How Catholics Should Give and Receive Criticism

Time for a touchy subject — criticism.  Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism?  I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism.  But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed.  Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions.  Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:

What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice.  Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.”  In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.

In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true.  Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books.  But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other.  While I  encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy.  Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others.  He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world.  Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite.  It’s the whole, “Oh yeah!  Well you’re a …” response.  But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.

I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort.  If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism,  Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.

Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.  Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.  It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert.  Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better.  In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace.  At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff!  Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.

Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you?  Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan?  Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways.  And not everyone acts out of love.  But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.

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Gospel for May 8, 2011 — Awareness

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The Gospel for Sunday, May 8 is from Luke 24:13-35 where some disciples of Jesus met Him on the road to Jerusalem but did not recognize Him.  They did not realize Jesus was with them until He ate with them and broke bread similar to what He did at the Last Supper.  Only then did they realize how foolish they were that they did not recognize Jesus in their presence.  Likewise, when we pray the rosary Jesus is in our presence both listening to us and trying to guide us to His kingdom of Heaven.  But often we do not recognize Jesus’ presence in our prayers or in our lives.

This Sunday’s Gospel follows the same theme as last week’s in that it shows that all too often we look for God in our lives in all the wrong places.  Last week Thomas the apostle had so little faith he would not recognize Jesus’ resurrection until he saw Jesus face to face.  And now in this week’s Gospel two of Jesus’ disciples did not recognize Jesus although they were walking and talking with Him.  They did not see Jesus despite the fact that He explained all the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets explaining His death and resurrection.  And yet they still did not recognize Him.  We too often fail to recognize Jesus in our lives although His truth is all around us.

I touched on this briefly when discussing Doubting Thomas and how we do not always take those telling the truth seriously.  In this case I mean the truth of Jesus Christ as taught through the Catholic Church.  We hear this truth all the time whether it be during Mass, in the Catechism or Bible, Papal decrees, or simply the Church’s traditions that have been practiced for centuries.  We hear them and yet we so often do not follow them because we do not think of them as Jesus’ teachings.  We hear them as the thoughts and opinions of fellow humans much like the disciples in the Gospel thought that Jesus was just some normal traveler.  And so we do not give the Church’s teachings the consideration they deserve and go about living counter to its teachings.  Would you argue about abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, contraception, and human cloning if you stood face to face with Jesus?  Probably not.  So why do we so readily argue with His Church and disobey His teachings?  Are we like the disciples in the Gospel who discovered how foolish they were for not recognizing Jesus in their presence?

We should remember this Gospel reading when we pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary and remember Jesus’ proclamation of Heaven and His call to conversion.  Really meditate this week on the areas in your life where you do not hear Jesus through the Church’s teachings and challenge yourself to learn what Jesus is trying to tell you through His Church.  You will probably not be converted in some of your beliefs overnight.  But just researching what the Church really believes and teaches and humbling yourself to the possibility that there might be areas of your life where you have not let the Holy Spirit guide you is a huge step in the right direction.  There is no doubt that questioning your deeply held beliefs is hard especially if Jesus leads you in a direction that runs counter to popular opinion.  But the Third Luminous Mystery points out that we need to choose whether to live for God’s kingdom or our earthly kingdom.  Do you see that Jesus walks beside you every day and is trying to lead you down the right path or are you too wrapped up in living solely for what this world has to offer?

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Medjugorje Message — April 2, 2010

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on April 2, 2010: Dear children; Today I bless you in a special way and I pray for you to return to the right way, to my Son – your Saviour, your Redeemer – to Him who gave you eternal life. Reflect on everything human, on everything that does not permit you to set out after my Son – on transience, imperfection and limitation – and then think of my Son, of His Devine infiniteness. By your surrender and prayer ennoble your body and perfect your soul. Be ready, my children. Thank you.

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Mary‘s message at Medjugorje on April 2, 2010:

Dear children; Today I bless you in a special way and I pray for you to return to the right way, to my Son – your Saviour, your Redeemer – to Him who gave you eternal life. Reflect on everything human, on everything that does not permit you to set out after my Son – on transience, imperfection and limitation – and then think of my Son, of His Devine infiniteness. By your surrender and prayer ennoble your body and perfect your soul. Be ready, my children. Thank you.

I am reminded of the Third Luminous Mystery where Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven and called us to conversion.  Mary asks us to return the the “right way” which is the way of Jesus Christ.  She asks us to reflect on all those things which separate us from living according to God‘s Word.  What are your imperfections and limitations?  Are there particular sins that separate you from God’s grace?  Or can you think of the ways you can convert from living a worldly life to a more spiritual one?

When you think about this message, also think about conducting a thorough Examination of Conscious.  Even if you are not about to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, an examination of conscious is a good way to see how well you are living for God’s kingdom.  Think of it like a medical checkup except, instead of examining your physical health, you examine your spiritual health.  Mary asks us to think about everything that separates us from Jesus Christ and then surrender ourselves to His Will and let go of the vices of this world so that we may become perfected in Jesus’ Word.

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Medjugorje Message: June 25, 2009

The message from Mary at Medjugorje on June 25 calls on all of us to “convert in joy” so that we may be brought closer to God’s love. Despite the challenges and hardship in converting our hearts from a worldly one to a Heavenly one, we shouldn’t forget the joy that comes in being in God’s grace.

Medjugorje (16)

The June 25, 2009 message from our Mother Mary at Medjugorje:

Dear children! Rejoice with me, convert in joy and give thanks to God for the gift of my presence among you.  Pray that, in your hearts, God may be in the center of your life and with your life witness, little children, so that every creature may feel God’s love. Be my extended hands for every creature, so that it may draw closer to the God of love. I bless you with my motherly blessing. Thank you for having responded to my call.

What grabbed me in this message is that Mary is asking us to “convert in joy.”  This echoes the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary where Jesus calls on us to work towards a converted spirit.  Conversion is an important cornerstone of our faith as this theme appears in Jesus’ words, the saints’ teachings, and Mary’s messages.  However, when I think about conversion, I typically see it as our struggle to transform our wicked ways into God’s ways.  I tend to focus on the effort to pray more, to go to Confession, to be more compassionate, and do all the other little things to imitate Christ.  I concentrate on the act of conversion while overlooking why I need to have a converted spirit so that I can receive the benefits of being in God’s grace.

There is much joy in converting our worldly hearts toward God.  Think of the joy that comes when starting any large project.  I know I feel a sense of joy and excitement when I start a new endeavor such as a large home improvement task or a large programming project at work.  Yes, these projects will have their challenges and won’t always be pleasant.  In the middle of a difficult project we can lose that joy we initially felt and just feel consumed by the obstacles and setbacks.  However, we are typically rewarded for our efforts whether it be a nice, clean home or knowing that our hard work improved some one’s life.  The same can be said about our spiritual life.  Converting our ways to be more like Jesus’ ways may be difficult but the end result of having God’s grace will be well worth the effort.  After all, if we can feel a sense of joy and accomplishment after cleaning and organizing our home, imagine the joy that comes when we clean and organize our souls!  May we listen to our Heavenly Mother and convert in joy by making God the center of our lives so that He may draw us closer to His love.  If we can do this, I think we will see that it was time and energy well spent.

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