To paraphrase a popular alliterative 1958 novelty song, we are becoming a nation of pathological people pleasers – and by ‘we’ I mean those on the side of truth, goodness and beauty. Those pushing falsity, evil and the general tearing down of civilization are not so demure and pleasant. This is not to judge anyone – I too want to please, at least God! – but, whatever the intentions of their hearts, they are in our face, loud and proud, and will give not an inch – and if an inch be given them, they will take the full mile, and then some.
As Yeats warned in his prophetic 1919 poem: The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. ‘Tis little wonder we are losing the culture war, as the ground is lost to our silence, or complicity, and our implicit consent.
To please the other is not always a good thing; indeed, it can become the sin of complaisance, when we ‘please’ others in evil or falsity, and do not speak up or act when we should. (This should be distinguished from complacence, which is being too pleased with ourselves in evil or falsity – even if the two disordered ‘pleasings’ are often related).
Here are three examples, from more local and personal, to more universal – but the reader may supply many more:
A young woman, who has abandoned her Catholic faith and its proscriptions, plans to enter into a same sex ‘marriage’ this summer. Her still-Catholic acquaintances, otherwise orthodox and conservative, offer their hearty congratulations – some may even attend her ‘wedding’.
The Catholic diocese of Hamilton supported the proposal that Halton District Catholic School Board, in southern Ontario, fly the rainbow flag for the month of June over every school in its jurisdiction, and the bishop ordered his priests not to preach or speak against the proposal. An official document prepared for the diocese claimed: Research has demonstrated that an inclusive school culture and climate is important for all students to achieve success and personal wellbeing. Evidence has shown that this is especially important for students who are, or who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. To their credit, trustees voted against the flag, even if mandatory ‘training sessions’ were instituted – and the rainbow will fly in other districts, .
The Church in Germany on May 10th had widespread blessing of ‘same sex unions’, with over one hundred priests taking part, in direct defiance of the CDF’s decree that such blessings must not be given. Yet, as one priest put it, how could we not bless ‘love’?
These issues are all complex, but the one aspect uniting them is the overweening desire to please, to appear pleasant, to affirm the other in some way, to keep the peace and friendships – along with Church membership and school enrolment – intact. In others words, complaisance.
There is a fine line here, for there is a proper and good sense of leading the other gradually to the truth, with pleasant manners and speech, by living the truth ourselves, so that we present a good example, and at least avoid giving scandal. As Francis de Sales sweetly put it, we gather more flies with an ounce of honey than a jar of vinegar. (Not that those we desire to bring to the truth are captured flies, but every analogy limps, I suppose). Perhaps a more felicitous formulation would be in teaching. A student will be far more likely to stick with the violin – or catechetics – if they teacher prompts them to love what they are learning, rather than beating them over the head – metaphorically or otherwise – with an instrument case or catechism.
Yet there are limits, especially when grave evil, and consequent personal, societal and spiritual harm, is involved. Then we are called to firmness in the truth, tough love, to convince and rebuke, as Saint Paul exhorted. For if we do not admonish the inveterate and contumacious sinner, or, worse, please him in his evil, we are complicit in his sin. As the Lord warns the prophet Ezekiel, in a verse that should send a chill down the spines of our all-too-silent pastors:
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, `You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezek 3:17-18)
Of course, we cannot go wandering the streets in sackcloth and ashes, bewailing sin, like Jonah and his three days’ walk through Nineveh – although at times I wonder if that work better than what we’re current doing, or not doing, as the case may be.
Even if we’re no Jonah, we certainly have an obligation for those over whom we have authority, to lead them to the true and the good, or at least away them from falsity and sin: parents for their children, first and foremost; teachers for their students; employers for their workers (and even workers for each other); priests for their parishioners; and bishops for their faithful.
What precisely is being ‘affirmed’ in those congratulations, the blessings, and the flying of the pride flag? That is, we must ask not only whom we are striving to please, but in what we are pleasing them.
If it be grave sin, then ‘pleasing’ is not the right response.
As Pope Saint Paul VI put it in Humanae Vitae, describing Christ Himself: acerbe quidem severus in peccata, sed patiens ac misericors in peccatores fuit – indeed He was bitterly severe towards sin, but patient and merciful towards sinners (translation my own)
We have done well emphasizing the ‘merciful’ – even if, in the spirit of that truth without which there is no real mercy, we need more work on the ‘severe towards sin’.
It may be difficult to make that distinction, but make it we must, especially the Church, called to be the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth’, to speak that truth without compromise, and be a ‘sign that is spoken against’.
For woe unto us, if our primary goal is for men to speak well of us.
A few final thoughts: In no other area do people proclaim their disorders so proudly. There is a reason that the group for problem drinkers is called Alcoholics Anonymous, whose members seek release from their addiction through abstinence. Do we celebrate those struggling with temptations to fornication, greed, violence, anger or, dare we add, paedophilia? Neither our sins, nor even our proclivities to sin, should define us. Not only is homosexuality ‘intrinsically disordered’, but was considered a psychiatric illness up until 1973, when it was quietly removed from the second edition DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders).
And now the insanity – the irony is palpable – has gone well beyond the ‘consenting adults’ liasons of homosexuals, to the point that psychiatrists, with the vague diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’, prescribe, for teenagers and children, hormone blockers, mastectomies, and even castrations.
This was predicted, for if we can make sex mean anything, then we can do the same with the body, leading into the realm of the barbaric, even demonic, and we may tremble for any of us who go before God complaisant with that. What holds in civil law also applies to the moral: qui tacet consentire videtur – he who is silent, is taken to agree.
There are signs of hope, in the ecclesiastical and secular realms: Gerard Cardinal Müeller, former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is most definitely not keeping silent, penning a forceful and public exhortation to the Church, and indirectly to Pope Francis, that he must intervene in the German debacle, before the schismatic and even heretical virus spreads beyond their borders. Well, well worth a read.
And in the media, the program 60 Minutes, not known for their conservatism, recently interviewed young people who had undergone ‘sex reassignment surgery’ – surgical mutilation – and lived to regret it. Many do not, as these unfortunate persons often commit suicide when they realize what they have done, or what has been done to them. They need spiritual and psychological guidance, not medical malfeasance. And Joe Biden wants this available to eight year olds. With a dash of schadenfreude, one can only hope that lawsuits, even jail time, is in the offing for these modern Mengeles.
Much of this work, however, will have to come from the grassroots, from you and me and courageous cake-makers such as Jack Philips, to cease the pleasantries, to speak up, and resist in our own way, with boldness in the truth: That we are all persons, made male and female in God’s image, destined for beatitude by a life of purity, chastity and virtue – that is the message the Church should convey.
Time to hoist up the Sacred Heart and seek our own repentance of heart and conversion, in which only true joy and fulfilment are found.