Column: Beware the devil in the details

by Father Mark Goldasich

The devil’s in the details.

This well-known phrase has been one of my guiding principles. Generally speaking, it’s not a bad way to go through life. The phrase means that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well. It calls me to focus, to be thorough, to pay attention, to follow through. Being detail-oriented is certainly something that has served me well as an editor.

As we celebrate another Catholic Press Month, I like to remind readers of what goes on behind the scenes here at The Leaven before you see something in print. Obviously, first and foremost, articles are written (and sometimes re- written . . . many times). Then they are edited by another set of hands. In the stories accompanied by photos, those pictures are selected and cropped, and captions are written (and sometimes rewritten . . . many times). Then head-lines are written (and often rewritten . . . many times). Eventually, everything makes its way to my eyes.

Like an eagle searching for prey, I hunt down awkward phrasing, sloppy punctuation, inconsistent capitalizations, and glaring misspellings. My middle name is “fact-checker.” I verify the proper titles of books and committees, check the accuracy of Web site addresses, double check all Scripture and church document references, and add extra explanatory information when needed. (I suspect that a whole section of my brain has been taken over by the Catholic News Service and Associated Press stylebooks.)

Now, those editorial tweaks of mine are not bad things at all. They bring a consistency to what you see in The Leaven each week. But, there is definitely a downside to being so detail-oriented, and perhaps that’s why it’s said that the devil can be found there.

You see, if you happen to come by the Leaven office on a Tuesday, our deadline day, you might see — or hear — the “devil” residing in the editor’s office. Focusing so intently on the details can make me “somewhat” nit-picky, demanding, impatient, cantankerous, rude, judgmental . . . well, you get the picture.

It takes real wisdom to tread the fine line between “looking over” and “over- looking” something. I’m still learning.

While St. Paul didn’t specifically have those of us in the Catholic press
in mind when he wrote that passage on love that we heard as the second reading last weekend, what he said sure does fit us. It’s hard, especially when on the receiving end of criticism, not to be quick-tempered or to brood over injury. It can take effort to neither seek one’s own interests nor be pompous at times. Perhaps only wisdom can guide us to strive eagerly to pursue this ministry of journalism with love — a love that is patient and kind.

Naturally, it’s not only journalists who are called to reflect on love’s meaning and challenges. We all are. Because of Valentine’s Day, February is considered the month of love. There’s no better way to mark this time of year than by rereading St. Paul’s challenge to love authentically.

It’s tough to love this way in our world of TMI: too much information. With Twitter tweets and instantaneous Facebook status updates, we are often overwhelmed with the details of people’s lives . . . and the devil is often found in those details. Knowing too much about others can make us less charitable and more judgmental.

Again, the key to true love is in finding the wisdom to know when to look over and when to overlook. When people are hurting in some way, love calls us to look over each other and do what we can to comfort, tend and soothe. But love also calls us to overlook details at times — things like unkind words, unfulfilled promises, unwise postings, undone chores, and unpleasant moods.

When I sense that the devil is rearing his head in the details, I break out this little poem, which puts everything into perspective. It goes like this:

My face in the mirror/Isn’t wrinkled or drawn.

My house isn’t dirty/the cobwebs are gone.

My garden looks lovely/And so does my lawn.

I think I might never/Put my glasses back on!

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