The Personalist Project

Some months back, at the height of Presidential election season, I wrote a post castigating Mark Shea for sneering and caricaturing his opponents in debate. I find his habitual tone so off-putting that I practically never read his articles, even though they're often linked by mutual friends at facebook. I read a few lines of his critique of Lila Rose and then clicked away in annoyance. Impossible to engage someone simultaneously that obtuse and that self-satisfied.

Today, I have a very different impression of the man—one that endears him to me and makes me grateful that such as he lives and breaths in the Catholic blogosphere.

He has penned a penitent post of rare and precious humility. I don't believe I've ever seen its like. Let it serve as a witness: The man is a true Christian. He means it. He means to walk the walk, not just preach it to others. Let it serve as an example, too, of a fundamental truth in interpersonal relations: Acknowledging our faults and repenting them sincerely opens the door to love and communion. It is the very opposite of the self-assurance that repels.

Here's another thing about persons and wrongdoing: if we want to undo the damage we've caused by our bad actions and inactions—we have to take on pain. There's no way out but through. When I read Mark's post, that's among the things I'm thinking. He saw the pain wave coming, and rather than throwing up the defenses articulate minds are so good at devising for themselves, he breasted it, letting it wash over him and toss him around, trusting himself to God's infinite mercy. Which isn't easy.

As someone who's more than once had to undergo bitter humiliations and disillusionments myself, I am sympathizing profoundly with the pain and confusion he must be in today, while at the same time, I'm cheering him on: "Hoorah! Good for you! You'll get through it! And you'll be much nicer afterwards!" And then I'm thinking with a light and happy heart: "Another victory for the Lamb." These are little foretastes of heaven.

I often think of Eustace and the Lion at the pool in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace deperately and hopelessly trying to scratch off his dragon skin, until the Lion said, "Shall I do it?" and held out a terrible claw.

Real mercies hurt.

Comments (3)

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#1, Jun 5, 2013 12:17am

I have a deep and abiding fondness for Mark, whose blog I began reading almost 9 years ago when he was less acerbic and more obviously joy-filled, and whose behind-the-scenes generousity and kindness I have both benefited from and witnessed extended to others over the years. 

Mark's humility is one of his more endearing traits, and this is far from the first public mea culpa he's extended. What makes this one different (and why it is so well suited for discussion in this arena) is that Mark is, for the first time, admitting to something deeper than mere 'temper' or 'lack of restraint'. Instead he sees in himself the same temptation to reduce persons to objects, to make them a means to an end, that he has often (and rightly) criticized in others. I hope that this conversion of heart leads to commitment to some specific changes, to provide a hedge against this very common temptation and an inspiration to his readers. 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jun 6, 2013 9:24am

It's true that professional opinion makers are prone to a particular kind of person-reduction. If you have to produce a short and snappy column at regular intervals, caricatures and straw men make the job much easier. And then, there's another thing: to survive in the job, you have to develop a thick skin. You get so much "negative feedback" that to avoid being too wounded by it, you may end up dismissing all critics as whiners, for example. So it's harder to notice when you're off mark.

And so, over time, someone who starts out by dedicating himself to Truth, gradually loses his center. The interior organ that had attuned him to reality and right gets silenced. Growing obtusenss is disguised with acquired cleverness.

It's an occupational hazard. Falling into it is normal. Recognizing it is rare. People shrink from pain and effort.

I agree with you that this is more than an apology. It is evidence of a conversion of heart. And deep moral seriousness.

Sam Roeble

#3, Jun 12, 2013 11:42am

The Eustace reference works well!

I have heard Mark-- on the radio-- speak about Uncle Andrew too.  Together, Eustace and Uncle Andrew make for some of the most off-putting characters in Narnia, and can annoy readers to the point of wanting to imitate Edmund (of all people).

On the radio, Mark pointed out the unrepentant nature of Uncle Andrew, exhorting listeners to  have "child-like faith' instead.  It was a good reminder that ingenuity and IQ are not all we're meant for.

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