Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have, long since, as good as renounced it.
Last week Elizabeth Scalia tweeted Aleteia’s post “56 Ways to be Merciful during the Year of Mercy.” After reading it, I tweeted back: “Not gonna lie. No. 1 on the list is a toughie.” That’s how I got asked to write this reflection. If you’ve read my blog, you know I can be sarcastic — I say that with no degree of pride. There’s a fine line dividing sarcasm and satire, and I sometimes trip over it.
Why is resisting sarcasm tough? Short answer: I can be a jerk, and I’m good at it. Long answer: since Elizabeth wanted a short reflection, I’ll stick with the short answer.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy is the perfect time for me to address this.
Sarcasm is derived from the Greek “sarkazein,” meaning “to strip off the flesh.” How’s that for an image! It’s a verbal velociraptor, capable of rending flesh from bone more precisely than any tooth or talon. It separates, yet not in the way that Scripture does. God’s word is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), separating truth from lies. Sarcasm, however, separates truth from truth, dignity from character. God’s word is the Word, who came to bring us life, to show us the Father’s mercy. Sarcasm is merciless, and thus I concede Carlyle’s point. Satan loves sarcasm, because it leaves wounds that can be difficult to heal.
The spiritual works of mercy are charitable acts by which we instruct, advise, console and comfort our neighbors. We are called to patiently bear wrongs and to forgive offences. Yet so often in social media, and in Catholic blogs and comboxes, we witness sarcasm masquerading as fraternal correction, insults disguised as instruction. Offence is given yet rarely forgiven. If mercy is a fruit of charity (CCC 1829), then sarcasm must be renounced. That fleeting moment of smug satisfaction after a snarky retort isn’t worth the prolonged animosity, the damage to dignity and the loss of faith and trust. I’ve experienced this. I’ve caused this.
Mercy is an act by which things are restored to their proper place. As the Year of Mercy begins, it’s time for me to set things right. St. James minced no words when he wrote: “but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.”
The first step, then, is this: I ask for forgiveness from those who have borne my sarcasm, and I ask for mercy should I succumb to future temptation. And I forgive those who have treated me the same.
That was the easy part.
Larry D. blogs at the mostly-satire Acts of the Apostasy