Keep the Positive and the Constructive in the Foreground

Regular readers may be familiar with the fact that this blog seems to ignore most issues in world politics, Catholic politics, world news, Catholic news, and so on. I don’t think this is unintentional. But at the same time, I have difficulty explaining what that intention is.

I have always had a problem with major sources of news, and I honestly can’t understand why people, especially Christians, would soak up such sources of information. I have difficulty explaining why I feel this way. It’s instinctual. It’s not that I think people should be uninformed. Rather, I tend to think people should be informed – but so much of our “news” isn’t informative; it’s propaganda, or it’s negative, misinformative, and disinformative.

Yet I see Catholics swallowing it in by the truck load. The blogosphere is full of it. (Just how many Catholic bloggers identify as conservative, for example? How many Catholic bloggers speak ill of other human beings instead of targeting manners to change policies and change, with actual charity united to justice, hearts?)

I really don’t understand why it’s appealing to listen to the gossip about celebrities and to hotly debate which political evil is lesser. What does that have to do with the Gospel? Now, I don’t mean that the Gospel is “otherworldly” and is entirely separate form the affairs of this world. Quite the contrary. The Gospel says everything for this world. But what I don’t get is why the framing of information as pro-ThisParty and anti-ThatParty (and so on) has any appeal to the contemplative Catholic – or, for that matter, any Catholic who aims to contemplate the Lord, whether contemplative yet or not.

I found a lovely passage about this in an address given by Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881–1942) to a Catholic journalists’ association in the Netherlands. Even though a Carmelite and thus devoted primarily to contemplation, Titus himself had spent a lot of time in informal journalism; in fact, he died, at the hands of the Nazis, for his efforts in journalism and education. Here’s what Blessed Titus says:

Brandsma_HatAs Catholic journalists we must consistently keep in the foreground that which is positive and constructive. For us that is the only way – since it is the divinely willed way – to serve the Catholic cause. In the second place, we Catholic journalists must hold high the virtue of love. That too is the will of our good Lord. That love must come through in the tone we strike, the irenic [peacemaking] tone of the Catholic press.

That is what political responsibility of journalists and information-providers was for Titus Brandsma. And he was resisting the Nazis. It gives pause to think. Why are we eating up news that fills us with suspicion, hate, anger, and destructive emotions? Do we really think we face any greater enemies that Blessed Titus? If so, do we want to tell that to Christ at our judgment? If not, then we should take the words of this martyr to heart: “[W]e must consistently keep in the foreground that which is positive and constructive. For us that is the only way – since it is the divinely willed way – to serve the Catholic cause.” All our words must be irenic, that is, must make peace. If not, they do not serve the cause of the Gospel. They can become weapons of the real enemy, who is not flesh and bone. Keep focused on the positive, the constructive, the irenic.

Of course, this perspective is not totally surprising. We could have guessed it. Usually when we realize something true “on our own,” we find it later in Scripture. It pops out and meets us as we read the Word of God, and we say, “Yes, of course; thank you.” In this case, perhaps it’s all rather as Saint Paul saw it:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8).

If we wish to think of God – who is truth, honour, justice, purity, excellence, and goodness themselves – then we must make an effort to extend that into every nook and cranny of our lives, including (but not limited to) our information-gathering and our opinion-forming about our lives and the world at large. If we don’t make such an effort, how can we expect God to come and visit us? He surely will come. We don’t have to do much (for we are weak). But we must intend it. We really must – even as regards positive, constructive, irenic focus in news, information-gathering, and opinion-forming.

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