instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, February 16, 2004

The tension between integrity and reputation

"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way."
Anyone who thinks all speak well of him need only spend a few weeks in St. Blog's contributing comments to be disabused of that notion. Still, let me propose this accomodation of the verse:

There are ways in which American culture and Catholic culture contradict each other. I have in mind, not the old know-nothing ideas like American Catholics taking their marching orders from Rome, but, in a word, division. In American culture, people are divided into different parts: the professional; the social; the political; the religious. That's nonsense in Catholicism; religion isn't something you do on Sunday, and you are literally the same person at work as at home.

Since there are conflicts between Catholicism and American culture, a Catholic should expect to be conflicted in American culture. He should also expect to be a source of conflict. If he is neither conflicted nor a source of conflict, he should ask himself whether he's doing something wrong.

If he's not conflicted, has he disengaged from the culture? Has he bought into the culture?

If he's not a source of conflict, has he divided himself into a private Catholic part and a public secular part? I think this might be a particularly subtle problem. If I am in my private life a good Catholic, or even a great Catholic, then it might be hard for me to see that, in my public life, I am not particularly "publicly Catholic."

By "publicly Catholic," I mean one who serves as a public witness of the Faith. Not necessarily a vocal witness, still less an outspoken one, but someone whom people look at and know to be acting according to his faith.

Consider the popular whipping girl of traditionally-minded Catholics, the habit-less religious sister. She spends however many hours a day in private prayer, then goes out into the world to advocate for various social justice causes. All well and good, but what if she neglects to connect in public her advocacy to Christ? There's no fear she will be spoken well of by all, but by leaving the Christian foundation of her actions implicit -- and I mean the foundation renewed daily, not a dusty old foundation cobbled together from a few Scriptural passages thirty years ago -- she permits those who look only for Christian foundations to dismiss her social work and those who look only for social work to dismiss her Christian foundation.

Can we say woe to such a one? Not in terms of judgment or future reward, but in terms of missed opportunity and overlooked signs.