On a recent trip to Italy, a Roman guide commented about their city’s many visitors from around the globe and, perhaps to appease me and my companions, spoke favorably of those from the United States saying, “I am always impressed with the candor by which Americans talk so openly and honestly without fear.”  He went on to say that many citizens of other nations cannot be critical without the threat of sanction or fear of retribution.  Criticism, he clarified, like critique, is part of critical thinking, and not to be misconstrued for insult or slander.  If we can be open and honest in discourse, it is good.  If we can be open, honest, and loving, it is even better.

We have tremendous freedom in our country to express ourselves.  People say things like, “There are too many guns in the possession of too many people who misuse them and fuel violence,” or “DEI offices are concerned only with certain types of diversity, equity, and inclusion that result in greater division, exclusion, and inequality,” or “Immigration was good for our ancestors but unless drastic measures are taken for clear paths to citizenship, it is not good for our country anymore,” or “Old, white, male power structures must end if we are ever to realize justice for all in our homeland.”  Voices offering such viewpoints usually verbalize out of love for the country and sound their concerns for its betterment.

Many of us who offer critical reflection learn it early in life where, in our homes, we critique ourselves, our family, our school, or our church.  In doing this we believe we can improve things by naming and discussing faults.  I love our Catholic Church and I praise its deeply rooted convictions that help guide our world through challenges.  At the same time, I always want it to be better.  I offer critical thought in hopes that we strive to become holier and more wholesome.  I am impressed by those in the Republican party who criticize faults of Republican doctrine or Democrats who offer similar evaluation of their side.  Likewise, I am disappointed when people instinctively blame outsiders for group shortcomings or react with polarizing remarks.  Critical thought leads to self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-improvement.  Granted, it is easier for individuals, communities, and entities that are small than it is for large bureaucratic institutions and corporate bodies to admit liabilities and heal blemishes, but it is not impossible.

Catholics begin Mass with a penitential rite whereby we admit our sins and name our failures in hope of achieving higher states of grace.  This critical act or moment of personal criticism helps us align with Christ, depend on God, and trust the Holy Spirit to direct us through tough times and evil encounters.  Evil seeks to infiltrate individuals, communities, institutions, and nations; of this, we should be critically aware.  If we can offer critical analysis or be critical in open, honest, and loving dialogue, we will advance to better places along our earthen journey.

Though we cannot influence world affairs, terrorist acts, or megalomaniac dictators, we can, through critical analysis and open, honest engagement, impact our society in positive and loving ways.  It’s a big world out there; we have a privileged place within it.