Should we bloggers batten down the hatches in our comboxes? Don’t look now, but Pope Benedict is touting “fraternal correction” as a good theme for Lent 2012:
It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. […]
This, I think, is where the more popular notions of correction run off the rails. Much critique lacks prudence. I’ve been the first-hand provider of it in my life.
“Is help helpful?” is a question that should be asked more often. The Holy Father is right to suggest that admonishment avoids an accusatory spirit. I don’t think imperfect human beings can ever dodge that entirely. Should we even try? I think we can. But I think we mis-aim more often than we’d like.
In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even ‘the upright falls seven times’ (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.
Pope Benedict’s follow-up is insightful. It suggests that an essential dimension is to be open to correction ourselves.
Blogging is difficult. Every blogger with comboxes has opened herself or himself to correction in an open or public way. Mark Shea is one of the heavy hitters in the Catholic blogosphere, and unlike many of the other 800-pound gorillas, has always been accompanied by supporters as well as ankle-biters. Some writers have good reasons not to open up the commentary, but such folks are generally open to correspondence.
Anonymity or pseudonymity provides a certain insulation from critique. I’ve never made an effort to hide, even before this blog opened in Fall 2003. For me, it’s a matter of principle. While I doubtless make mistakes and serious errors on occasion, I’m not ashamed to put my name on my opinions, reflections, and odd thoughts. It’s also good health. The healthy part is that I’m surrounded by detractors who keep me more focused.
Bishops, and especially the pope, have it very bad in that regard. They can insulate themselves from dissent, perhaps in the name of orthodoxy. But such insulation generates a loss of perspective. I’m sure that the Holy Father knows the importance, in theory, of being open to correction. He has dined with Hans Küng, after all.
It would be difficult to give up the more enjoyable half of fraternal correction during Lent. But maybe that’s what’s being asked of us. I’m going to have to consider Pope Benedict’s suggestion seriously.