Sunday, April 30, 2017

When the Writings of Saints Are Deemed to be Politically Incorrect...

You may or may not have heard the story coming out of Orlando this past week concerning a catechist at a Catholic school who had passed out printouts of St. John Bosco’s 1853 essay “The Catholic Educated in his Faith.” The teacher was reprimanded, but to what extent is unclear. From the local article:
The Diocese of Orlando issued a statement about its decision to reprimand the teacher to the Huffington Post. Diocese officials said they would issue the same written statement to the Star-Banner, but that had not been received by press time.
The Diocese of Orlando officials would not answer questions to discuss details about the exact extent of the punishment.
Jacquelyn Flanigan, an associate superintendent with the Diocese of Orlando’s Catholic school system, said in a statement to the Huffington Post that she had spoken with Blessed Trinity’s Principal Jason Halstead and Smythe.
Flanigan stated that after speaking with the two men, the school district decided to “reprimand the teacher for this unfortunate exhibit of disrespect.” Flanigan also said in the statement that the material is also “not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
It seems we've come to the point where even local dioceses are being too careful of upsetting the PC police. Here's a sampling of St. John's readings, and even I can admit that they aren't PC:
"We could say the Koran is a series of errors, the most enormous ones being against morality and the worship of the true God.  For example, it excuses from sin those who deny God out of fear of death;  it permits revenge; it guarantees its followers a Paradise filled only of earthly pleasures.  In short, this false prophet’s doctrine permits things so obscene, that the Christian soul is horrified just naming them."
But here's the thing... so what if his writings aren't PC? One could argue that Jesus Christ wasn't politically correct either, so to claim that St. John Bosco's writings go against Catholic teaching is simply mistaken. Let's see why that's so.
St. John Bosco and students
First off, I've seen a lot of judgement across the Internet of this man. It's sad and it's unwarranted. All we have is a picture of the worksheet that was given to students that had the words of St. John Bosco printed on them verbatim. We don't know the content the lesson. We have no evidence that Mr. Smythe was spewing forth hatred as he has been accused of doing on HuffPo. We have no evidence he did anything wrong. Could he have been more prudent in his lesson plan. Yes, perhaps he could've. But so far, no one has shown how the words of St. John Bosco contradict what recent popes have said. The specific work by this Saint is pretty good as a whole, and to reduce it down to a few out of context quotes is appealing.

Notice that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and recent popes tell us to respect Muslims, and to esteem them, the individuals; especially since they are monotheistic and worship the one true God, the God of Abraham. Although they see through a mirror darkly (very darkly), these individual Mudlims should be commended. Edward Feser wrote up a great essay debunking the claim that Muslims and Chtistians don't share the same God, and I fully endorse and agree with his assessment. That being said, the CCC and other magisterial documents do not tell us to respect Islam in and of itself.

St. John is on target with his assertions that Islam is an amalgamation of religions, and presents ridiculous, even offensive doctrines. I cannot respect any religion that explicitly states that Jesus, my Lord, is not God, and that all who do claim Jesus is God are fools. I find that offensive, not what this teacher did, especially without knowing the entire story. However, I do respect Muslims, because each and everyone are created in the image of God. Until we have evidence otherwise, I will give Mr. Smythe, the teacher in question, the benefit of the doubt in his quotations of this Saint I have always had a devotion to. I would hope more would be charitable in extending this benefit of the doubt to him instead of celebrating his reprimand.

Keep in mind, this mother who posted the pictures to HuffPo has contributed in making this man's life very difficult right now. Even if Mr. Smythe was totally wrong in giving these handouts to the students, he shouldn't have had his name and lesson broadcasted to the world on HuffPo's "Documenting Hate" page since doing so would fall into the category of detraction, something condemned by the Church. According to the CCC:
"Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty... of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them... Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity." (CCC 2477, 2479)
St. John Bosco
To do this to a fellow Catholic brother is truly deplorable. Anyways, I also found the teacher's Facebook page, which has since been deactivated. He's a young husband and father. He plays music in a band. He loves teaching his students, and he has a great devotion to our Lord, especially his Sacred Heart. Instead of joining in with the cacophony of put downs and negative judgments of his character that we're witnessing, let's pray for him and his family during this difficult time.

Before his account was deactivated, I saved this message posted by a student of his using his mother's Facebook account. Again, did he do anything wrong? It's unclear, but there's no evidence that he did, Did he act imprudently? Maybe, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt before we sully a man's good name:
This is [student] talking. Mr. Smythe is the most faithful, compassionate, and all around the most loveable guy i have ever come across. To me he is family and the closest friend i have ever had and i you think differently so what, that doesnt mean you have to call him names and shame him. He is my sponsor for confirmation and one of the many teachers that i have had and it upset me when i heard what people were saying about him because we all should know that he is the kindest, most loveable, and a fun guy to be around. I know that he sees all of us as family and family members dont turn on each other especially Mr. Smythe. I love you like a brother and i will always have your back. I love you man. Also dont forget to trust in Jesus.
Now, in a short conversation I had with another person on this subject, I was told that "there seems to be ample reason to believe that the school found the material to be inappropriate when they reviewed the complaints and the action of the teacher. In other words, it's not simply the pictures that have been posted that are feeding concern, but the reaction of the school itself that said the materials passed out were not in keeping with the teachings of the Church. Second, your claim that recent popes have only told us to respect individuals and not the religion of Islam itself seems to be untrue. Take for example the words of Popes Paul VI:
'Then [we refer] to the adorers of God according to the conception of monotheism, the Muslim religion especially, deserving of our admiration for all that is true and good in their worship of God...'
"and John Paul II:
'In this context, and precisely here in the land of encounter and dialogue, and before this distinguished audience, I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s respect for Islam...'"
To the first point, I'd still like to know exactly which portions of the materials passed out were not in line with the Church's teaching. Which teachings are contradicted? Keep in mind, he posted what St. John Bosco wrote verbatim. I ask sincerely, not facetiously, where does St. John pits himself against the constant teaching of the Church. I still have not seen any substantial evidence that the action of the teacher was inappropriate or wrong, but again, I do believe he may have acted imprudently.

To the second point, I agree: my claim that recent popes have only told us to respect individuals and not the religion of Islam itself seems to be untrue, especially in light of the two citations you provided. I admit, I may have painted with too large a brush. There are aspects of Islam that are to be respected, in addition to individuals who are Muslim. However, I still contend that the Church does not instruct us to respect Islam as a whole, or any religion that dissents from the truths revealed to us by our Lord in Catholicism. As the Ven. Fulton J. Sheen put it, "Remember that what is true in them [other religions] comes from God; what is erroneous comes from us." This is why I agree that it [i]seems[/i] my claim is untrue. Allow me to explain by unpacking the two citations that I was provided.

First, from Bl. Paul VI's 1964 encyclical Ecclesiam suam; this comes from section 107 of the encyclical. The translation of the citation provided appears to be different from the official translation on the Vatican's website. I'll post that part of the translation (bolded), with more of the section included for context, my emphases in italics. It pretty much mirrors what is said in the Catechism:
Then we see another circle around us... It comprises first of all those men who worship the one supreme God, whom we also worship. We would mention first the Jewish people, who still retain the religion of the Old Testament, and who are indeed worthy of our respect and love. 
Then we have those worshipers who adhere to other monotheistic systems of religion, especially the Moslem religion. We do well to admire these people for all that is good and true in their worship of God. 
And finally we have the followers of the great Afro-Asiatic religions. 
Obviously we cannot agree with these various forms of religion, nor can we adopt an indifferent or uncritical attitude toward them on the assumption that they are all to be regarded as on an equal footing, and that there is no need for those who profess them to enquire whether or not God has Himself revealed definitively and infallibly how He wishes to be known, loved, and served. Indeed, honesty compels us to declare openly our conviction that the Christian religion is the one and only true religion, and it is our hope that it will be acknowledged as such by all who look for God and worship Him.
We can see here that Bl. Paul is making it known that we should admire Muslims insofar that they worship, the one true God, but makes it clear we should be admiring "the people". I'm not sure why the USCCB translated that section the way they did on their site. Also, notice that Bl. Paul also instructs us to not take an uncritical attitude towards Islam. St. John Bosco may have been overly critical in some people's eyes, but it's clear that Bl. Paul doesn't want us to be indifferent to the errors in Islam, which St. John did lucidly point out.

As for the second citation from St. John Paul:

This comes from section five of an address to world representatives St. John Paul gave in a pastoral visit to Kazakhstan back in 2001. What "context" is St. John Paul speaking of? Basically, the same context that Bl. Paul, and many popes have put it in. Let's back up a bit and see what context St. John Paul is putting this respect in:
Again, let us listen to the great teacher Abai Kunanbai: "All people, whatever their religion, attribute to God love and justice. Love and justice are the origin of humanity. Those in whom sentiments of love and justice prevail are the truly wise".
So in the context of attributing to God, the values of love and justice, St. John Paul exhorts us to respect Islam in also being a religion that attributes these things to God. Again, call to mind that quote I provided from Ven. Sheen. Let's look and see what the rest of the sentence from the selection I was provided  says, the original part bolded:
...I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s respect for Islam, for authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need. Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions.
St. John Paul II
We respect those parts of Islam which pray to the Abrahamic God, to the part that helps the needy. But what St. John Paul provides us is not a wholesale respect for the religion of Islam. How can we wholly respect a religion that denies the divinity of Christ explicitly? It is clear that any apparent contradiction between St. John Bosco's words and that of the Magisterium is just that; an apparent contradiction at first glance, but not an actual one when we actually look into the constant teaching of the Church.

So in union with Bl. Paul, I affirm that we must be critical of religions that deny Truth. One of those religions we must be critical of is Islam. But also in union with Ven. Sheen and St. John Paul, I affirm that we must praise those religions insofar that they have a correct understanding of certain things; and those certain aspects of correctness and truth comes from God.

Now at this juncture, someone might point out that Judaism also denies the divinity of Christ and we're told to respect the Jews. I absolutely agree with this. But keep in mind, Judaism is different from all other religions in relation to Christianity. They are called our forefathers in the Faith, and I have a deep respect for them, as all Catholics and non-Catholic Christians should have. There's a good book out from Ignatius Press called "Salvation Is From the Jews". It shows how Judaism is an integral and essential component of Christianity. Because really, what is Christianity but Judaism perfected? With the inauguration of the New Covenant, we've been given a new and superior relationship with God than what was afforded in Judaism under the Old Covenant. But we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters.

And while we have things to learn from those people who practice Islam, they are not our forefathers in the faith. With Islam, we see a corruption of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian teachings. Some are kept intact, but many are not and those teachings continue to lead people astray from the one, true Faith. Nonetheless, we should keep Ven. Sheen's words in mind always, all religions have some good in them, and we can appreciate those aspects that are in line with the revelation given to us as Catholics. So as Bl. Paul reminds us, that doesn't mean we become uncritical or indifferent to other religions like Islam. There's nothing wrong with criticizing Islam in certain areas, as long as we do so charitably. When necessary, we must speak up about the errors these religions teach, and "declare openly our conviction that the Christian religion is the one and only true religion." Now that doesn't mean being obnoxious about it or bringing it up for no good reason. But when the need arrives, we must confidently declare Christianity's (specifically, Catholicism's) superiority over all other religions. Until that need arrives, we should continue to live out the Gospel in the actions of our daily lives.

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