Conservatives, Liberals and Populists

To an Englishwoman of my generation and background, the use of ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ as a term of abuse or condemnation is incomprehensible. They are descriptive terms only, and although one may sympathize with one or the other according to context, the idea of their representing an individual’s moral standing is questionable. As far as I can see, there is probably more sin in spewing contempt and hatred over someone who holds different opinions from oneself than there is in holding those opinions. I say ‘probably’ because, of course, the argument must be nuanced.

To give an example to make that last point clearer. If someone argues that women have a right to abortion, I part company with them because I do not believe we have the right to destroy life in the womb. I believe it is wrong, very wrong, and during the years when I was active in the Life movement, I did what I could not only to provide practical alternatives but also to try to help others see why abortion is wrong. What I did not do was hurl anger and abuse at those who argued for abortion, still less did I talk about women who had abortions in terms of  wickedness and sin. In other words, I made a pragmatic judgement — abortion is wrong and to be condemned — but did not equate that with a moral judgement of the person  — you are to be condemned because you support abortion.

So, on the question of abortion, I am to be labelled a conservative; on other matters, such as  the desirability of some form of state-sponsored  healthcare and social welfare, I daresay I am to be labelled a liberal. In different degrees, and with different mixes, that is true of most people. We hold a wide range of opinions, some of which may appear to others inconsistent but which to us make sense and are part of our outlook on life. A problem comes when this cheerful mix is overlaid with dark notions of populism and democracy run riot, and it becomes neither acceptable nor even possible to hold opinions different from the mainstream. That is the point at which genuine freedom is lost; but before then it dies a thousand deaths as it becomes more and more circumscribed by those who argue loudly for the current fashionable orthodoxy. To take one example, it seems to be slightly easier in the U.K. to wear a hijab in the workplace than it is a cross, yet both are, for their wearers, a sign of their religious adherence. We can see an erosion of freedom in the name of, well, what exactly? A vague, well-meaning attempt to secularise the workplace has become something quite different, a form of petty discrimination.

A couple of BBC Newsnight presentations on Plato’s Republic as an explanation of the rise of Donald Trump as President of the U.S.A. have been going the rounds and provoked some interesting reactions (you can see the second here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnzo9qXLFUo). Their reading of the text is selective, but to anyone familar with it, the trajectory traced is perfectly legitimate. There is an inherent tendency in democracy to become more and more liberal and for freedoms to multiply, so that, in the end, we all do as we please and all differences or inequalities are done away with. However, as that does not lead to happiness, we look for a saviour, drawn from the elite but who makes great play of being hostile to it and in favour of ‘the little man’, who solves our problems for us by gradually taking away the very freedoms that led us to desire a saviour in the first place. This is populism in action: the kidnapping of democracy by democratic means. As an explanation of the rise of tyranny, it is seductive; and to anyone who has read the nightmare vision of society in Plato’s mature work, The Laws, the vision of The Republic is, at least in its earlier account of democracy, infinitely preferable. But it makes several assumptions many of us would question. For example, self-interest isn’t the only value we admit. Pace Mr Trump, most of us see ourselves as part of a bigger world than that defined by the nation state. We have global responsibilities, whether we like it or not, although we may disagree on what those responsibilities are.

Where does all this leave the Christian when confronted with the moral and political upheavals of our time? I am not sure. What I do think is clear is that the need to live with integrity was never plainer or more important. Just as I don’t think we should join in the abuse-hurling that has begun to characterise every level of political debate, so I don’t think we should opt out of all the difficulties that living in a democratic society implies. We have a duty to engage, but how we do so is as important as that we do so. Today’s gospel, Mark 3.22-30, has much to say on the destructiveness of division and blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It makes uncomfortable reading. I am reminded that tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva at a critical time, of whom one of the Calvinists against whom he argued said that, if ever they were to honour a saint, it would be he. He is the patron saint of writers and debaters. We are all now writers and debaters on blogs and Social Media. Prehaps if we spent less time shouting at one another and more time, like St Francis de Sales, thinking and praying, we might see more clearly what we have to do. In the end, labels are a minor matter; it is what we are that counts.

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Back to the Beginning (Again)

Already the new year is beginning to look a little frayed about the edges. The hopes expressed beforehand, that this would be the year when we became more united, more peaceful, have already been destroyed by a hail of bullets in an Istanbul nightclub and countless other acts of violence around the world. Yet we persist in our optimism. We are determined that this year things should be better. We will make a new beginning.

The trouble is, there isn’t much to back up our desire to make a new beginning. For most people in the West, the new year is devoid of religious significance.* There is no collective act of repentance, no rituals to affirm a determination to change, nothing to support our efforts to be more united, more peaceful. For a Benedictine, however, there is the Rule of St Benedict which, together with the gospel and the liturgy, acts as a constant encouragement to try.

Yesterday we began reading though the Rule again from the beginning.** We shall read it through in its entirety three times in the course of the year, and no matter how familiar the words, we shall find ourselves being confronted by much that is new and sometimes difficult. Yesterday we were urged to strip ourselves of self-will, to listen and to follow — things most of us are reluctant to do, especially in a society that exalts selfhood in all its manifestations. Today we are told to wake up, pay heed, get going. It is the spiritual equivalent of a ruthless exercise programme, and it is intended to make us more aware of God, ourselves and other people.

Is there anything a lay person can take from this? I am not a believer in making complicated rules of life for oneself or in trying to be so ‘spiritual’ one neglects to be human. To pray as best one can, to work as best one can: that is already much. There is, however, one idea all of us can try this year which may sound ridiculously simple but which, like Naaman’s washing in the Jordan, may yield unexpected benefits. It has to do with awareness, something the Rule is very keen on.

How often do we see people shut themselves away from others (and sometimes themselves) by playing with their phones or plugging in their earpohones? How about deliberately choosing to wait five minutes before immersing ourselves in our virtual worlds and letting the real world, the one we can’t control, take precedence? We may notice things we had forgotten existed; we may have an opportunity to share a smile or exchange a greeting with someone who really needs that moment of human interaction and kindness. We may even meet Christ ‘lovely in limbs not his’. That, surely, would be a new beginning worth making.

*We haven’t always begun the secular new year on 1 January (it used to be 25 March, feast of the Annunciation). 1 January is the Octave Day of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the oldest Marian feast in the Western liturgical calendar, but comparatively few celebrate it as such.

**If you want to listen to the Rule of St Benedict, read day by day as it is in the monastery, you can do so on the desktop version of our web site here. Flash needed as I have yet to replace the player with a HTML5 version.

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O Adonai: Our Need of Holiness 2016

Today’s O antiphon is my favourite because it weaves together several themes I have always considered important and turns them into the purest prayer:

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Sinai, come to redeem us with outstretched arm!

We are back with Moses in the desert, ‘the humblest man alive’, with whom God speaks ‘face to face, as with a friend’ and the Holy One chooses to reveal himself to him at a moment of his own choosing, and in his own way. Did sheer curiosity lead Moses to the Burning Bush, or did he look more closely than we do, who would probably pass by the sight with some banal remark about how dry the scrub is this year? Would we dare to go into the dazzling darkness of the mountain and hear God speak, or would we be more likely to think a stormy day not the best time to climb its slopes and put off till tomorrow what God invites us to today? And if we did see the Burning Bush, and if we did receive the tablets of the Law on Sinai, would we realise their significance? Would we see that the whole earth has become holy ground and the divine law is inscribed on the tablets of human hearts — that everything has changed and redemption become possible? Finally, would we make that prayer, asking God to redeem us, to do what we cannot, confident that he will hear and answer?

I think we have here the secret of holiness: Moses looked at God, not himself; and he was so filled with what he saw that we are told the very skin of his face shone. Does our face glow with holiness? Do we make people happier, more determined to be charitable, kind, neighbourly; or do we leave them brooding over other people’s shortcomings and all that’s wrong in the world? Do we ‘waste time’ with God or do we try to avoid any encounter, filling our lives with irreproachably good activities we can use as a screen against him? Are we prepared to risk holiness? Our answers to these questions will tell us a lot about ourselves and our need of holiness. It is no good wanting the world to be other than it is unless we are prepared to be changed ourselves. Holiness is not an optional extra for a Christian or something we can safely leave to the ‘professionals’, it is the vocation of each and every one of us.

Recently I have been saddened by some of the remarks I’ve read on Social Media. One this morning was a sick jibe against religious sisters in the U.S.A. which, as one might expect, attracted more of the same from the writer’s followers. That is not holiness. It achieved nothing of value. I doubt it led to anyone’s conversion (it just made me think less of the writer). Even the laughter it provoked was of the kind St Benedict regards as unwholesome, destructive. To destroy is the devil’s work, and we can easily become part of it without realising what we are doing. We can contribute to the store of anger and ill-will in the world; and although it may seem insignificant in the general scheme of things, it matters — because everything, everyone, matters. We can build up or tear down: the choice is ours.

The responsorial psalm at Mass today acts as a kind of commentary on O Adonai, especially these verses:

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.

Clean hands, a pure heart and a desire for what is worthy. Isn’t that what we all need today and every day? Isn’t that what God desires of us, that he may give himself to us? To know our need of God is the beginning of holiness. We can be quite sure that he will respond generously. In fact, he already has — in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

ADVENT O ANTIPHONS
If you would like to read more about Advent and listen to the ‘O’ antiphons sung in Latin according to a traditional plainsong melody, with a brief explanation of the texts and references, see our main site, here. Flash needed to play the music files as I have not yet replaced the player with HTML5.

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Returning Sight

We all have a tendency to be wise after the event, the gift of hindsight being much more common than foresight, especially where our public discourse is concerned. But to reappraise something is not the same as seeing or understanding it for the first time. We all have a store of personal epiphanies  — when we ‘discovered’ a poet or a painter or a composer for the first time and the world seemed new-minted, shimmering with fresh glory and beauty. But the occasions when we reconsidered earlier judgements or revised our former opinions are not usually quite so joyous. There is often a reluctance to accept that we may have misjudged someone or been wrong about the consequences of something. Part of us is glad we know the truth, but part of us would still rather hide from it. Seeing aright can be for us a mixed blessing.

I wonder whether the blind men in today’s gospel (Matthew 9.27-31) were prepared for the gift they received. The text implies that they recovered their sight, i.e. they had not always been blind. Did the world look very different from what they remembered? How did they cope with what most of us would regard as sensory overload, being suddenly able to see? As an image of the transformation wrought by grace, it works very well; and we can say that our Advent journey should lead us to a clearer vision. But — and it is an important but — part of me wants to add that I am not wholly convinced by that idea. Most of us muddle along as best we can, neither seeing very clearly nor deliberately hiding from the truth, just hoping that at the end of the journey we shall have made some progress even if we ourselves cannot see it (as, indeed, we cannot). The best we can do is what we can do, not what we can’t; and if God is at all as we believe him to be, he is satisfied with that.

We can take encouragement from today’s first reading (Isaiah 29.17-24). It is easy to lose ourselves in its lyricism, but at its heart is the solemn reminder about hallowing the Holy One of Israel. To hold God’s name holy means more than showing reverence in our worship or trying to live an upright life. It means seeing and understanding something of the purposes of God, not in the crackpot way of some fundamentalist preachers, but as the saints have always seen and understood, owning the mystery and humble in his presence.

I began with a reference to the disconnect we often experience in our public discourse. May I end with a suggestion? If we are trying to open our hearts and minds to whatever it is the Lord wants to teach us this Advent, it must spill over into every aspect of our lives. Our public discourse must be transformed every bit as much as our inner selves. A challenge for today would be to try to think through how we contribute to that public discourse. Do we add to the blindness, prejudice or sheer aggressiveness we encounter or do we defuse the tension, and allow light and healing to flood in? Do we even try?

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Calumny and Detraction

If you would like to read about St Teresa of Avila, whose feast this is, may I suggest you read this post, or any of the many I have tapped out in previous years? This morning I’d like to spend a few minutes thinking about something Teresa herself experienced and that I think is becoming more and more of a problem for us today, especially as the internet gives virtually all of us a platform from which to air our views, whether informed or not.

Most of us would say that we value free speech. To some, that means anything goes. I have the right to say what I like, how I like; and it doesn’t matter whether you find what I say or how I say it objectionable. My right to free speech trumps all. Fortunately, the civil law tends to impose certain limitations on our right to free speech. In this country, for example, we may not make racist statements. If we do, we can be charged with a hate crime. Social convention (‘being P.C.’) also imposes certain limitations. My asserting that abortion is wrong, or that assisted dying is, in fact, suicide/murder, would not be acceptable to many of my fellow countrymen; and there are contexts in which I might think twice before making such a statement. That would be an inner constraint on my freedom of speech rather than an external one such as law, but it would still be a constraint. There is, however, a much more important constraint that is often ignored: is what we say or write true? We may think it true; we may have reasonable grounds for believing it to be true; but can we prove its truth? This is especially important when we talk or write about other people and impute to them views or actions that they may not hold or have performed.

Everyone has the right to their good name. If we make accusations against anyone that we cannot personally substantiate, the law may say that we have been guilty of slander or libel; but because most of us do not get involved in slander or libel cases most of the time, we may have forgotten how easily we can slip into the sins of calumny (the making of false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation; slander/libel)  or detraction (the sin of revealing another person’s faults to a third person without a valid reason). The recent UK debate about membership of the EU threw up many statements that were questionable. There were accusations and counter-accusations a-plenty, often unsubstantiated; but they did damage the reputation of some of those who were subjected to them. The presidential election in the U.S.A. is likewise attracting a great deal of supposition assserted as fact about both candidates. On the one hand, we want the truth, so that we can make an informed judgement; on the other, we must take care that we do not simply echo popular prejudices or accept at face value statements that ought to be more thoroughly examined. Repeating a false or questionable statement is not a morally neutral act — but we forget in the enthusiasm of the moment, don’t we?

One of the down sides of the internet is that we can all express ourselves on various platforms without necessarily thinking about the consequences of what we are doing. If we are blocked  by someone on Facebook or Twitter, it is easy to dismiss it as the reaction of some indignant or humourless person. It does not often make us question whether our conduct might not be all that it should. We can give offence by what we say; we can hurt others; we can distort the truth. Our tendency is to shrug and move on, possibly giving some sort of apology but more probably just conveniently forgetting that what we have consigned to cyberspace is beyond our control, destined to a long life in pixels. The damage done to truth is even more serious, for that lasts for ever. Reason to think perhaps?

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Wasting Time Online and Off

Thomas Merton once called wasting time a sin against poverty. I have often wondered about that. Most of the things I’ve ever learned, I’ve learned through making mistakes and wasting time, lots of it. I read and read and wrote and wrote when younger in order to learn how to marshall my thoughts and write as clearly and simply as I could. When I took up building web sites and apps, I taught myself by looking at other people’s and deconstructing them — a process that took hours and hours of time. As for prayer, there is no other way than ‘wasting time’ with God: being prepared just to stay there, in his presence, no matter how bleak or boring the experience.

When it comes to wasting time online, I think we all know the difference between a creative use of the internet/Social Media and what I’d call sheer consumerism. We can dawdle away the hours, filling our lives with the latest cute video or pointless rant, numbing mind and heart with the sheer inanity of it all. Alternatively, we can use the opportunities being online gives us to learn, to encourage, to support others. Here at the monastery we always pray before going online and after we have been online (and very often pause to pray several times while we are actually online) because, as St Benedict says, every good work should be preceded by prayer; and if being online isn’t inherently a good work, we must make it so.

I am troubled by those who see the online world as somehow apart from the ordinary, everyday world in which we live. The same courtesies are needed; the same commonsence; the same restraint. Unhappily, there are many who seem to think they can say or do whatever they like online, without there being consequences for themselves or others. That is very naive. It is also monumentally selfish.

Perhaps today we could all reflect for a moment or two on how we are online. You notice I don’t say what we do online, or what we use the internet or Social Media for, but the people we are online. If there is an inconsistency between our online and offline persona, we should be wary. Something is not quite right. We may smile at Walter Mitty, but playing a role, whether good or bad, is not the way to become more truly human, the person we are called to be.

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A Short Pause

It has been a demanding fortnight. Just as we were going on retreat, I was alerted to an attack on our monastery web sites. I dealt with it as best I could but, by the time we had arrived at our retreat destination, hackers had exploited a vulnerability and our sites were down. It has taken a lot of time and a fair bit of money to put things right, but the new security we have in place should prevent the same thing happening again. Is there any analogy here with the E.U. Referendum? Many people are stunned by the result and are waiting anxiously to see what will happen next — and I don’t just mean in the U.K. I know I have been rather repetitive on the subject, but every nation state is part of a greater whole. We inhabit the same planet. What happens in one part of the world affects those who live in another.

It will take time and money to resolve many of the questions that are forming in people’s minds. Pious platitudes about God being in charge are fine as far as they go, but they do not really comfort (i.e. strengthen) those who who have a sick thump in the stomach about what the future may hold for them and those they hold dear. And for those with an historical imagination, or even a grasp of politics and economics, there are some very grave questions indeed. Although it is early to talk of the break-up of the U.K. or the E.U., the loss of jobs and opportunities, sooner or later we shall have to face the consequences of Thursday’s vote. Optimists say the future for Britain will be better, brighter; the future for the E.U. will be better, brighter without Britain; but none of these assertions is actually based on fact as yet, only on opinion. Which brings me to the rub.

During the past few months, but especially over the last few days, many people have voiced opinions in damaging and divisive ways. In Social Media some have never let an opportunity for expressing their own views pass them by. There have been accusations and counter-accusations, name-calling, imputations of bad faith, expressions of unholy glee or diabolical despair. That is not the way to build unity or make the future safe for those who come after us. At the risk of stretching my web site analogy to breaking-point, may I suggest that what we all need to do now is to take a short pause. Instead of trying to browbeat others into thinking as we do, let’s listen to our own rhetoric, turn it back on ourselves and see how we like it. Let’s think about those who don’t see things as we do. For me personally there was never any question of an in/out campaign as such. It wasn’t a case of winning or losing but making the right choice as best I could, and not for narrow self-interest. I assume everyone else made their decision on the same basis even if they came to different conclusions. I am troubled about the result but for me the important thing now is to work and pray with the situation we have — and the very first thing we all need to do is to put things right with those we have injured, belittled or treated as less than Christ. Because, you see, it is Christ we wound in the person of the other.

I’m sorry.

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St Catherine of Siena: Mistress of the Sound-Bite

Catherine of Siena: Photo by Jim Forest
Catherine of Siena: Photo by Jim Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People often lament that no one really argues anything any more. They opt for the sound-bite instead: something short, snappy and hopefully memorable. You might think that I, as a Benedictine and therefore a proponent of the slow meditative reading we know as lectio divina, would be hostile to the whole idea of the sound-bite. Certainly, I am uneasy at the way in which politicians often try to simplify arguments, reducing them to absurdity, but today’s saint, Catherine of Siena, was very good at producing wise, pithy sayings one can spend the whole day thinking and praying about. Take, for example, her insight into the crucifixion: ‘All the nails in the world could not have held Christ to the cross had love not held him there.’ Isn’t that theology in a nutshell, and doesn’t it lead naturally to prayer— a perfect sound-bite, in fact?

If you know nothing about St Catherine, Dominican tertiary, mystic and doctor of the Church, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Siena (or you could do a search of this blog, using the search box in the sidebar). I hope it will encourage you to read Raymond of Capua’s Life of the saint and then go on to read the saint’s own letters and important Dialogues.

Catherine played a major role in returning the papacy from Avignon to Rome and wasn’t afraid to say exactly what she thought — but always with courtesy, something today’s critics of Pope Francis might usefully dwell on. She had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, was given the gift of tears, and experienced a mystical marriage to Christ which was to dominate much of her subsequent thought and teaching. Yet she remained always firmly grounded in the realities of everyday life and was much sought out for her guidance and practical wisdom. It is not surprising that she was opposed by some of the authorities of her day and had to undergo interrogation by the Friars of her own Order six years before she died.

This morning, however, I am thinking chiefly of the wonderful way in which she expressed old truths as though new-minted. Take, for example, her image of Christ as a bridge flung between earth and heaven. This bridge consists of three great stairways constituted by the feet, the side, and the mouth of Jesus. Rising by these stairways the soul passes through the three stages of every path to sanctification: detachment from sin, the practice of the virtues, and of love, sweet and loving union with God. It is an image easy to grasp, easy to remember. Best of all, though, is her warning to perfectionists — those of us who never get anything done because we are always wanting to do things better: ‘God does not desire a perfect work but an infinite desire.’ There’s a sound-bite to take us through today and every day.

Image licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

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Click ‘Like’ for Outrage

One of the acknowledged problems of Social Media is the ease with which a sense of outrage can be generated. A tweet or a Facebook post expresses a partial truth in vigorous language. We click ‘like’ and pass on, duty done. Only, as the more thoughtful will recognize, duty isn’t done, but rather the reverse. Whenever we assent to something we haven’t really thought about, whenever we promote something we haven’t reflected on, we are acting irresponsibly. Our clicking ‘like’ isn’t morally insignificant (unless, of course, we are ‘liking’ a photo of, say, a PBGV, which is, after all, merely an indication of our good sense and good humour). Activity on Social Media is now often touted as expressing public opinion on various subjects. It would be fairer to say it expresses the opinion of those who use Social Media, but that limitation is often forgotten. Today, as we read about the doctors’ strike, the failure of BHS, the Brexit debate or whatever, perhaps we might pause before we click ‘like’. Do we really agree, and if we do, is this the best way of expressing our agreement? Are we inadvertently helping to create a false sense of public opinion? Most important of all, are we clicking ‘like’ and doing nothing ourselves? I notice a lot of Social Media outrage at the Government’s refusal to admit 3,000 child refugees but I wonder how much those expressing such outrage have done to help those they are so angry about. Just a thought.

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Laughter, Social Media and the Tenth Step of Humility

Laughter is surely one of God’s most gracious gifts. The ability to see the funny side of life, to lighten a gloomy atmosphere with a smile or quip, the sheer joie de vivre that carries others along on a sparkle of sunshine and merriment, these are things to be celebrated. A good sense of humour is almost a sine qua non of survival in monastic life. As to the literal-minded and humourless sourpusses one sometimes encounters, oh dear! What a pain they are! It can be rather a shock, therefore, to find St Benedict stating as his tenth step of humility (RB 7.59)

Decimus humilitatis gradus est si non sit facilis ac promptus in risu, quia scriptum est: Stultus in risu exaltat vocem suum.
The tenth step of humility is not to be easily prone to laughter, for it is written: ‘The fool raises his voice in laughter.’

Quite clearly, he is not condemning mirth in general. Indeed, one of the small asceticisms he recommends for Lent is giving up some of our customary joshing and joking (scurrilitates), which he wouldn’t if no one ever laughed in the cloister. The scripture Benedict quotes, Sirach 21.20, is key to understanding the passage. Laughter in the biblical sense usually has overtones of disbelief (think of Sara, laughing behind the tent curtains at the angel’s prohecy of Isaac’s birth). It is especially identified with the fool who thinks there is no God. To raise up one’s voice, to parade one’s unbelief, to claim for oneself the ability to judge matters about which we are largely ignorant, the derisive laughter of the mocker and scorner, these are all indicators of massive pride — and Benedict has no time for that.

I think this tenth step demonstrates something I have often emphasized: the importance of reading the text of the Rule closely, with an awareness of its broader context. One can’t simply mine a sentence here or there and say, this is what Benedict has to say on a subject. On the other hand, I do think one can apply his precepts to a world beyond the monastery and this one is very relevant to Social Media.

Humour and debate both figure largely in Social Media. Unfortunately, as we all know, debate is often reduced to name-calling or worse, and humour can become rather sinister and unpleasant. There is a lot of scoffing rather than engagement with the issues or with individuals. Now, mockery is one thing Benedict is very opposed to. It contradicts his idea of the importance of mutual respect and his special concern that the most vulnerable should be protected from the ravages of the strong. We may have quick minds and even quicker tongues, but that doesn’t give us the right to use them to put others down. The laughter we provoke condemns us, because it is essentially violent and cruel. Some of the tweets and Facebook postings regarding the current Synod on the Family have made me wonder whether the authors have really thought about what they are doing. Being rude, imputing dishonesty to others without being sure of one’s facts, vilifying, these are not the work of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, they are not very funny, either. Today would be a good day for doing a kind of mental check on how we use humnour ourselves. We can build up or tear down: the choice is ours.

 

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