A few Sundays ago, a woman approached me after Mass and, with little preamble, asked for my view on a fairly volatile issue (which I won’t name, by the way, just in case you feel as strongly about it as she did, and then decide to fixate on that rather than on my actual point).
At any rate, she rather cornered me in the narthex and began peppering me with questions about the touchy topic as I squirmed within. I had my own firm and, I hoped, informed stance on the matter, but I sensed that five minutes after Mass and four steps outside the church were neither the time nor the place for such a discussion.
And I wasn’t sure that a discussion was actually the goal. Within a few sentences, it became clear that this person and I differed significantly in our convictions in this regard. We each cited reasons to justify our conclusions, but neither of us remained convinced by the other — and I felt my Irish temper, long a stumbling block for me, beginning to flare as the woman persisted in her claims.
“Please, guardian angel,” I silently prayed. “Clap a wing over my mouth before I say something I’ll regret.”
By the grace of God — working through our sacristan, who politely coughed to let us know he was trying to finish locking up — the exchange ended with an agreement to disagree and a promise of prayers.
However, I was troubled enough to immediately buy a pint of ice cream (another stumbling block for me) and, between spoonfuls, reflect on my missteps in the interaction. In many respects, the views expressed by the woman weren’t exactly aligned with church teaching; she’d gone so far as to dismiss the work of a few esteemed Catholic ethicists. Yet despite the approved resources I’d named and the correct terminology I’d used, I realized there was evidence I had overlooked, and an authority to which I had not appealed: love.
Only in hindsight did I finally see the slump in this woman’s shoulders, the careworn expression on her face. Rather than hearing the quiet anguish in her voice as she spoke, I’d focused on how to counter her assertions in my replies. And I’d completely failed to consider how a family member’s chronic condition, which she’d briefly mentioned, might have led her to adopt the position she held.
My words may have been right, but my heart was not — because in those brief moments, I had seen this woman as an adversary, and not as a fellow member of the body of Christ.
In my zeal to uphold the truth, I had forgotten that Truth itself is a person: Jesus Christ, who calls us to love one another as he has loved us. Scripture reminds us that he will indeed “bring forth justice to the nations” (Is 42:1), but in the process “he will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Is 42:2-3).
Rather than curling his hands into fists and setting the world to right through might, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, … humbled himself” and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7,8).
His fingers didn’t wag before others’ faces or stab them in the chest to prove his point; instead, they were extended in welcome, blessing and healing, and ultimately, cruelly contorted by six-inch Roman nails driven through his wrists to save us all.
As we witness to that love, desperately needed by a world that “(sits) in darkness and the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79), we would do well to first kneel before it, and pray that we may be found worthy — and kind — messengers of so great a summons.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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