The prayer that concludes the service of Holy Baptism asks God to give the baptized person, and by extension all of God’s people, “an inquiring and discerning heart.”
To inquire is to probe and test, while discernment refers, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, to “drawing distinctions between case and case.” Together, they are disciplines which define humility. In the face of threats, real, perceived or both, they are indispensable, yet harder to practice; the heart goes quickly to broad brush characterizations. These do more damage in hostile environments, private and public, than in friendly ones, which afford more room for error.
Inquiry and discernment find themselves on the defensive these days. Contemporary culture values unfiltered speech, which often slides into recklessness and cruelty. Political figures make sweeping judgments, and sometimes enshrine them in mandates and policies that do real damage These tendencies came into high relief in the 2016 campaign and have, in my view, become quickly entrenched in the practice of the new administration.
How should the church and its members respond? First, by subjecting all of our leaders to rigorous scrutiny and calling out broad brush characterizations and the damage they do. Second, and even more important, by redoubling our own commitment to probing, testing, and drawing distinctions between case and case, to the best of our ability, in all circumstances that call for the exercise of judgment. Our own spiritual practices, especially this one, will speak eloquently against the disdain for the disciplines of humility which has been on especially vivid and egregious display of late.