Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

06 May 2014

Drama and Reality

Soon after Stephen and his associates were appointed to the diaconate in Acts 6, Stephen got into trouble--"made a mess," as Pope Francis is fond of saying. Stephen was only speaking the Truth, but people who weren't fond of the Truth started engaging him in debate. His opponents had no success, because they couldn't match his insights and because they did not share in the gift of the [Holy] Spirit as Stephen did.

The persecutors were not open to hearing the Truth from Stephen. They reacted very strongly to his words, and could not bear his angelic, that is, peaceful appearance (cf. Acts 6:15). The story reminds me of what a seminary professor once said: Non-virtuous people are uncomfortable in, often repulsed by, the presence of virtue.

Saint Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles, said that Stephen's opponents 'instigated" people to make exaggerated and downright false accusations against him. Stephen allegedly was predicting that Jesus would destroy the Temple and change Jewish customs. We know that the Temple eventually would fall to the Romans. That destruction itself changed many of the customs and regulations, especially pertaining to ritual sacrifice. As for dietary laws, the Jews remained bound to observe them, but Christians soon would be exonerated from most of them (cf. Acts 15:22-29).

Let's consider for a moment the concept of "instigation." As a fan of the dictionary, I go there first. The Latin verb instigare comes from in (toward) + stigare (to prick, incite). We can therefore say that Stephen's debaters were...inciters. Modesty forbids use of the other word, though it seems delightfully apt.

I submit that Stephen's instigators depicted the modern use of the term drama and its corresponding adjective, dramatic. According to a contributor at (a site I would not otherwise cite in print), the word is used to describe people who seem to experience and share an inordinate number of personal problems, and who react to everyday matters with intense and shifting emotions. The accuracy of dramatic perceptions doesn't tend to be reliable. Dramatic behavior can be attributed to boredom and a desire for attention.

Within the definition cited above, one can find related words that unfortunately include "crazy," "fake," "high school," and, strange to see, "Facebook." As for Facebook and other social networking sites, I believe they can be used to sow truth, goodness, beauty, and humor as much as their opposites. As always, their use will be determined by their users.

The reality of mental illness has rightly merited a more compassionate regard in recent years. Indeed, a number of the characteristics of "drama" can be identified with borderline personality disorder. Through an honest self-appraisal, however, everyone might discover within themselves a degree of emotional or spiritual sickness, manifested in various "attachments" or addictions that compromise their understanding and freedom. There is no room, therefore, for labeling people. It serves only to distance them from us and make us feel superior to them. Don't we all have a share in the Cross of Christ, so often identifiable with our own faults and weaknesses?

It always has been my interest to help people to grow in responsibility for their decisions, and to accept help for the same in my own life. While illness may make certain ingrained attitudes or behaviors easier to adopt or harder to shake, if we want to be well (Jn 5:2) we must pay close attention to our mental and emotional responses as they occur. It takes time and patience with ourselves, and with others whom we help along the way.

We don't want to excuse the persecutors of the early Church on the basis of a supposed personality disorder. After all, Stephen's persecutors were closed to the knowledge of Reality. Even though our openness may seem minimal some days, we want to govern our thoughts, words, and actions, as well as understand our motives, according to the Truth. This lifelong process requires us to look beyond our limited perceptions. To become "well" is to become honest, responsible, and free. As we seek self-governance with the aid of the Lord's Word, the Sacraments, our daily prayers and sacrifices, the adoption of these disciplines will help us to grow in compassion for others.

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