On Being Critical

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On Being Critical

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior (Ps. 25:5)

How sharp  is your critical faculty? Constant criticism can be a fault, but never bringing this faculty to bear on what the daily media presents to us can be equally blameworthy. 

Today it is imperative that we clearly understand many life and death issues from a critical standpoint.  This includes becoming aware of and distrusting some of our own biases and prejudices.  It is rare, for example, to find an article on prayer which does not include a variation of  “All authentic prayer issues in action.”  The idea, cleverly and consistently woven into the article, presents copious quotations from Scripture to prove the point. Employing the generalization “all” to convince the reader, the writer ignores the fact that it is possible to refute Scripture with Scripture.

St. Paul says, “If I give everything I have to feed the poor and hand over my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).  Giving everything and handing over one’s body seems to spell out rather drastic actions of love. However, this passage tells us that love is not in the doing of acts per se; rather, love resides in being.  If one is loving, presumably one lives in a loving way. 

But actions of themselves can be deceptive.  Others might think we never say NO to them because we are loving while our motives can be miles away from love:  “I don’t want to hurt the one who asks,” could be, “If I hurt her she won’t like me,” or, even worse, “If I don’t do this, I might not get a promotion,” or “I might not look good,” and so on.  Private motivations of self-interest are better indicators of whether actions stem from love or not.

What can we learn from this?  Being critical is not always a bad thing.  As readers, we need to turn on our “mental alert” system when authors use general terms to prove something; otherwise, we may swallow something whole which only represents partial truth.  As a result, we might vote for the wrong person or make wrong decisions.  In other words, a critical mind helps us form a correct conscience and it purifies our motivations, making us more self-directed Christians.

Jesus, be our interior guide as we deal with all kinds of situations in life!

—Sister Mary E. Penrose


Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.


Note: this blog was first published 10/22/10.

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized

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“Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict