From the Pastor: A Different Way
Have you ever had a friend whose comments on Facebook always come across as bossy, too blunt, haughty, or even cruel, even when you know that they never meant any offense? People like that can be completely oblivious as to how they come across, even when they have it pointed out to them on a regular basis. They are, in a manner of speaking, tone deaf to their own words and, even reading them again and again, will not see why others don’t get what they write and how they write and what they meant when they wrote. That does not mean that they are bad people, in fact they may actually be your best friends and you enjoy everything else about them, so you, knowing them outside of their social media comments, can overlook this fault. Others, though, not knowing them or, after getting upset with their comments one too many times, just cannot stand them. Blocked. Defriended. Enough is enough.
After setting this stage for you, what if the tone deaf person was your pastor? What if it wasn’t Facebook comments that he just couldn’t get right but rather it was his bulletin articles or his homilies? Yes, this is about me. I have been reminded once again by very well meaning and loving people, that I am tone deaf to what I write and preach. I can come across as giving vinegar rather than a refreshing drink of everlasting water, or as purposefully trying to raise a ruckus, or even to incite people’s wrath against, well, you name it: protestants, muslims, atheists, priests, bishops, the Pope, or the Church. I see myself as pointing out obvious and sometimes not so obvious disagreements in doctrine, Scripture interpretation, liturgy, and other issues, not to put the others down but to warn against indifferentism and other dangers to the one, true Faith. I don’t see publicly disagreeing with religious superiors about non-doctrinal issues as being disobedient or as biting the hand that feeds me, but others see it as being anything but Catholic and as being unfaithful, and certainly unloving. I read my words and hear my voice and believe that, while knowing that I am not coming across as sweet and cuddly, I am striking a good balance (usually--I really screw up royally once in while and know it) in laying out facts and opinions, moral goods and moral evils, apologetics for the Faith, lives of the Saints, and encouragement to grow in holiness. And even when people tell me that they don’t interpret me in the way I expect them to, I am tone deaf about what they see and hear.
I really don’t want to be this way. I want to be able to hear constructive criticism, understand it as it is given, and change in such a way as to actually come across the way I already think I should be coming across. So today I am putting this in writing so that you can hold me accountable to it. That doesn’t mean that I am going to compromise the Faith, saying that sin is not sin or that everybody is going to Heaven no matter what they do or believe. No, I still have a duty to be fully and faithfully Catholic in all things but I will try to find a way to do it without being a jerk. There is bound to be someone reading this who is thinking, “But Father, I like the way you preach and the things you write!” and to you I say, “Thank you for the kind words that I just put into your mouth! But I am pastor to everybody else, too, and I must find a way to be ‘all things to all men, that I might save all’ as some famous guy once said. (Or did that come across as too cutesy, instead of just attributing the quote to St. Paul in 1 Cor. 9:22?)
In the past few weeks I have used this space to vent my frustrations with Bishop Parkes specifically and many other bishops generically in their response to the coronavirus. I should not have done so and I am sorry to have forced my frustration upon you, adding to your own issues during these stressful times rather than helping alleviate your problems. I can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube, as the saying goes, but I can refrain from squirting out the next batch without purpose. I have written the bishop an apology directly, but it wasn’t until being called on the carpet that it even occurred to me that he might be very hurt by my writings. That is how tone deaf I really am. Now I apologize to those of you whom I have hurt due to my lack of taking your concerns seriously enough if you have come to me with issues of this kind. These are not empty words, I truly am sorry. I ask for your prayers in this endeavor to change. Just as I cannot imagine that Ernest Hemmingway could write a novel that sounded like William Faulkner had written it or that Ernest Borgnine could replace Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, neither do I expect that my writing and preaching will resemble anyone else’s but my own no matter how much I try to change. So please don’t expect me to become a clone of your favorite writer or homilist. But expect me to become better at being me. And hold me to it.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka