Love As If You Have No Hope

Ours is a faith of paradoxes.

If you want to live, you have to die.  God’s most powerful deed was becoming small.

And when it comes to bring people to Christ, sometimes the best way to do this is to act as if you never will.

Have you ever been in a store where the salesmen came up to you with that easy smile and acted like he was your best friend?  Have you ever been on a date where the other person simply furrowed their brow and nodded their head in a pantomime of understanding?  Have you ever had someone look past you as a person and treat you nicely for some other motive?

This is the situation that many of our brothers and sisters feel they are in when we come and preach to them the Gospel.  

Now many of us share the faith from what we believe are good motives.  We want others to be happy and we believe that the only way to attain lasting peace and joy is to be with Christ.  But even with this in mind it is easy to focus on the MISSION and not on the PERSON.

This post will particularly focus on those who feel disconnected from Christ and His Church.  For example, many of our homosexual brothers and sisters experience a strong disconnect from the faith on a deep and personal level.  Dr. Peter Kreeft once described an encounter he had with a gay man who spoke about his reaction to the Catholic teaching on homosexuality.  

The gay man asked Dr. Kreeft to imagine a society where Catholics were told by the majority that they would be loved, but any outward sign of their deeply felt Catholic faith (e.g. going to Mass, wearing crucifixes) would be vigorously opposed.  

If Kreeft found that unfair, then the gay man said the same this was how homosexuals feel about the Church’s teaching.  They are told that they are loved, but any outward sign of their sexual orientation is vigorously opposed.

Whether or not this feeling reflects reality is immaterial at this juncture.  And we do not have to limit ourselves to homosexuality, but anyone who has a deeply wounded relationship with Christ.  Some feel this way because of marital issues.  Some have been soured because of horrible life experiences.  Regardless, there are many for whom there appears to be an insurmountable barrier.

So what are we to do?

I am not sure that bold preaching is the best approach here.  I am not one who denies the power of “telling it like it is.”  In fact, one of the reason I am Catholic is because the dynamic witness of Fr. Larry Richards.  But I was someone who was raised Catholic and never fully pulled away.  Hitting me on the head with a hammer worked because I was already a nail in the groove.  

But what about those who are completely closed?  

In these cases, coming on strong will deter more than appeal.  I remember reading that St. Monica begged a priest to lend her books on the Catholic faith that she could give to her wayward and sinful son Augustine so that he could be convinced of Christianity’s truth.  The priest, however, said no.  This wise priest understood that no matter how rational and logical the books’ arguments were, Augustine’s heart was completely closed to them.  Argumentation would have only hardened his resolve against Christ.

Here is where the great wisdom of Pope Francis comes into play.  Our Holy Father understands that for those one the margins, those who are alienated, the normal method of explanation and apologetics will not work.

Pope Francis is calling us to follow the example of Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was a great and bold preacher who had large crowds follow him.  But He was not the leader of a mob.  To paraphrase Fulton J. Sheen, Jesus was not interested saving Mankind, but individual men.  Jesus made His mission personal.  

And that is what we have to do when we reach out to those who are away from Christ’s love.

But here is the real challenge: many of them know that our ultimate goal is to bring them to the faith.  From their perspective, we are like that too familiar salesman or that insincere date.  We are looking past them and seeing only, as Ned Flanders would say, “a good get for the Lord.”  We see them as checkmark on the Divine mission list, and not first and foremost as a person.

German Philosopher Immanuel Kant said that the heart of ethics is to treat each person as an end in themselves.  In other words, you should never use people as a means to achieve another end.  In the eyes of those to whom we are ministering, we see them as a means to another end (conversion).  It does not matter that we desire this for their good.  How many injuries have befallen us by others who do things to us because they are “for our own good”?

The ones on the outside of the faith believe that we are only reaching out to them because we hope that they will convert.  They believe if that hope is gone, we will no longer reach out to them.

Now it’s gut check time:  is this true?

If you knew that all of your efforts and sacrifices for a person who is away from the faith would end up yielding no fruit, then would you give up?  Take a moment really ponder this.  Imagine that person in your life who has left the faith.  Now imagine God Himself telling you that they would never come back.  Would you still go out of your way to minister to them?

If we are to follow the example of Jesus the answer must be yes.

I always imagined that the most difficult thing for Christ to endure was knowing that there would be people who would freely choose to turn away from His saving gift on the cross.  And yet, He loved them and died for them as if they were the only people in the world.

Pope Francis is challenging us to reach out to those on the margins and to love them.  And this is not a love of someone from above that bends generously to those in darkness.  This is a love that sees and appreciates the person in and of themselves.

I read somewhere recently online (and I am so sorry that I cannot credit the person who I read because I don’t remember), we do not convert people by bending to their will or by arguing with them.  We convert them by befriending them.

One of my best friends has a gift of finding other people fascinating.  We were on a limo bus for a wedding and as we were leaving, he said to the chauffeur, “Good luck with your business and your divorce.” When we inquired what he was talking about, my friend told us that he had struck up a conversation with the chauffeur and got to know his life story.  He found it truly interesting.

All of us desire this attention.  Fr. Benedict Groeschel said that Mother Teresa would talk to him about small things in his life and months later bring them up when they would meet again because she genuinely cared about his life.  We must bring this care and attention to those on the margins.

Those who feel alienated from the church, like many of our gay brothers and sisters, think that we want to convert them and “fix” them, but that we don’t love and appreciate them as they are.  Is this true about us?

Our challenge must be to befriend those on the outside.  And we cannot do it simply for the end of conversion.  We must love them as ends in themselves.  We must care about their lives, their hopes, their dreams.  We must be compassionate and feel their pain.  And we must make clear to them that conversion or no conversion, we are bonded to them in unconditional love and affection.

They must know that we love them powerfully and individually even if there is absolutely no hope of their conversion.

As I wrote, we are a religion of paradoxes: Only by giving up this hope can this hope be achieved.

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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