The Internet and mainstream media have been set ablaze with the latest outrage that seems to be manufactured every five minutes. Each side rushes to judgment and paints the other group as the villain. Meanwhile supporters canonize the person or persons they agree with and the vitriol reaches an intensity that should startle every person of goodwill. Round-and-round it goes, this cycle of anger in our culture and even within the Church.
This piece is not specifically about the Covington Catholic controversy. Nor will I make any judgments about what transpired. The aim of this piece is to offer an alternative tactic that goes back to Our Lord Himself, but that is applicable in an age when any one of us could become the topic of a social media frenzy should a video be taken of us that could provide an ambiguous depiction of us that can easily be taken out of context or manipulated to appease the angry masses.
Our careers could be ruined, our families and friends threatened, and we could become the target of the social media mob if we are not careful. If you think I’m overreacting, keep in mind that I happen to pray regularly at the Planned Parenthood where a teenager was assaulted during a 40 Days for Life campaign that made national news. A town of 90,000 people. That video became viral in a matter of minutes and people were ready to draw and quarter those involved depending on what political side they happened to be on. This is what it is like to live an an age of never-ending digital consumption and intentionally manufactured outrage. Someone is always watching, even when we don’t think that is the case.
There are some situations during which we can’t avoid confrontation. However, while I was at the March for Life, I witnessed and exercised an approach that will help us to avoid becoming social media fodder in the future. It’s how Our Lord responded to similar situations that arose during His ministry and Passion. It is one we seldom want to use because we all desire tangible justice.
In a perfect world that would be what happens, but we live in a Fallen world where injustice and ignorance are common. In reality there are times when we have to let hatred, insults, attacks, and outright bigotry wash over us and endure it as Our Lord did during His Passion. We cannot always respond. We have to turn the other cheek. Sometimes silence is the only option.
I spent quite a bit of the March for Life walking next to a group of seminarians. This gave me a vantage point that I’ve never experienced at the March before and it was fitting since my own cousin entered seminary in Washington, DC back in August. In fact, I was able to catch up with him at the very end of the March before I caught my bus back home. As I was walking alongside these seminarians, we came upon a group of fundamentalist counter-protesters and not the kind you may be expecting.
They came with their anti-Catholic bigotry in tow and proceeded to mock and deride this group of seminarians and yell anti-Catholic epithets at them. They were all wearing cassocks, so they were much more conspicuous than myself, but given that the vast majority of attendees were Catholic, their comments would have been targeted at most of us. They accused these seminarians of essentially dressing in drag because of their cassocks. The cassock, which is a sign of true masculinity.
These seminarians were almost all 10-15 years younger than I am. They silently walked by with a peaceful strength that I greatly admired. My first response to the taunts was anger. I felt it flash inside of me, but it very quickly turned to sadness. I was sad for their ignorance. I was sad that they had no idea what they were saying and that they were targeting men who have chosen to lay down their lives for the same Jesus Christ this group claimed to follow.
This group carried signs about “Jesus waterboarding” people while these young men showed that they are in training to become alter Christus in a world that desperately needs them. They did not fall for the Enemy’s snare and walked silently on by. They did the same thing when we encountered more of this group along the March route.
You did not hear about these young men on social media or on the nightly news. They chose the better path. Rather than engage a group that was never going to be open to reasoned discourse, they chose silence instead. They chose silence in an age when silence is in short supply. It could not have been easy for any of them. It wasn’t easy for me as their sister in Christ witnessing their treatment or listening to the attacks on my own Catholic Faith.
It was a glimpse into what our seminarians and priests face in public. This has always been an aspect of being a priest, but there is little doubt that it is even more difficult in this age of never-ending scandal. It is also a reminder of what we all agreed to through our Baptism and what we agree to every Easter when we renew our baptismal promises.
Being a Christian has never been easy. There are no promises of peace, comfort, or popularity. Christ tells us that we will be persecuted and hated because we follow Him. We naturally want to fight back, but there are times when we cannot fight back. All we can do is silently endure the hatred the same way Our Lord did. Why?
If we respond imprudently then we will find ourselves undermining our own mission. We will find ourselves all over social media and the 24-hour news cycle in an age when we do not need to give anymore anti-Catholic ammunition to those who hate us. Silence isn’t easy when people yell vile insults at us, but it is not anymore than what Our Lord endured for us. In fact, it’s much less. We can offer it up to Him and unite it to His suffering. Our suffering is never wasted.
We can’t take back something we do in anger that is recorded and uploaded to the cycle of consumption that plagues social media. It is true that even our silence can be misinterpreted or misrepresented, but our silence is much less likely to lead to a firestorm. No videos surfaced of these young men I walked alongside or any of the rest of us who silently walked by and endured the horrible insults and lies being hurled at us.
Prudence is a virtue we all struggle to cultivate. A sense of justice roused by anger is easy, but there is a danger of relying too heavily on justice if it is not properly informed by prudence, charity, and mercy. I could have gotten angry and yelled back at these people, but it would have accomplished nothing. They were not there with open hearts and my anger more than likely would close me off to true charity because my own ability to reason in that situation was impaired by the passion of anger. We cannot love properly if our own thinking is clouded by anger.
Very few of us can respond in charity when a rush of anger comes over us. It’s why we must foster the habit of prudence first so we can temper that passion quickly and truly discern the proper course of action. Prudence also helps us avoid jumping to conclusions, which is something that is sorely lacking whenever social media is on fire with the latest controversy.
More than anything, charity must inform all of our decisions. In this case, part of willing their good was walking away and leaving them to prayer. The proper course was silence. These young men knew it and I knew it. Their witness reminded me of a very important part of the Christian life: enduring persecution.
In an age of anger and social media mobs, we must learn to turn the other cheek. We never know who is watching or recording us. When we are at an event like the March for Life or praying at Planned Parenthood or any other event where our Catholic Faith is front and center, we must exercise prudence and restraint when we are confronted with the anger of those who do not agree with us and those who hate us. Emotions are already running high in those situations, which means that we can’t usually change the viewpoint of someone who is irrationally screaming or yelling at us.
Standing fast in humble silence or walking by without saying a word speaks volumes and it allows us to minimize unnecessary damage to our mission. Turning the other cheek is not to ignore injustice, rather, it is a show of strength that disarms those who hate us in a powerful way. It’s an approach we must use more often in this digital age and it is Our Lord Himself who shows us how.