I am writing this in haste before attending to some long-neglected chores. Forgive the hasty tone of this rant. Earlier today I received an email containing a veiled accusation of disloyalty to the Church, or perhaps heretical apostasy; the author was not very clear. It was a rather stupid observation that went more or less like this: Eve “discerned” before being fooled by the devil therefore, Carlos, be very careful when reading about Scripture and Tradition because you may end up like Eve. That was the gist, more or less.
I am writing about that unsolicited advice because it reveals an underlying problem of envy — the message was in reference to my last article Exempla Trahunt by the way.
Until I became Catholic, I have never authored a single line in my life other than the usual papers for school or simple reports for my employers. None of it had the slightest importance nor it required a particular talent. A few years into my Catholic life, “they asked for a paper” and I did my best to tell the story of my conversion. Those pages still remain untranslated, in Spanish. From that moment on I started to notice this rara creatura called ‘the cradle Catholic’ — I have nothing against cradle Catholics, I must clarify — and I also notice that some of them seem to have a problem with my incipient writing, even with my conversion! and the conversion of some famous men: Chesterton, Scott Hahn, Muggeridge …
In many cases I was the object of their venom, gossipy tongues, veiled accusations of being “a mole” of some nefarious group. I lost count of the number of times I heard words like: “I have sixteen years of Catholic education!” or “I studied with the Sisters of This-and-that” and other similar proud ejaculations. The one that took the cake was this, so specially stupid: “I was an altar boy!” — the poor man was trying to assert his superior knowledge of theology to prove that one could shack up and even father children out of wedlock and still be Catholic. Having been an altar boy was obviously a bigger card than being baptized at age 46 (like me!) Oh, well!
Eventually it dawned on me that there was a kind of unspoken competition going on. That was when I got acquainted with the vice of invidia clericalis. Fr John Jay Hughes mentions that sin in a biographical article he wrote about St Jean-Marie Vianney:
There were complaints to the bishop about Vianney’s excessive severity. There were false charges that he was the father of a recently born illegitimate child in Ars, and a whispering campaign from fellow priests based on little more than dislike of a colleague who was “different.” For much of his priestly life, Vianney suffered from what has been called throughout Christian history invidia clericalis, clerical envy. It’s no wonder, then, that he said at one point: “I do not like being a parish priest, but I very much like being a priest because I can say Mass.”
I also observed and learned about the wicked darts that Catholic priests — and Catholics in general — inflict on each other, something that modern communications and today’s sad state of our Church have exposed many times and has resulted in the loss of many souls. Please read Goodbye, Good Men by Michael Rose if you need any details.
Competition can be good in commerce, production of useful goods, and the like but it is not something Jesus particularly likes.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ — cf. Mark 9:33-37
When I was eight years old my friends and I used to play games of competition. Little boys like to compete at that age. Once someone proposed that we all pee on the fresh snow, the winner of the contest would be the one who could reach farther than the others. Instinctively, I found that competition shameful and I did not participate. My guardian angel must have touched my thoughts. What I learned that day, more than five decades ago, is that competition could move a person to have higher aspirations and achievements but it could also be a vice of character, resulting from one having to constantly assert oneself over others in a shameful, never ending pissing contest.
Back to my Catholic days, once I was invited to give a talk in a certain Catholic conference. When I presented the text of the talk for the approval of the conference’s director, he read it and returned it to me (not nicely) with this words, that I quote verbatim: “How can I compete with that!” — With that phrase the poor man exposed his own feelings of inadequacy. He revealed the sad fact that in his own heart he considered himself a loser. Sincerely, I don’t disagree with him on that but pray that he will be transformed one day. I pray that many others like him that I have found along the way read the whole chapter four of the Letter to the Ephesians, especially where St Paul says:
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24
The message I received today from a practicing Catholic, a successful man, carries the same connotations that shocked me when the director chastised me for my coming up with something better than his boorish repetition of commonplace phrases that have no effect on those hearing other that move them to take a nap.
I have some sincere question to ask those “Catholic personalities” that still take the time to malign me with such perseverance. See my friends: today my lunch consisted on a piece of bread and a cup of instant coffee, that was also yesterday’s lunch more or less. Available cash amounts to less than $10 US, my sneakers have to be constantly fixed because they keep falling apart and I can’t afford even the cheapest model. I do not own a home, I do not have a wife, I do not have a job or a career for that matter. The computer I am using to write this complaint was purchased through the generous donation of a reader I never met in person, (thanks, Other Joe!) Now, gentlemen: you have businesses, careers, hefty salaries, you eat tasty things every day, your savings are there for a rainy day or the arrival of your old age, you own a home or two, a car or two, nice clothes, you had parents who sent you to nice schools … why in the devil’s Hades do you envy me? Are you testing God? Are you afraid of being saints? What’s wrong with you?
Wanna compete? What about competing about who will be poor and homeless the fastest? The race is on for holy poverty. Attaboys!