Affirmative orthodoxy – faithful with a smile

“Somehow we have to recapture the notion that the Church isn’t primarily about running institutions or winning political debates. It’s about reaching deep inside the human heart and stirring what’s best in it, and then boldly going out into the world and insisting that the better angels of our nature can prevail, that cynicism and ego don’t have to be the last word about the kind of culture we pass on to our children, and that the Church is an ally in every positive stirring and hopeful current in that culture. That’s a vision worth devoting one’s life to, and if that’s not affirmative orthodoxy, what is?”

Timothy Cardinal Dolan,
from A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation With John L. Allen Jr.

It’s strange and sad that we find it so hard to be faithful Catholics – faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church – without descending into arguments and disagreements. Apparently, it is often easier to pillory a person that we disagree with, be there a good reason or not, instead of communicating our disagreements in accordance with the joy that our faith calls for. But that’s also understandable: it is, after all, something very personal. Faith is, by definition. If someone then says or writes something that we think is in error, we feel the natural urge to correct them.

But what would be the Catholic approach to this correcting and the debate that will follow? I think the answer to that question is ‘affirmative orthodoxy’. True to Our Lord and the Church, but in a positive way. John L. Allen Jr., in a 2009 column, defines it as follows: “No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible.”

Our message is a very joyful one. How can we not present it with a smile? When we engage other people, we do so out of love: Christ teaches us to work towards what’s best for others. His salvation is the best thing that has ever, and could ever happen to us. While our presentation should not be of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind, it should reflect the content of what we try to communicate.

Faith in God also entails faith in the people He created, and that faith should not be crushed underneath relentless attacks, insinuations and arguments, but should flourish as we are open, honest and loving. Does that mean we can’t disagree? Of course it doesn’t. Errors are there to be corrected, and we have a framework by which to determine what is error and what is not: the teachings that the Church communicates.

In the Gospel of Matthew we find what to do if someone does something wrong:

“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector” [Matt. 18:15-17].

Our first recourse should never be to publicly pillory a person for the mistake he made. Instead, we must discuss it one-on-one with that person, and if need be with one or two others. Only then does the community of faithful come into view. This is the honest approach, and it fits in well with affirmative orthodoxy, for some errors  are serious indeed, and should be treated as such, but they are never reason to disavow the person making them. Even gentiles and tax collectors are able to mend their ways. We are all evidence of that.

And, lastly, let’s not forget that we are equally prone to mistakes. What we consider I mistake may not turn out to be one upon closer consideration, just as our own understanding of what is correct must also be properly considered and understood.

3 thoughts on “Affirmative orthodoxy – faithful with a smile”

  1. Toch vind ik het vreemd om nu juist aartsbisschop Dolan aan te halen, als er nu iemand is die man en paard durft te benoemen, dan is hij het wel. 😉

    ‘Affirmative orthodoxy’ werkt alleen als er een goed werkend zelfreinigingsproces mogelijk is. De pers heeft daar nu eenmaal een andere rol in dan apologetisch ingestelde organisaties. Natuurlijk is een goed-nieuws pagina iets moois, in een Vlaamse krant hebben ze iets dergelijks, maar veel nieuws is nu eenmaal negatief. Moet het daarom maar verzwegen worden? In de VS gebeurt dat in elk geval niet, maar daar heb je dan ook veel meer bladen. Het KN zou daar ongeveer een tamme middenmoter zijn.

    Wat ik in Nederland zie, is dat er een hoop rumoer is op de flanken, maar dat het midden angstvallig blijft zwijgen, behalve dat er zo nu en dan een blog verschijnt dat waarschuwt voor de toon, en dan toch vooral de toon van de anderen (waar natuurlijk impliciet al weer stof voor nieuwe onmin in verborgen zit). Ook zit er vaak een stellingname onder verborgen. Daar bedoel ik mee dat er zaken zijn waarbij we het allemaal niet meer dan redelijk vinden om de heilige woede die het opwekt, in woorden te verwerken. Daarbij kan men bijvoorbeeld denken aan het seksueel misbruik. Als men dus beweert dat de toon te hard is, dan zegt dat iets over hoe ernstig men een bepaalde misstand neemt.

    Als we het trouwens over het misbruik hebben; ik zie de achterliggende doofpotreflex nog té vaak terug. Ik ben nog niet één iemand tegen gekomen die beweerde dat ik er met mijn artikelen inhoudelijk naast zat en dat door argumenten probeerde aan te tonen. Maar de angst voor wat de buitenwereld van ons zou kunnen vinden, wint het dan van het aanpakken van het probleem. En het heeft ook nog eens geen enkele zin, want op de achtergrond blijft het probleem aanwezig.

    Ik zou je daarom willen vragen om je frustratie, die er weldelijk zit en die ik zeker serieus neem, wat concreter te maken. Dan pas kun je er een gesprek over hebben.

  2. In Caelo, it is great to read your blog. As an expatriate living in NL, I really enjoy a site where I can find more about the Faith in NL, one which is orthodox but also questions and challenges. Your blog on affirmative orthodoxy is spot on – could not agree more. All Catholic Christians need to learn our faith, strengthen our relationship with Jesus, strive for holiness every day and then be prepared to give a defense of the hope that is within us – with love and charity. (see 1 Peter 3:15) I find praying for those whom I am in discussion with (or for the priest who does not always worship or preach in accord with the Magisterium) is most helpful to keep me from becoming bitter, negative or argumentative. Keep up the great work.

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