Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Key to Understanding Others

In our world we tend to place people into boxes of our own creation.  We speak of what they believe, what they think, without ever experiencing that life for ourselves.  In tomorrow's first reading we see a new series of events in St. Paul's life that mirror the trial of Jesus himself.  Most notably the fact that King Herod Agrippa II (the grandson of that Herod in Jesus trial) wants to "hear what he has to say."  (Luke 23:8), and secondly that to Festus (think Pilot) he saw Paul as innocent of charges and it being just a religious dispute (Luke 23:4, 15, 22)   Paul here is being tried by an outsider who then appeals to someone else to help him understand it.   Why Agrippa?  Well because, for better or worse, he was the politically kept "king of the Jews."  Festus here was appealing to someone who knew Jewish custom and belief, or at least enough of it to find out the answers he needed to write a letter to Rome about the proceedings.

How often do we ourselves try to judge others based on what we think while we are truly outside of that situation?  As a protestant years ago I would tell Catholics what they believe and why it was wrong.  How did I know?   I had read things online, or in books, or heard rumors.   I had never even set foot in a Catholic church.   I was an outsider, peering into a world I did not understand, one that was just familiar enough to make it seem like I understood it, but far enough from what I knew that I truly had no foundation from which to judge.  That didn't stop me from doing just that.  Now as a Catholic, looking at my faith from the inside, everything makes perfect, reasonable, and logical sense.  I understand why we do things and what they mean.   I know where to find my answers, and amazingly with our faith we have our beliefs written down for everyone to see.

The thing is, you can't read it from the perspective of an outsider and hope to understand it.  It's like learning a foreign language.  I've been studying Spanish off and on for most of my adult life.  Guess what?  I still don't get it.  I can say simple phrases like: Where is the bathroom?  How are you?  The newspaper is on the table. When I watch Spanish television though I hear these words come out and they make no sense to me.   Phrases, customs, thoughts... abstract ideas... I have to go to someone who speaks Spanish and go OK someone said this, what does it mean?  If I plug it into 'google translate' it just comes out as what I would get if I listen to it, but when I go to someone who knows Spanish, who grew up with it, they can tell me what it means and it's like a light bulb comes on... "That makes so much sense in the context it was used!"

Why then do we try to tell people what they are thinking?   Is it just our human nature?  Maybe.  I've been a Baptist.  I was a holiness Pentecostal for a time.   I was a protestant for a majority of my adult life.  I've been there and I understand exactly why people come at me as they do.  It's not an attack just to attack, but rather it's what we've been taught to do to 'help you.'   Your eternal destiny is indeed paramount.  They want that for you, but the means of getting it can be wrong.  Today, as a Catholic, I still want that for you.  Guess what though?  It doesn't matter what I want.  It matters what God wants and what you want.   So instead of trying to proselytize you into the fold?   I offer a relationship to you with Christ.  It takes two people to be in that relationship, and one of them is you, the other is Christ.   If you want to be a part of this family, great?  If not?  I'll be sad and pray for you, but I can't force anything on you.

I think that's what speaks to me currently about the reading from John in tomorrow's gospel.  There is so much there, from the different words used from love, to the three time denial and three times confessing his love, etc.   For me right now that one little phrase jumps out: "and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Ten years ago I sat in my yard with my friends telling them that I was studying the Catholic faith but there was no way I'd ever be Catholic.   Today?   I am discerning a call to the Diaconate and spreading the Catholic faith in any way I can.  Why?  Because I stopped trying to tell Catholics what they believed and instead asked them.   I got off anti-Catholic Protestant websites and instead began to read the Catechism, the Bible in light of it, and Catholic documents.   What I found is that from the inside, looking at the authentic teachings of that Church, that not only could I see where they were coming from.. I couldn't disagree with them without trying to twist or do back-flips.  

So here I am, with Peter trying to say Lord, you know that I love you.   I too have denied Him at times in my life, hiding behind the walls of my own ego and hubris.   I too have seen that look in his eye when the cock finished crowing and his gaze turned in my direction.   I too will be eternally saying to Christ that I will try to feed His sheep.  Not all Protestants are anti-Catholic.  Some in fact don't even know what they are "protesting."  They've just always been that faith and have never looked outside of it.  That kind of faith is important and commendable.    At some point though when you are in a relationship with someone you have to start learning more about them.  It's not enough to just say I love Jesus, without proving it by trying to learn what He likes, what He doesn't, and why.    The place where almost all of us begin that journey is the Bible.. but the question comes to mind... how can you understand a book written by the Catholic church... without getting on the inside and seeing what they believe?  I promise you.. it will help begin to peel back that veil that St. Paul speaks of and shed a great deal of light into exactly what it is we Catholics believe, and why.

Not only that, but it sets the tone for interactions with other people.  We cannot claim to understand someone if we never listen, if we never let them tell us, and if we constantly project ourselves on to them.  Our society tends to put everyone into their own box.  We try to say that all illegal aliens are like this, all refugees are spies or enemies, and the poor are simply men and women who are too lazy to work.  How do we know that without being on the inside?  How can we claim to know what it's like to be a refugee if we've always lived in a safe suburb?   How can we pretend to know what it's like to be 'dirt poor' if we have an air conditioned home with plenty of food in the pantry?  How can we judge someone as a spy or enemy without first taking time to see where they come from and why?  God doesn't call us to judge where someone is going or their motives behind it.  He only calls us to judge concrete moral actions.  Even then, he doesn't call us to condemn and browbeat those who 'sin', because we all do that.. what he calls us to do is to edify, uplift, feed, clothe, and give drink to those in need.. regardless of who they are or where.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease.