Dear Donagh, thank you so much for your site, it has helped me immensely and I look forward every month to the new content. I love the questions and answers in the part called Between ourselves…. Now for my own question. I pray with a group of 5 or 6 people once a week, and I've been finding it a great help to me, especially when things trouble me. I used to feel great peace afterwards. But a few months ago we were joined by a man who never stops preaching at us. It’s not preaching really but giving out. He’s the only man in the group, and he’s always correcting people’s prayers and telling us that priests are no longer preaching the gospel. He's a right wing Catholic and he has ruined what we had going. One of the others said to me I should ignore him, but I don’t find it possible, he sees to that. I don’t look forward any more to Wednesday evening, I come away cross and I'm tempted to drop out. But that would be giving into him. The others have the same problem with him. What would you recommend us to do? Thanks again…. Angela
Dear Angela, You got a live one there! I’ve met more than a few people like him. I would suggest that you tell him quietly and clearly about the effect he is having on your group and that you are not willing to let it continue. If this does other change his behaviour, ask him to leave. If he refuses to leave, disband the group, and then regroup somewhere else. This is just common sense: measured escalation. From earliest times Christian communities have had to work out ways of dealing with erring members. "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Matthew 18:15). ‘Sin’ is not too strong a word in your situation. It’s an intolerable arrogance to correct someone’s prayer. It is different only in degree from disrupting a Mass or a Baptism or a wedding. To continue the text from Matthew: “If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” An early Christian writing called The Didachè gave instructions on how to deal with wandering speakers, some of whom, clearly, were promoting themselves, not faith in Christ. Such a person, it said, should be welcomed, but later on “you must test him and find out about him.” If he was subversive, they were to pay no attention to him. He was not to stay more than a day or two. If he stayed three days he was a fake. Notice that there was no pussyfooting. Prayer-groups today are sitting ducks for bullies and control-freaks, because they are usually made up of people who feel that they always have to be kind and nice. That difficult member is in clover. You’re a perfect audience. What could suit him better than a group of women who never challenge him? But you are not actually being kind to him by tolerating his behaviour.
A friend of mine told me about her parish priest (in the time of Pius XII) who said to one of his parishioners, “Isn't it wonderful that the pope has changed the rule about fasting from midnight before Communion? Now you only have to fast for three hours!” The man said nothing for a while, and then he said, “Do you think, Father, that the pope is a steady man?” There are still people who think they are more Catholic than the pope. When you hear them out you come to see that what they are attached to is not the faith but their own opinions. Let’s not forget that a large group of such people, with Mons. Lefèbvre, went into schism some years back. The irony of it is considerable: because they thought themselves more faithful to the Church than others they separated from the Church.
There’s a pathetic sort of Catholic fundamentalism that is not based on the Scriptures but on the penny catechism. And just as Scriptural fundamentalists rely on a handful of ‘proof texts’, so these pick and choose what suits them from the penny catechism. You won't hear them taking to heart what it said, for example, about “rash judgment, calumny, and detraction.”
The fundamental problem is ignorance of the faith. “People are just thirsting for the truth, Father!” said a contemplative nun to me, laying her hand on her heart, dimming her eyes, and inclining her head to one side. But I soon discovered what she meant by the truth: a few simplistic definitions, and paranoia about ‘New Age’. She is not representative of her kind, thank God, but all over the world there are millions of people clinging to shreds and calling them the truth. However, there’s a positive side. There are more laypeople studying theology now than ever before. I have some small involvement with a ‘distance learning’ programme of theology, run from the Priory Institute in Tallaght, Co. Dublin, and it is very heartening. Education alone can drive out fundamentalism. Someone said, “Education is expensive, but it’s not as expensive as ignorance!”