History is always more complicated than what is popularly believed. Besides the shear volume of information that has to be oversimplified to be understood by the general public, what we popularly believe is often a combination of facts, legends, opinions, misconceptions, and errors. Because of this, one of the dangers of many years of theological study is a tendency to “deconstruct” stuff, to tear down what people accept as true with statements like, “That never happened.”
On the one hand, it is important and necessary. While it can be jarring for people at first to realize that what they have believed to be true is actually not true, ignorance is not a virtue and it does not build up the kingdom of God. We have a duty to understand the truth, not perpetuate “nice stories” because people like them, and sometimes that means going through the painful profess of tearing down closely held falsehoods. What’s the point in believing something if it’s just not true?
On the other hand, deconstructing history without building it back up with something else is an act of violence to faith. As much as we would like to think that we compartmentalize parts of our experience, the fact of the matter is that everything about us is interconnected: our sense of faith is built upon the stories we heard as kids which is tied to the way we relate to our parents which influences our approach to life and so on. When we tear down those parts of history that are false but people have always believed to be true, it has an effect on the rest of the person. Like a controlled implosion of a building or pulling out a few Jenga pieces from the stack, deconstruction without reconstruction runs the risk of bringing the whole building down. On more than a few occasions I have seen well-meaning people destroy another’s faith in this way, dismissing something that intellectuals know to be superstition, legend, or misinterpretation, failing to realize how central it was to another and ultimately leaving a gaping whole or missing link in the other.
Why do I say all of this? Well, because I am guilty of this from time to time with Catholicism in Focus. With the intention of bringing people to greater clarity about topics Catholics think they know, there is often a good deal of deconstructing that has to take place. Behind each episode is a sentiment of, sorry, no, that’s not what we believe. And like I said, this is an important part of growing in one’s faith. Why would we want to persist in error?
In most cases, it is not just about tearing down but also about building back up, giving people something new to believe in that is more factually accurate. Usually the videos are not negative in tone, doing more than just pointing out what’s wrong. Usually. One video stands out to me as breaking this rule. You may remember back in the fall an episode called “What Did St. Francis REALLY Say?” The purpose was to get at some of the popular quotes attributed to the saint, point out how he absolutely couldn’t have said them, and replace them with things he actually did say. Only… I never got to the last point. All I did was pick apart the quotes people use today without offering anything in their place! This is not good scholarship, and it is terrible catechesis. And for that, I apologize.
And since words are cheap and apologies mean little without real action, I present a new video this week to make up for the first one: “Things St. Francis ACTUALLY Said.” Starting with a foundation for understanding the sources themselves, I not only give an overview of the things St. Francis wrote, but also offer a number of shareable quotes to replace the ones we know he didn’t say. I hope you enjoy the video, but more importantly, I hope that you will help me introduce the real St. Francis to the world by sharing the pictures from below on social media. There is a lot out there that is wrong about St. Francis and we should definitely deconstruct it. But instead of just saying, “No, that’s wrong,” we are now able to put something better back in its place.