It pains me to read rabid criticism from Catholics towards a real human being, who happens to be our Supreme Pontiff. At the same time, I feel sorry for the sting that large families (who selflessly welcome children and witness to our faith in their vocation) felt from that twisted now infamous rabbit interview.
My feelings are mixed, without rhyme or reason, and they are what they are. However, no one in the throes of passionate emotion firing slingshots of disparagement at anyone has my sympathy. Vitriol is unpleasant, risks a permanent breakdown in relationships, and becomes counterproductive to getting a point across to the intended audience. There is more productive way of expressing oneself clearly without going overboard.
From a licensed family therapist, I’ve learned a perfectly reasonable method for communication. It’s this: I must own my feelings instead of blaming my emotions on the other and attacking him for causing it. It sounds pretty simple, and I thought I was the last adult to mature into this realization, but maybe its time to preach it loud as a reminder to some pockets of the Catholic comment boxes and the blogosphere.
Consider these examples of backlash speech hurled in retaliation, which resounded from the camp of the offended party:
“The Pope’s interviews are all terrible and simply out for publicity stunts. He should put a muzzle on his mouth.”
“I can’t believe the Pope said that! He was out of line.”
“Of course, he’d take pot shots at his faithful flock. He’s the anti-Christ.”
“The Pope is waxing imprudent again. If I had a dime for every doozy that came out of his mouth, I’d buy out Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg.”
“Mayday, mayday. Will someone check the Pope’s brains? There’s a missing link.”
“Who does the Pope think he is to butt in on my family’s business?”
*Wah* “I want Pope Benedict! Pope Francis doesn’t care for my needs at all.”
Inflammatory statements like those put the other party on the defensive, casts a shadow on our Holy Father’s good intentions, strips him of respect and dignity due his authority over his flock, and slanders his reputation. Not only that, the tone is arrogant. It doesn’t matter who the communicator is and what his credentials are, the implied intent is to usurp power to reproach the Pontiff, and make him do things the way he wants them done if the job was his.
With the therapist’s advice above, communication easily could have been done this way:
“When I heard comments that I thought meant that I was being compared to a rabbit, I felt…”
“…hurt and confused.”
“…worried and offended.”
“…sad and neglected.”
Owning our feelings takes courage and humility, virtues we as Catholics are encouraged to acquire. We may think no one wants to hear our whining. We can be suspicious that our own feelings are insufficient by themselves and we need further validation when we emphasize the offense done by the evil “offensive” party. But our feelings are ours, they are neutral, and its perfectly normal and acceptable to have them. They make us vulnerable, human and expressing them can do a lot of good if others in the same boat share and affirm them. We don’t have to be afraid to state them. There may be power in unleashing them, so long as they are completely about us and not followed by personal attacks against the one we blame to have caused them.
As the dust settles over the controversy, we’re learning the actual translation of the Pope’s comment was not accurate, was said in the context of the Pope’s overall visit and addressed at the tail end of his Philippine visit (responsible parenthood goes hand in hand with openness to life), and that it wasn’t at all contrary to Church teaching. Feelings spiked up and down as the news gathered more moss, and that’s fine. What’s destructive is when we react at the height of stimuli instead of responding with responsibility, as calm, rational and prayerful Catholics.
So, here are three things we know from this experience: we can’t control what headlines the secular media will grab from any interview (The National Inquirer is still out there); we don’t have power to control the Pope or the Church (that’s reserved for the Holy Spirit); and the only control we have is how we respond to our emotions.
Some suggestions are in order when we encounter strong feelings in the future:
- Communicate our feelings maturely. There’s no benefit or necessity to dragging out our family issues with the Holy Father by open rebellion, disrespect, and slander to the gawking online community. We do the Church a great disservice when we do that.
- Keep silence, pray, forgive and offer up our feelings and persecutions in reparation for sins against the family, for conversion of sinners, and for guidance for the Holy Father.
- Stay calm. Pause. Ask God to console us and the Holy Spirit for what our role is in this situation. Fallen away Catholics, atheists and other people are responding to this Pope positively. Our Holy Father needs us, He’s not out to get us, and He loves us. How can we help build up the Catholic Church to a hostile world that is ready to tear us down and divide us? If we’re on social media or encounter comments in the workplace, its a great opportunity to channel our feelings to evangelize, explain apologetics, offer suggestions or console the faithful and bring good out of our struggles. That’s how the saints rolled.