Cleverly Malicious Exercises
My students at Fordham University and I have been reading Mary Gordon’s Final Payments as one of the texts in our class on American Catholic novels, and the following scene from Gordon’s first novel caught my eye. To give a bit of context, this scene depicts a daughter who cared for her recently deceased father for many years, and who is now cleaning out his room.
I opened one of the desk drawers and took out a folder of his articles. On the top was one that had been published in a magazine he had been part of in the forties called Catholic Word. As I turned the pages, they began to crumble into flakes. I came to my father’s piece: ’The Catholic Temper.’ Protestants, it said, thought about moral issues, drank water and ate crackers, took care to exercise and had a notion that charity was synonymous with good works. Catholics, on the other hand, thought about eternity, drank wine and smoked cigars, were sometimes extravagant, but knew that charity was a fire in the heart of God and never confused it with that Protestant invention, philanthropy.
What was the point of these cleverly malicious exercises? Who would read them? What would they do but convince the already convinced of their obvious superiority? What an exhausting occupation, constantly supporting the hierarchy from the bottom, constantly buttressing it by seizing on the rest of the world like a great cruel bird taking its prey home to tear apart and examine the contents of its stomach.
Sound familiar? This fictional father’s writings are a perfect fit for much of what we read on the Internet, both from anti-Catholic websites and from those claiming the utmost fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church. The latter can often take this tone not only with regard to Protestants or non-Christian religions, but also with fellow Catholics who do not share their particular convictions. "Cleverly malicious exercises" are sadly the name of the game in much of cyberspace. My hope for this blog, and for the Catholic Internet in general, is that we be a bit more evangelical than that, and that triumphalist attempts to "convince the already convinced of their obvious superiority" might give way to honest discourse and faithful, reasoned discussions about this Church we know and love. Jim Keane, S.J.