Summoning Our Inner St. Paul

The very courageous sixty-one-year-old Catholic Bishop Shao of Wenzhou, China, was recently arrested again. His crime? Specific charges are not often forthcoming in China, but the arrest doubtlessly stems from his refusal to join the Patriotic Association, a darkly comedic euphemism for the portion of the Catholic Church in China that is controlled by the Communist Party. Bishop Shao was told by the arresting authorities to bring clothes for every season, an indication that, this time, hes in for the long haul.

My views of such events are colored, as are everyones, by the events of my own journey. It goes without saying that the things we experience in our youth influence us deeply throughout our lives, especially when they shape our view of realityin particular, our impressions of human nature.

Early in the 1970s, I was twenty-something and working in a metal fabrication job-shop. The company had about 100 employees and I was in charge of quality control, which I mention only to demonstrate that I was not at the very bottom rung of the ladder in terms of influence within the company.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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I began to get daily headaches, sometimes nausea, and seriously dark rings under my eyes. I soon suspected that it was the result of the air that I was breathing. After all, the company ran a gasoline-powered forklift indoors. I know, right?! (Remember leaded gas?!) In addition to that, the heating system was leaking exhaust and the welders were not properly ventilated, if at all.

As my position in quality control put me in frequent contact with nearly every employee in the company, I began to inquire about the well-being of others: Were they getting headaches? Nausea? I could see the dark lines under the eyes of many.

In a short time, I had discovered at least half a dozen coworkers who reported having headaches daily and one that admitted to throwing up at work every day. In each case, I invited them to join me to report to the management of the company the terrible things we were experiencing. None of them would have anything to do with it. They feared losing their jobs. At one and the same time, I was filled with admiration and disgust for them.

Here were people dedicated to family, willing to endure pain daily to provide a living for them. Admirable. And yet, they were cowardly in the face of sharing an obvious truth with their employer. Their thinking was clouded by an extreme near-future-favorable-outcome bias. Breathing carbon monoxide long-term will put you in an early gravewhere does that leave the family?

And so it was that I approached management and got their predictable answer: Youre the only one having a problem. Maybe the muffler on your car is leaking. End of discussion.

I went to the local medical clinic and got a blood test for carbon monoxide. The young intern that I saw asked if I was a smoker. I was not. He said, Your carbon monoxide blood level exceeds that of a chain-smoker. You should sue your employer for making you retarded.

Armed with this scientific information, I returned to the companys general manager, presented the evidence, informed him that my car muffler did not leak, and said that I would be resigning if nothing was done to correct the situation.

When a small companys sole quality enforcer goes missing, everyone immediately notices. Soon after my resignation, one of my former coworkers blew the whistle on the polluted air situation to the state authorities who, in turn, performed an audit of the companys air. By government dictate, the forklift was converted to clean-burning propane, the welders were properly ventilated, and the heating system was repaired.

I was briefly unemployed and ten IQ points dumber, but I was much wiser for my years. I had seen a human tendency that could not be unseen: cowardicethat social tendency to hide behind the cover and comfort of the hive, even when it harms us. Everything in life has a balance point. We have often heard decried the error of rugged individualism, and justly so; we are the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saintswere in this together. But the extremes of any given thing often begin to resemble each other.

In this case, one of the people who refused to join voicesto treat management as fellow human beingsplayed the rugged individual by ratting out their employer to the larger hive: the state. Cowardly, but I doubt that he or she thought it to be so.

And so it goes. The them-against-us mentality of the hive is bad for the bee; bad for the hive. When everyone is going along to get along, no one really gets along. Cowardice is the beginning of the end for all things good. As often as not, various forms of collective bargaining and the mindset that drives them smother individuality, smother courage. We become just a number by making ourselves just a number.

No amount of goodwill serves any use for the coward. As evidenced by the Twelve Apostles, faith, hope, and love lay dormant until the vigor of the Holy Spirit struck them on Pentecost. Fortitude is the gas that makes all potential good come to pass.

I think that perhaps we tend to mistake boldness for courage. Satan is bold. But true courage displayed is always a loving act, never a ratting out, never about one-upmanship, and certainly not about ganging up. And yet, real courage, when necessarily so, is apostolically bold: the stuff of martyrs.

The days for martyrdom are fast upon us, an era wherein many great saints will be made, but only the courageousnot the fence sitters, nor the hive dwellerswill pass muster. It was the hive that crucified Christ. It was the dutiful members of that hive who boldly sacrificed everything but themselves, that ratted out Christ and His apostles and counted it a duty done.

Near-future-favorable-outcome bias is of no use in a world where we have already watched one social safety net after another melt before our eyes. Im not talking here about state-devised safety nets. Civil solutions to social dissolution are always, at best, temporary or pretentious, and most of those in existence are in the throws of corruption. The social safety nets that really matter, of course, are the family, the neighborhood, the community, and the Church, all of which are in a current state of serious dissolution.

Civil solutions to social dissolution are always, at best, temporary or pretentious, and most of those in existence are in the throws of corruption. Tweet This

Can we expect the hive dwellers in the Vatican to take exception to the communists arrest of Bishop Shao? Though one cannot know with certainty the wording of secret agreements the Vatican has made with the CCP, Pope Francis actions have demonstrated what is said to be the case: that any communication between the Vatican and the Church in China will honor the CCPs insistence that it be done through the Patriotic Association.

The Francis pontificate is bold, but courage seems in short supply; for courage is congruent with maturity, a quality in short supply everywhere we look. In fact, it seems likely that Bishop Shaos arrest was, at least in part, precipitated by competitive pressure from his fellow bishops, members of the Patriotic Association, who usurp his apostolic position simply because they can do so with impunity. Who will punish them. Rome?

I am reminded of the biblical account of the disagreement between Sts. Peter and Paul concerning the need for the circumcision of Gentiles, ritual purity, etc. There were some heated debates. Paul was courageous. He had to take Peter aside and instruct him concerning theological concerns. Peter was strong, strong enough to be meekspiritually mature enough to lead by learning.

Courage is never shallow. It welcomes new insight, and it is focused on truth for truths sake. Cowardice is always and everywhere couched in convention. Courage is the attribute of an individual; cowardice, the very essence of the hive. As such, the core of cowardice is intellectual sloth. Cowards are not seekers in any realm.

I greatly appreciated the thoughtful approach of Stephen Hildebrand in his recent article, Mercy and Truth in Fiducia Supplicans. I would only add that what Pope Francis needs nowand, therefore, what the Church needs nowis the strength, the maturity, to be meek. If we are to pray for the pope, let it be for this gift, this maturity, which seems, by all accounts, to be sorely lacking.

Let us all discover our inner St. Paul and call out the errors we see, kindly but directly. Theres a bit of St. John the Baptist seething in each of our souls waiting to be unleashed on our contemporary, proverbial, earthly princes. By our Baptism and Confirmation, we were anointed prophets: Gods ambassadors who need to correct the modern-day Scribes and Phariseesto be another Christ, to express the truths Christ has imprinted on our souls. It is our duty, a kindness to the errant, the hive keepers, a kindness to the bees. Christ despises the hive, loves the bees.

We are a spiritually, intellectually lazy generation, products of the hive. The change needed must come from the pews because it wont be coming from the chancery any time soon. Great change is always grassroots in origin.

Let us pray, along with G.K. Chesterton,

Burn from my brain and from my breast
Sloth, and the cowardice that clings,
And stiffens and the souls arrest:
And feed my brain with better things.

  • Jerome German is a retired manufacturing engineer, husband, father of eleven, and grandfather of a multitude. He contributes articles to Crisis Magazine and Catholic Stand.
    A singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he has recently (under the pseudonym Jerome Linus) taken up the long-overdue task of recording and publishing songs that he has been writing for most of his life. His first effort, In God We Trust, hit stores worldwide on January 12.

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