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Noisy Gongs and Clashing Cymbals

To what shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another,
'We piped to you, and you did not dance;
we wailed and you did not weep.'
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
Luke 7:31-35, Gospel for the Wednesday of the 24th Week of the Year

In which the Pilgrim tries to quiet his heart of all the noise of criticism and complaint against Mother Church and learn to dwell in silence and love listening only for the Voice of God.

The market place is as noisy as ever with the same complaints, and sadly, just as in Jesus' time, the complaints come loudest from us, the People of God. Rather than live as one Body with Many parts, as St Paul exhorted (1 Cor 12:12-31), some parts decry the loss of majesty and splendor in the Liturgy, others wail at any sign of "regression" to pre-Vatican II Catholicism; there are voices who rail that the Church does not do enough to serve humanity, and those voices to pipe in to say the Church meddles too much in the affairs of men; listen to those who complain that the Church has grown to worldly and the answering choir who sings that the Church is too removed, 'out of it,' and distant. And these voices are me and you, and our neighbor in the pew. Jesus is right to call us out as immature children, and Saint Paul doesn't shy from telling us as it is either: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child." (1 Cor 13:11) If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...

Certainly, there have been plenty of saints who have been critical of laxity in virtue within the monasteries, rectories, bishop's palaces and the Vatican, AND the laity—as I've mentioned before, some of those saints are worthy of particular imitation—and the LORD himself was critical of the Temple establishment and the keepers of the faith of Israel. So what kind of criticism is Jesus teaching against here. St Paul's letter to the Corinthians is the key: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor 13:1) Without love, even if the particular criticism happens to be true, it will ring false.

The Perpetual Critics
We sometimes can be tempted to say, "Well, I criticize the Church because I love her." But this is a dangerous phrase. Anytime we have such a thought, we should consider if this is a true, abiding, virtuous love that comes from the grace of God, or if the love that we speak of here is self-love. It is not that we truly love the Church as she is, we love ourselves and thus want the Church to conform to our vision of how she should be, not allowing ourselves to be transformed by God's promised and lasting love for us that he shows us through his Church on Earth and transforms us into those who love with holy love by her sacraments.

In St Bernard of Clairvaux's The Steps of Pride and Humility, St Bernard paints a series of portraits, caricatures truly, of monks who are by slow and deadly degrees slipping down the ladder of pride that leads into the pit. He lists the Fifth Degree of Pride as Eccentricity, doing things differently to be noticed. One of the frightening parts of this is that the behaviors Bernard describes seem like they should positive ones—the monk described fasts more than the others, keeps longer vigils, engages in private prayer more frequently. Be he does this "not to be, but to be seen to be better than [his brothers]. His effort is not to lead a better life but visibly to surpass others, so that he may be able to say, I am not as the rest of men. (Luke 18:11)" And that's his downfall. One of the monk's most obnoxious of actions is
When the vigil is over, and the other monks are resting in the cloister, he alone lingers in the oratory. He coughs and spits, and the ears of those sitting outside are filled with the sighs and groans from his corner. By his silly and singular action he has established a high reputation with his more simple brethren, who quite approve what they, see of his doings, though they do not detect their motive, and, by the commendation which they bestow on him, they aid and abet the wretched man's mistake. 
So to it is with many critics of the Church; what they call for may seem good, calling for more or less of one practice or another, greater devotions or fewer "out-dated" practices, but for many of us who make such criticisms, we are doing it in the hopes that people notice our supposed holiness. We are groaning and sighing, coughing and spitting to earn commendations and approval. And all the meantime as we try to stand in the spotlight scrubbing at the Church, our souls are left neglected to tarnish. The focus of our prayers and meditations should not be to change the Church, but prayer that we learn to love her.

As we learn to truly love, we'll learn patience and kindness, drive out rudeness and arrogance. Our love will not insist upon its own way or be irritable or resentful. We will come to reject rejoicing at the chance to point out in the wrong within the People of God and learn to rejoice when we see greater holiness in our Brothers and Sisters. We will come to believe all things, bear all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

And with that love, our voices declaring prophecies of criticism will soften (for our knowledge is imperfect and so our prophecy imperfect), our tongues will cease and fall into silence. And in that silence, suddenly everything will become clear. When we stop looking for blemishes in the mirror, we'll look past it and find ourselves face-to-face with God, gazing on us as Father on His child, or a lover to His Bride. Let us begin, with God's grace, to dwell in that silence and look with eyes that love with all our heart, and all our strength and all our soul. Amen


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