Someone recently said told me that I “make statements as though they are facts, without dialogue”, to which I immediately replied, “Well, you’re wrong and I’m done talking about it!” (I think I proved my point, yes?) The comment got me thinking, though, because it was in response to a post on my blog regarding 9 things that I–having grown up Protestant–never knew regarding Scripture and early Church. In writing the article, I felt that I’d very simply and succinctly stated things are not as much a matter of opinion as they are historical fact, such as “There is an easily discernible, unbroken line of apostolic succession leading from Peter to Pope Benedict XVI“.
To me, that statement seems to be relatively benign in its tone and non-accusing in nature. Upon further reflection, though, I think I figured out where my accuser was coming from, and it is showcased in the preceding sentence. I began by saying “To me…”. There it is. In a very real sense, whatever comes next is solid to me and suspect to everyone else. Even if the rest of the sentence is crammed full of undeniable fact, it is still perceived as coming from “Nic’s Opinion Land” and arriving in “I Doubt It-ville”. The root of the problem is that we are never just dealing with facts; we are persons–with unique personalities and backgrounds–carrying these facts around and trying to show them to each other; and that is where it gets sticky: we need to see the other person.
In Luke 12:48, Jesus says “to whom much is given, much is expected”. As Catholic Christians, we are claiming to possess the fullness of the truth, and if that is really the case, than with that amazing gift comes a weighty responsibility. IF we have the deepest expression of the deepest truths of God, then not only do we have the duty to share it with the world, we also have the duty to share it in the manner Christ did, with understanding, patience, empathy, prudence, and, above all, love. Jesus never compromised for even an instant, yet He was constantly surrounded by people with longing hearts who might have even disagreed with where they thought He was coming from. Christ not only knew the truth, He WAS the Truth (He made that very clear numerous times), but time and again we see the dishonest flocking to be with Him.
He was able to put up with constant disagreements from religious leaders, clambering for more fish and loaves by the masses, and utter stupidity on the part of his closest followers because He never stopped truly seeing the hearts of those around Him and knowing where they were coming from. That’s why he could say “love your enemies”, “judge not, lest ye be judged”, and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
In his poem “ A Hymne to Christ, at the Authors last going into Germany”, John Donne says that, in whatever way he leaves this earth, he trusts Christ, because he knows “those eyes”. We need to be as firm as possible in our faith. We need to trust that Jesus meant it when He said we would be one as He and His Father were one. We should rest in the knowledge that 100% truth wasn’t lost at the Ascension, but has been miraculously preserved for 2,000 years. We need to “know those eyes”, and never back down from complete trust in them.
However, we equally need to learn to approach each and every human being with the knowledge that they are just as desperately seaching for Him as we are, regardless of their awareness of it. It makes no difference if we are talking to a fellow Catholic, a Protestant brother or sister in Christ, a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, or an atheist. It doesn’t matter if we have done years of research and are certain that we know the facts. It doesn’t matter how closed-minded or belligerent the other person may be. We MUST be lovingly welcoming and make the conscious act of treating them as Christ would.
The National Directory for Catechesis says that “those who proclaim the Christian message must know and love the culture and the people to whom they bring the message in order for it to be able to transform the culture and the people and make them new in Christ.” Friends, let us be aware of the wonderful gift we’ve been given as bearers of the good news. Let us never forget that with every step we take as Christians, we are, as Hubert van Zeller says, “handling glory”. Let us, like Christ, draw a line in the sand and hold our ground, always professing “Go and sin no more”; but let us also beckon from that line in mercy, with open arms, always professing, “Neither do I condemn you.”