholic" and came to this site. I didn't read your original post but I couldn't believe your last comment. I had to read it twice. You're kidding, right, James? You want to 'avoid debate"? I guess that's just what the Vatican wants priests to do...stifle any legitimate discussion of anything remotely controversial...stop people from thinking! That's the kind of narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, soul-destroying attitude that I had thought (falsely) died with the Inquisition. (Which I just read about in an eye-opening book called The Church is Your Enemy, which you're probably not allowed to read.) Jesuits take your marching orders from the pope anyway, don't you? I've read all about your secret fourth vow, your "vow of blind obedience" to the pope, and how you're not allowed to think on your own...what rot. It goes without saying that you parrot anything, no matter how offensive or ridiculous or oppressive, that the Vatican or your superiors tell you. Part of that is, as I can see from your comment...no debate. No wonder people are forced to leave the church...you don't let them think! I bet you hate women, too.
Me: I don't mean to stifle debate. By the way, our fourth vow is obedience to the pope "with regard to the missions." It has to do more with Jesuits being available to places the pope wants to send us.
I saw a link to this comment on www.WeAloneAreTheTrueChurch.com. Are you saying that you're not obedient to the Holy Father? How can you still be considered a priest in good standing? I'll wager you that the Prefect of the Congregation for Religious would like to know about your inane idea of "obedience." Am I correct in stating that you believe that Jesuits pick and choose those doctrines to which you are obedient? Give me a good, old-fashioned Jesuit, the real Jesuits, of the kind that did not quail to speak the Truth, the kind that taught real Roman Catholicism, not the hippy-dippy liberal, wishy-washy, Cafeteria Catholics which your last comment reveals that you are. Are you not deeply ashamed of yourself? Why don't you hang up your Roman collar? I've been reading about your order on wwwww.IReallyHateLiberalJesuits.com. And I read somewhere that your vocations are plummeting. I cannot say that I'm in the least bit surprised. It is thanks to "priests" like you who have forgotten what it means to be fully obedient to the Magisterium. For my part, I devoutly thank God on my knees every night that there are still a few real religious orders left which are obedient to the Roman Catholic Church. Rest assured that the Congregation will be receiving a letter quoting your last appalling comment.
Me: I'm not sure how a simple comment degenerated into argument. Can we give one another the benefit of the doubt?
Father I just saw your last comment when I stumbled upon this page. I didn't read your original post since I'm too busy, but I just want to say this: That's what people say when they are afraid of the facts. "Give people the benefit of the doubt." That's the kind of squishy, feel-good, namby-pamby drivel that people say when they're frightened of being proven wrong. So what are you afraid of?
Me: I'm not afraid of anything.
Then why aren't you ready to attack and judge and condemn your fellow human beings?
Me: I love Jesus.
This essay is adapted from a longer post that originally ran on In All Things.
Follow Rev. James Martin, S.J. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JamesMartinSJ