Delighting in the Faults of Others
by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Herald"
Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
A common human weakness and, at times, a serious spiritual disorder, is an inclination to delight in the faults and failures of others. It is a tendency that can be relatively harmless in practice, or lead to profound evil.
Delighting in the faults of others is often the stuff of comedy. Old timers, before the television age, listening to the radio on Saturday nights, anticipated the collapse of Fibber Magee's closet and laughed every time. The slapstick trips and troubles of Vaudeville comedians delighted audiences, In biographies, the foibles and deficiencies of great men are identified sometimes with a kind of glee. Winston Churchill, for example, was said to pout like a spoiled child in the presence of his servants when he did not get his way. Gen. Douglas MacArthur spent hours in front of the mirror preparing his speeches. In addition to his tendency for mass murder, Mao Tsetung had a very bad case of halitosis.
But fixation on the faults and failures of others often results in true violations of the Eighth Commandment through revelation of "natural secrets" that, in justice, ought to remain secret. Certainly, grossly immoral behavior ought to disqualify a person for leadership (although in our day such behavior is often rewarded with an increase in popularity - recall the upward spikes in President Clinton's approval ratings with every sordid revelation). Newspaper and tabloid editors send reporters and detectives to stake out celebrities with the purpose of scooping "inside stories." Apparently readers have an insatiable appetite for relishing the foibles and failures of the icons of pop culture.
But most would agree there ought to be at least an informal statute of limitations on the revelation of sins. The sins of a person's youth, for example, should generally remain secret (except perhaps during family gatherings when relatives delight in the usually benign "naughty little kid" stories). The inviolable seal of confession honors, in Church teaching, man's flawed character by protecting his "natural secrets." A men - even a sinful man struggling to be virtuous - has a right to a good reputation. As Christians, we ought to respect the legitimate privacy of individuals. We can even afford, when there is doubt, to be patient. Heeding Christ's command that only those without sins be the first to cast stones (cf. Jn 8:7), we trust that the Last Judgment will be the time of definitive justice when all that is hidden will be revealed and all secrets will come to light. (cf. Lk 8:17)
Of course, those in positions of authority certainly have an obligation to avoid scandalous behavior. Christ warns, "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin." (Lk 17:1-2) But the desire to know relatively minor faults may result in violations of the Fourth Commandment by destroying the piety and honor due those in legitimate authority. The argument may be: Why obey the precepts of anyone so flawed as to have sinned in moments of weakness? Hence, adolescents may hold their parents or teachers in contempt for failures and disregard their legitimate authority. Employees as well as priests and religious would do well to be aware of the same adolescent pattern in the workplace or in the Church.
In this week's Gospel, Christ calls His Twelve Apostles. They were truly ordinary men destined to rule the Church after His ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit. However, we know the rest of the story. If we are prone to delight in their failures, the Gospels do not disappoint. James and John will try to manipulate for the favor of Christ to gain rank in His divine kingship; Peter, after boldly promising to give his life for the Lord, denies Christ three times; all of the Apostles abandon Him (with only John returning to the foot of the cross) during His passion. A skeptic could find many reasons to delight in the failures of the Apostles and thus to dismiss their apostolic message.
Too much focus on the failures of the Apostles, however, overlooks important facts. Despite their weaknesses, ten of the Apostles would die in witness to Christ; and, one, John, would succumb to natural causes after a lifetime of caring for the Blessed Mother. Only Judas would be the subject of this dreadful portent: "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." (Mt 26:24)
The Apostles who carried on the work of Christ after Pentecost were, despite their failings, holy and good men. If we find ourselves bemused with their foibles and failings, we dare not be distracted from their final victory in Christ. Sanctity is possible in God's grace even after profound failure. Christ does not call saints to carry on His work in the Church. Christ calls sinners and gives all of us the grace to become saints in His service.
Today, as we gaze upon the landscape of the church in the modern world, we are called to love as Christ taught us. If there is an unholy tug to delight in the failures of the successors of the Apostles (and in this Internet age, there is plenty to document), St. Paul corrects. He admonishes, "Love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth." (Cor 12:6)
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