The Place of the Critic

Jack Smith at my former diocese’s print organ has developed a parallel blog of some interest. I think Jack is misinformed on some of his views–but certainly not all of them. The attempt to invigorate a pretty insipid medium like a chancery’s print edition is an admirable task. I wish he’s blog at least once a day, but I suppose Facebook (which I can never get enthusiastic about) takes up some of his time. And the print presses.

I have no problem giving him and his bishop credit on a decently consistent approach to most issues. They get the Kansas City conservative clique hot and bothered frequently–so they must be doing something right.

Anyway, Jack inserted a thoughtful quote last week amidst a series of the usual Holy Week finery:

If anyone wants to have the Church changed, he must make himself the starting-point of renewal.  For the critic himself is part of what the Church is suffering from.  For usually his own life is not much of a recommendation for Christianity.

What do you think of it?

I’ve been a critic for over thirty years. It began when the pastor at the Newman Center had us “give up” the Sign of Peace during Lent. My protests landed me on the liturgy committee, and we all know where that has led, right?

A good portion of this blog is devoted to criticism. I’m sure you can list my regular memes: incompetence in the curia, co-dependency and careerism in the episcopacy, a false sense of entitlement among Catholics in general, a lack of critical thinking among Catholic conservatives in general, but especially from the musical traditionalists. Said conservatives no doubt are not at all impressed with me, so the quote would seem to fit.

And yet, something bothered me about those three sentences.

First, I would love to see it in context. Because no matter what the pope says about dictatorships, many aspects of life on Earth involve a context. Take the notion of robbery, for example. A jobless parent steals to provide for a child’s nutrition or housing or education, and if caught is likely to go to jail. What would her confessor suggest? Bankers bilk billions from a corrupt system, and if caught, are likely to continue paying out for access to the halls of government. Which is a sin?

Second, with a week of Old Testament stories behind me, something doesn’t quite sit right after hearing ab0ut the execution of a critic and prophet who happened to be the Son of God. Jesus’ adversaries told him he needed to be the starting point for his own renewal–especially suggesting he change his clientele.

Karl Rahner wrote this. And he does give an out by suggesting the critic “usually” has a credibility problem. Clearly, the people of Israel and Judah played the credibility card on all their prophets. And we know where that got them: a corrupt monarchy, invasion and exile, separation from tradition, and a diaspora across the Roman Empire.

It’s rather convenient for a target of criticism to dodge issues and turn it back on the prophet. To be sure, some people complain just for the heck of it. Discernment would seem to be required–not blanket dismissal. But Rahner is right that interior renewal should be part of the prophet’s formation. It should be an approach every Christian embraces.

In my parishes over the years, I have been the target of criticism. I welcome it, in fact. I seek out people who think differently than I to join my commissions and committees. I think a credible prophet needs to be able to listen to criticism, and if necessary, submit to personal reform and renewal.

This past Sunday, one of my parishioners firmly suggested that Easter hospitality needed to be better organized. She was right. Her criticism wasn’t tarnished by speaking from any sense of entitlement–her whole family is involved in liturgical ministry. So I know it wasn’t just yapping. I think critics gain credibility by their deep involvement in the duties and responsibilities within the Church. Certainly a Sunday massgoer has something to say. But until a person really penetrates past the Sunday culture, while certainly I will listen to their input–serious input must be well-informed.

Many critics have themselves experienced the upheaval of reform. I think of Isaiah’s encounter with the burning coal, Paul being thrown from a horse and blinded.

Critics are lent further credibility by defending the downtrodden. I was not abused as a child, but I have listened to abuse survivors–I have them in my own family. I can criticize a bishop for enabling addictive behavior because I have no interest in a financial settlement, a personal apology, or legal solutions. Sure, some critics have a self-interest in the reform of others. But this is not always true.

What do you think about this quote? Anybody know the context? How would you defend or criticize the critics?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Ministry, Politics, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Place of the Critic

  1. Liam says:

    It all depends on what the speaker and the hearer are trying hardest to avoid…because that which we avoid is what runs our lives.

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