Mistakes vs. Sin, Teachable Moments vs. Culture War
People often said dumb things to Jesus. Sometimes it was strangers, demanding dumb stuff like “Tell my brother to share the inheritance with me”. Sometimes it was disciples, asking whether now would be a good time to call down lightning on some enemies. Indeed, Jesus’ disciples were often amazingly dumb, driving mothers and kids away because who would bless these brats? Certainly not them, so surely Jesus wouldn’t either. Or asking, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Or commenting on Jesus’ warning to “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” that “It is because we have no bread.”
Jesus’ patience with the ignorant and the dumb seems to be limitless, just so long as they mean well. Because he really does love us. His anger (and even that is ordered toward redemption) is reserved only for the wilfully malignant.
I mention this because last week somebody who clearly tries to do a great deal of what Jesus commends in terms of loving the least of these, said something dumb. And the responses to her mark the difference between a Catholic and a Qatholic outlook.
The person making the dumb remark was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In brief, she wandered around the Hall of Statues in the Capitol and remarked that statuary was dominated by whites. Her point–a perfectly reasonable one–was that the capitol of of a representative democracy should have statuary that represents all its people, not just the white ones.
Everything would have gone fine except that she made a critical mistake–mistake, mind you, not sin. For while she was remarking on the racism and colonialism the statuary represented, she pointed her camera at a statue of St. Damian of Molokai, one of the greatest saints to ever ornament the Church, the state of Hawaii, and the United States of America. He served the lepers of Molokai in the 19th century, living among one of the most forsaken people on earth and eventually becoming a leper himself.
There is zero evidence AOC bore the slightest hostility toward–or knowledge of–St. Damien. It was, at the very worst, an inept and awkward blunder made in the course of a legitimate and noble argument. A Catholic actually interested in catechesis and in building bridges would have leapt at this moment as a chance to tell St. Damien’s story to AOC–what with her being a Catholic who is clearly passionate about mercy and compassion for the least of these–and (as Priscilla and Aquila did with the partly ignorant but fully passionate Apollos) to “explain the way of God more adequately” so that she would both learn her faith a bit better and also do her honest and legitimate work of fighting racism better without laying herself open to attack.
Alas, almost no Catholic (with the exception of Simcha Fisher and a few others) thought to take that charitable approach.
Instead, as is nearly always the case, conservative media was filled with the cries of Qatholics who smelled blood in the water and massed for the attack.
It reminded me of the remark of Talleyrand, a man once described as “dung in a silk stocking” whose moral assessment of a situation was “It was worse than a sin: it was a mistake.”
In other words, the Qatholic response has not the slightest interest in AOC’s education or redemption or the common good she so clearly was seeking with her little Instagram. What they saw–the only thing they saw–was a chance to destroy a hated enemy. So the cry went up and the hounds spent a few days screaming the falsehood that AOC hates a great saint and is making war on the Church and all the rest of the BS the right wing lie machine is skilled at pumping out with its daily diet of Panics du Jour.
Catholics seek ways to bear witness to Christ even when they are sitting in a Philippian jail washing their bleeding wounds or nearly getting killed by a mob.
Qatholics seek ways to destroy people who are open to the teaching of the gospel if they pose any threat at all to the real object of their devotion, Donald Trump and his crime syndicate.