Cardinal Baldiserri must be removed, and forgiven

The National Catholic Register has an excellent piece here. The author quotes from Pope Francis’ many statements calling for openness and dialogue during the Synod. The article also makes it clear how Cardinal Baldiserri’s actions have utterly betrayed this mandate.

It is not possible for the Synod to go forward with any semblance of credibility when trust has been so badly damaged in this way. Removing Cardinal Baldiserri is vital.

I don’t have much more to add on that topic because the NCR article says it all, really. Go read it.

That being said, Cardinal Baldiserri must also be forgiven. From what I’m reading on Catholic blogs and readers’ comments, we traditional Catholics are good at outrage, but not as good at forgiveness. I certainly don’t presume to read the hearts of people writing on the web, so everyone needs to do their own examination of conscience on this.

Outrage at dissent and heresy is entirely justified, of course. Error needs to be exposed, fought and overcome. No compromises. But it can’t be done at the expense of our own souls or of the dignity of others. Cardinal Baldiserri, Fr. Rosica and any other clergyman with whom we must disagree on some issues, remain children of God. Created in His image and likeness, nothing they can say or do gives us permission to treat them any less. Their dignity as human beings must always be reflected in what and how we write. We may despise their actions, but not the men.

I’m sure that everyone in the traditional blogosphere assents intellectually to these principles, but we’re having trouble putting them into practice, from what I’m reading. We need to do better, myself included.

The old phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” is worth revisiting. We bloggers love to quote that phrase to justify our anger at sinful situations, and rightfully so. However, from what I’m reading out there, we’re really good at the second part (hate the sin) but not as proficient at the first part (love the sinner). We must willfully let go of anger rather than cling to vindictiveness towards the man.

Part of our problem, I think, are  misconceptions about what forgiveness means.

Myth #1: Forgiveness implies condoning the sin or minimizing it’s importance. On the contrary, forgiveness presupposes a sin. Without sin, there can be no talk of forgiveness. Even the worst of sins must be forgiven. On the Cross, did Christ not forgive his executioners? What greater sin can their be? Forgiveness is chiefly about seeking peace with respect to the person. We don’t reconcile with the sin itself.

Myth #2: Forgiveness is only required if the sinner repents. Wrong again. Christ’s example on the Cross enlightens us on this point too, as does the martyrdom of St. Stephen, who prayed “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Sometimes forgiveness must be a unilateral action on our part, without reciprocity.

Myth #3: Forgiveness is a sign of weakness. Out of the question. Forgiveness is extremely hard to do. The very fact that we struggle to forgive testifies to this. In fact, it’s outright impossible to forgive without the grace of God. In the liturgy, we actually praise God’s mercy as the greatest sign of His almighty power:

O God, who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy, bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us and make those hastening to attain your promises heirs to the treasures of heaven.

Nor does mercy make us into doormats. If we’re smart, we don’t have to leave ourselves vulnerable to being taken advantage of by someone who has proven himself untrustworthy on multiple occasions.

Mercy actually makes us more effective as bloggers. If we’re no more than a bunch of ranting trads, we’re really just noise (1 Cor 13:1). We convert nobody with unrestrained anger. On the contrary, we probably scare the crap out of many newbies and drive them away from the Church. Keep that in mind the next time you write a blog post or comment.

Myth #4: Just because we forgive someone doesn’t mean that we must stop being angry at them. Anger, like any emotion, is a tricky thing because we don’t fully control our emotions. That being said, willingly clinging to anger is a sure sign that we don’t want to forgive. The injury caused to us by sin can take time to heal, we mustn’t expect the anger to vanish instantly, but we must be willing to let it go and pray for healing. When we think of someone, if all that comes to mind is the wrong they’ve done, that’s a good sign that we haven’t forgiven. Some might think: “But I don’t know this man personally, all I know about him is his public dissent.” That’s not true. He’s a human being, isn’t he? A child of God? That’s all you need to know because that suffices to make him beautiful and irreplaceable. A person can never be reduced to their flaws and sins.

Myth #5: I can be a good Christian without forgiving dissenters and other bad people. Not even close. If we’re not interested in forgiving others, can we dare approach Confession or Holy Communion? Christ made it very clear:

“If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:15)

It goes without saying that being unforgiven by the Father is not a good place to be. Remember that the essence of mercy consists of treating people better than they deserve. If you treat people as they deserve, that’s not mercy at all. By that standard, we’d all be in hell.

Advice: Tone it down, for goodness sake. If you feel “hot” with anger as you type, please don’t post that until you’ve cooled down and given it another read. Never write just to blow off steam. There has to be a higher motive associated with the common good, the defense of the Faith or avoiding scandal.

Always ask yourself if your article or comment casts contempt on a person and portrays him as detestable. Nobody is detestable. Focus on actions rather than people. If someone has clearly proven himself unreliable, state it objectively without depicting the person as if they were anything less than a precious child of God. Treat the person better than he deserves without minimizing the gravity of his actions.

A useful way to help forgive is to feel sorry for the offender, while guarding against pride. When we sin, Christ looks at us with sadness, like parents who watch their children hurt themselves. Such an outlook can help us see the offender not as an enemy but as someone who really needs our prayers  — again being careful to guard against pride, superiority or self-righteousness.

Becoming more merciful is a great Lenten project for all of us.

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