In about the year 52 BC, the great Roman demagogue Publius Clodius Pulcher was accused of profaning a religious ritual. In this escapade, Pompeia, the wife of Julius Caesar, was also accused as his accomplice. At Clodius’ trial, Caesar refused to give evidence: he wasn’t present, since it was a women’s festival. However, he also divorced Pompeia. When asked why, he stated, “Because my wife shouldn’t even be a suspect.” (Another tradition phrases it: “Caesar’s wife, like all Caesar’s family, must be above suspicion.”)
Another story: The chief rabbi of the yeshiva approached young Moskowitz, and said, “My heart is heavy, and my words are like lead: for I have heard a rumor about you—” Young Moskowitz interrupted, “It’s all lies! I know the rumor you’re speaking of, Rabbi, and there’s not a shred of truth in it!” Upon which the rabbi reared up and thundered, “True it should be yet? Isn’t it bad enough that there’s a rumor?”
It was said that the great Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner “would not allow himself to fall into a position in the privacy of his bedchamber that he would not assume in the chamber of the Senate.” Just so; the secret to maintaining the appearance of a moral person is to maintain the appearance even when no one’s watching and there’s no way you could get caught being immoral.
So it is with authentic Christian witness. Ideally, a Christian properly formed and catechized isn’t simply Christian for an hour or so once a week; rather, he stops practicing his faith only when he falls asleep. And even then, his Christianity may shape his dreams.
That’s ideally. Many Christians aren’t properly formed or catechized. As well, Christian morality has to contend with the subversive influences of the journalism and entertainment industries (if they’re really separate any more), which are actively promoting a sort of lounging hedonism. But mostly, Christians are humans capable of making bad choices and rationalizing immoral acts, just like anyone else.
Now, it’s fairly easy to be a blogger, especially an obscure Catholic blogger like myself — the byline could just as well be A. N. Onymous as A. S. Layne. There’s no obsessed paparazzi trying to photograph my every scratch and record my every belch, no investigative reporters seeking skeletons in my closet, no PAC filing FIA requests for my tax records to expose me as a tax cheat. (At least, I hope not!) That’s because, when it comes right down to it, I’m just another face in the pews.
But moreover, it’s easy to write about the Catholic Faith. Much easier than it is to actually live the Catholic faith. Especially when your conversion comes later in your life, after a harum-scarum formation in a decade now generally recognized as the nadir of Catholic catechesis, as well as a couple of decades of spotty devotions and Mass attendance, combined with a general laissez-faire attitude to sexual morals only occasionally dented by qualms and doubts.
In fact, had I not one day decided to write a defense of the Church in the depths of the “Long Lent” of 2002, I might never have joined the Knights of Columbus; I might never have gone on the ACTS (Adoration, Theology, Community, Service) retreat last spring; because I might never have decided that I really believe what the Church teaches and that my life ought to reflect that belief.
And I might never have heard of John Anthony Corapi, let alone listened to any of his homilies played on Catholic radio.
Above all, in some ways my conversion isn’t complete. Although I don’t have to go someplace to work right now (I act as caregiver to my younger brother), I still find it hard to get off my lazy duff and go to Mass on Sundays when I ought to be able to go daily. Daily prayer ought to be easy, as I’ve written before, since the easiest and quickest prayer you can say is, “Thy will be done”; I have gotten better at praying, especially when requested by my fellow bloggers, but I’m not at the point of praying the Liturgy of the Hours yet.
Add to that the occasional failures of charity, my besetting sins of sloth and gluttony, and my ongoing battle with porn addiction (currently under control, but it’s a one-day-at-a-time battle like every other addiction, made worse with an apostolate that requires an Internet connection), and you have someone in no moral position to take potshots at the Black Sheepdog.
So what is the nature of authentic witness? It goes back to Christ’s reason for dying on the cross: to free us from the grip of sin.
With the aid of Christ, we can change; we can break the habits of sin and create new habits of goodness, of charity and hope. We are not condemned to wallow in the muck and grossness of our appetites, which can never be sated no matter how much we feed them. We are not doomed to live in fear and mistrust of each other; we are not required to scrabble and claw our way to the top of the food chain; we are not obligated to either seek or avoid death.
But we can’t do it by ourselves. Here, I think, Corapi did what many recovering addicts do: he not only made the mistake of thinking he had beaten his addiction for all time but compounded it by thinking that he had done it by himself. And in his prideful posturing as a tough guy, Satan was able to attack him right where he was weakest.
The most paradoxical of all truths is this: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Authentic Christian witness starts with the recognition that we the witnesses need Christ as much as those to whom we testify.
We must be witnesses even when no one’s looking.