Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Constructive criticism

Several years before his death, Pope John Paul II made a point out of reminding Catholics that there is room for constructive criticism in the Church. His words were lost on some however. Among those who reject this idea are those who seek to ingratiate themselves with their pastor. For such people, their pastor can do no wrong. Even if he's molesting innocent children or promoting dissent from Church teaching. In their zeal to defend and shield their pastor from any criticism (no matter how constructive or charitably put), these Catholics succumb to a prejudice which obscures objective judgment and which greatly reduces their intellectual horizon. To put it simply, such people become narrow-minded in an eminent sense.

Very often haughtiness is a factor in the rejection of constructive criticism. The haughty person (or the group which believes itself to be "above any criticism") will, in the words of Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand, "find it intolerable to feel dependent on other persons, to serve others, to subordinate himself to an alien will, and above all, to suffer ever so slight a humiliation. He is unable to admit before others of having been in the wrong, even if he knows it in his heart; much less could he prevail on himself to ask anybody's forgiveness. He is stricken with a crabbed anxiousness about preserving his dignity..."

This afternoon, a woman left a comment at this website (which I have rejected because of its inappropriate tone and tenor), in which she chides me for simply making an observation: namely, that I didn't experience Ste. Marie's Parish in Manchester to be welcoming: http://lasalettejourney.blogspot.com/2006/01/welcoming-parish.html

My post must have struck a nerve since a number of Catholics left positive comments at this Blog and others emailed me with their own stories and experiences with discrimination. Almost all of these Catholics believe that they were discriminated against because of their fidelity to Magisterial teaching.

But getting back to that woman who left a comment this afternoon. Rather than objectively considering the points I raised in my post (such as repeated phone calls to the parish just to procure a parish registration form, messages left for the pastor and his associate which were never answered, phone calls which were never returned, and several visits to the parish office) - not to mention the fact that I filled out the registration form (which took 2 1/2 months to procure) and indicated my desire to volunteer at the Church in any capacity and no one ever got back to me - this woman writes, "If you have ever been a member of a 12 step program or have gotten any sort of counseling, one of the very first things someone learns is that change can only come from changing oneself. You can ONLY change *your* behaviors----so perhaps you need to be the 'bigger' person and take that step? Attend Mass and introduce yourself...."

As one who doesn't drink, I have no personal experience of a "12 step program." Nor have I ever "gotten any sort of counseling." Since the woman in question appears to have such firsthand experience with these matters, I will not question her knowledge of what they entail or what "someone learns" from them. However, I do attend Mass and I have tried - and once again repeatedly - to introduce myself. I know when I'm not welcome. Apparently the Catholics who have so graciously shared their stories with me also realize when they are not welcome. At a certain point, one has to cease dismissing such stories as "anecdotal evidence" and to open up to constructive criticism.

Without such an openness to constructive criticism, we will never possess a readiness to change. And without a readiness to change, we will never grow in holiness. Let's all agree to put on the new man in Christ Jesus and put away all childish and cramped attitudes. And while we're at it, let's welcome the "stranger." We may just be entertaining an angel....or a future friend!

Paul Anthony Melanson


Anonymous said...

What I find to be peculiar is that Fr. Montminy had allowed a link to the Bishop Accountability.org website to be posted at the St. Marie Parish website for some time (it has recently been taken off the site).

Why is it that Fr. Montminy believes Bishops should be held accountable for their behavior but that he and his parish staff should not be?

Isn't that hypocritical? It smacks of pharisaism to me. One standard for others and another for me just doesn't wash.

Anonymous said...

I think people often see only what they want to see and disregard constructive criticism because it makes them uncomfortable.

Fr. Montminy ignored what you wrote (that you had left numerous messages for him and his staff and visited the parish office in person) and wrote, "Instead of leaving a message that he has called on us "five times" he instead uses this medium to complain."

I didn't view your post as an attempt to "complain" at all. You were simply making an observation about the lack of a welcoming atmosphere at Ste Marie's Parish.

And what's wrong with "this medium"? After all, Fr. Montminy was endorsing BishopAccountability.org which uses the same "medium" to hold Bishops accountable.

Or does Fr. Montminy believe that accountability is only for others and that he and his parish staff are immune from such accountability?

Anonymous said...

To all who visit this Blog:

Paul Melanson is a fine Catholic layman who has been defending Magisterial teaching for many years. I'm sure there are a few parishioners at St. Marie's parish who would like to portray him as a disgruntled layman who has an axe to grind.

But this is easily disproven. For Paul wrote an excellent article calling on Catholics in New Hampshire to take a stand with Fr. Montminy against abortifacient drugs: http://www.faithfulvoice.com/highdose.htm

And this article was written long after he was rebuffed by the powers that be at St. Marie's. In other words, Paul doesn't hold a grudge. Even when he is treated like an outsider and rejected. I admire that (and many other qualities) in Paul.

Now, a woman who has identified herself as a parishioner of St. Marie's, has attempted to leave another argumentative comment at this site in which she accuses Paul of not having "enough fortitude" to publish her earlier hate-filled comment in its entirety. I have actually read her inappropriate comments and I can see why Paul refused to publish them.

This woman insists that St. Marie's is "orthodox." Well, let's pray that it is. However, the parish continues to promote centering prayer through its Joseph House. And the Vatican has issued warnings regarding many of the elements found within centering prayer.

She also insists that St. Marie's is "welcoming." Perhaps the parish only welcomes a certain type of person? Maybe Catholics faithful to the Vatican who actually witness to their faith are not welcome? Isn't that a possibility? I've seen this myself at other parishes.

It is easy, as Paul has said, to simply dismiss constructive criticism. It requires humility to perform an examination of conscience.

Perhaps this woman is just upset because Paul has challenged the status quo? Perhaps she has such an abiding hatred for him because he rightfully said that there are serious concerns over centering prayer?

Whatever the case, hatred should have no place in a Christian's life. As Pope Benedict XVI has just reminded us: Deus caritas est. God is love.

Love doesn't reject truth. Love doesn't reject constructive criticism. Love doesn't discriminate. See 1 Corinthians 13.

Paul hasn't posted his comments to "retaliate." He has already addressed this point. But he has the right - and perhaps the duty as a baptized Catholic - to speak out against injustice and falsehood.

This he does always because the Holy Spirit has filled him with His gift of Fortitude.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked that anyone would be upset about paul's article. Jesus told us in Matthew 25: 38-40, "When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'

And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

When we refuse to welcome the stranger, we are refusing to welcome Jesus. He said so.

This is not controversial. Unless of course you aren't living it.

Anonymous said...

I like this quote: "If you have ever been a member of a 12 step program or have gotten any sort of counseling, one of the very first things someone learns is that change can only come from changing oneself. You can ONLY change *your* behaviors----so perhaps you need to be the 'bigger' person and take that step? Attend Mass and introduce yourself...."

Does this apply to Father Montminy? Maybe he should change his behaviors and introduce himself to newcomers at Saint Marie's?

Jesus said the Pharisees put heavy burdens on other people's backs but refused to lift a finger to help them. In other words, they imposed standards which they themselves refused to live up to.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!

Anonymous said...

I haven't found Ste. Marie's Parish to be welcoming either. When my son and I saw that the parish wasn't making any effort to welcome us, I decided to attend a Senior dinner which had been mentioned at Mass.

My son Paul took me (after obtaining permission first) because he also wanted to meet the pastor and we had been told that he would be present at this dinner. This even though Fr. Montminy and his associate had not made any effort to reach out to us whatsoever or to return phone calls.

We sat with two couples and these lay people were just lovely. We enjoyed conversing with them and they seemed to enjoy speaking with us.

At one point during the evening, Fr. Montminy walked up to the table where we were sitting and one of the women at our table tried to introduce Paul and I to Fr. Montminy. She said, "Father, I'd like you to meet someone. This is Mrs. Melanson. She and her son are new parishioners."

There was an awkward silence and as he turned to walk away, Fr. Montminy smiled weakly - as if it were a burden to do so - and said, "Hello" as he left the table.

Paul and I were very embarassed as was the woman who had tried to introduce us. I had the sense that she was sorry she had even tried to introduce us to Fr. Montminy.

Needless to say, I did not feel welcome at all. And as a 74 year old woman who has travelled the world and belonged to many parishes (my husband was career military), I have never felt unwelcome until I tried to register at Ste. Marie's.

It costs nothing to smile at another person. Nor does it cost us anything to say "welcome." I am very disappointed at the lack of charity we encountered at Ste. Marie's.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully, there ARE parishes which strive to embrace Gospel values and which welcome the stranger. St. Marie's may not be a welcoming parish, but there are faith communities which do welcome new parishioners and which respect the dignity of persons.

My heart goes out to your mother especially. The elderly should be treated with more respect and love. I hope that when those who rejected you and your mother reach her age they are treated with more love and compassion than they have shown.

Cleghornboy said...

Thank you Cheryl. Lumen Gentium 14 of Vatican II teaches us that, "All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail, moreover, to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged."

All of us have a serious obligation to treat others as we would have them treat us. When we treat others as if they possess no dignity, then we treat Jesus in the same way.

A sobering thought.

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