PC preaching

Wednesday 2 December 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Senator Joseph McCarthy censured (1954) 

Preaching can be a minefield. It’s difficult to keep up with politically correct words and phrases, but anyone who speaks in public must try to stay current in this matter. The phrase “politically correct” itself has become politically incorrect. It is so last century. 

For this reason, every word of my homily is carefully considered before I deliver it. I don’t want to misspeak. I certainly don’t want to inadvertently offend someone. 

Nevertheless, there’s a give-and-take between the homilist and the congregation. You can tell whether or not people are with you. If I sense something is engaging my listeners, I’m apt to go off-script and run with it. It makes for a more effective homily, but it’s not without risk. 

Sometimes, political incorrectness can occur reflexively, almost a knee-jerk reaction. Once, while celebrating Mass, I had this pesky thought buzzing in my head that I was forgetting something. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what. The Mass ended. The procession made its way down the aisle. Out the door we went. Then the deacon reminded me, “You forgot the collection.” I mumbled a marginally naughty word under my breath. Unfortunately, I was wearing a body microphone. The word I whispered to myself echoed throughout the church. People giggled. I was chagrined. 

Another incident of alleged political incorrectness occurred at a wedding. In the priest’s prayer book, the instruction reads, “(The homily) should speak of the obligations of Marriage and other appropriate points.” So, I spoke of Marriage as a decision of the intellect, made freely and without reservation; how the unbreakable bond of Marriage is a total giving of oneself and a receiving of the gift of another. I spoke of the need for a life-long commitment of love and honor between spouses and how married couples must be open to the possibility of accepting and raising children. Oh, and I began by saying that, first of all, you need a man and woman of faith. In celebrating any Sacrament, faith is a prerequisite. 

Well, that generated a nasty letter to the local newspaper. Someone felt emotionally threatened by my theology. It was, it seems, offensive to say that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony involves a man and a woman. Was someone being a bit too sensitive? Why would someone so offended by Catholic belief come voluntarily to a Catholic service? Go figure.

Political correctness has once again become a hot-button issue across a broad spectrum of forums — from candidates’ debates, to campus demonstrations, to international diplomacy. This is not your parents’ political correctness. It’s the millennials’ version of PC. It’s all about hypersensitivity. It’s about imaginary insults, not at all intended. Inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings is equated with attacking them with a machete. 

You, dear readers, know the words and phrases presently considered proper. These change over time. Language evolves. They also vary from place to place. But here and now, there’s the gender thing. A boy can no longer dream of being a fireman or a policeman. Policemen today are police officers and firemen are now fire fighters. I can live with that. 

Chairmen and chairwomen (both perfectly acceptable words) morphed into a piece of furniture — a chair. By that logic, a freshman should become a “fresh,” but no. He/she is a “first-year” (always hyphenated. Abbreviated as “FY”). 

All postmistresses became postmasters long ago. Now, that’s just strange. 

Then there’s the country of origin issue. I once ordered French fries at a Dublin restaurant. The “server” responded, “You want French fries? Go to France!” Oh, my.

What do you call French doors these days?  What are conjoined twins, if not Siamese? Is there no longer such a thing as “Dutch treat”? Does one person in the group now have to pay the entire bill? Are any meatballs Swedish? I’m confused. 

There are no longer Caucasian, Negro, and oriental races, as I was taught in school. They are Asian, white, and black. OK. No problem. 

In formal address, there are still proper titles such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, and (more recently) Ms. But now there’s Mx. (for those who are gender “transitioning”). My rule of thumb is to call people what they prefer to be called. I’ll call her Caitlyn, but not Mx. Jenner.

For any homilist, political correctness can be a good thing. The Gospel is meant to challenge. It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. The principle that we should treat others with respect (no matter their race, gender, income, or political persuasion) is the Christian and the American way. 

Political correctness can also be a bad thing. Today’s political correctness is self-centered, not other-centered. It’s not about your dignity, it’s about my entitlement. I have an unalienable right to feel warm and fuzzy about myself. You have no right to contradict, criticize, or challenge me. How dare you make me feel uncomfortable? 

Well, get over it. Grow up. Quit whining. As one priest recently urged, “man-up.”

Oh, wait. He was politically incorrect in saying that.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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