Lent invites us to conversion, and the call to conversation can be painful. Worse, it can be embarrassing, especially when it comes from an unlikely source. I’ve recently experienced this myself, regarding a vice I barely even knew I had, which I believe I am now being called to amend.
A few weeks ago, I wrote WPI’s immediate response to Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s First Things article in which he insinuated that at least two cardinals are heretics whose votes might call into question a future papal conclave. Since this response was linked in at least one larger, unsympathetic outlet, and since my WPI author profile links to a personal website that has a contact form, I got several emails about this piece.
None of these emails were particularly happy with me or with my take on Bishop Paprocki’s article. I stand by the substance of what I said, and I don’t take the counterarguments offered in these emails very seriously. However, they also said something else, something by which I feel convicted and moved to personal reform, especially since it is Lent. Every email I got about the Paprocki response said that my tone was intemperate, uncharitable, and angry, in ways that I did not notice when I was writing it. Reading it over again now, I still barely notice it. Yet my conscience is telling me that there is something to this criticism. Most avid writers default to writing from a particular emotion, and I think I write from anger much more often and much more intensely than I want to, or even than I realize.
While anger is a negative emotion, it is also, in some deeply unhelpful and upsetting ways, fun. Aquinas and Dante both say that wrath is a distortion of a love of justice, an excessive reaction to real or perceived unjust treatment of oneself or of someone or something which one holds dear. Especially in this day and age, when advertisers and algorithms actively encourage this sort of thinking, there’s good fun to be had in telling oneself and others how bad one has it.
It’s fun to unload on people, especially for people who are skilled at invective rhetoric (which I think I am). It’s fun to console oneself with how very right one is, even and especially when it is in response to genuinely dangerous words or actions (which I think Paprocki’s article constitutes). But this doesn’t make it moral or acceptable or an appropriate way to treat one’s interlocutors. Christ is very clear on this point; His ministry and His teachings do not give us the option of simply dismissing others in order to aggrandize ourselves. The Gospels sometimes present Him doing something that looks very much like this. He preaches woe, predicts the doom of those who cross or reject Him, at times even physically attacks people. Even so, as people more conservative than I am have often reminded me, Jesus isn’t the person in whom we’re supposed to see ourselves in Gospel stories where He talks or spends time with sinners. The work of imitating and conforming ourselves to Christ is not meant to give us a blank check to indulge our worst and most disagreeable selves.
This isn’t an apology or a retraction per se because, again, I think I’m correct about Bishop Paprocki and if I didn’t I would not have written that piece to begin with. It is a commitment to interior reform and conversion, and a recommendation of the same commitment to the reader. Let us all spend the rest of lent asking for God’s help in becoming the kind and charitable people whom we are called to be.
Image: The altar cross of Dom St. Nikolai in Greifswald, Germany, shrouded for Lent. From Wikimedia Commons.
Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.