In my last article, I wrote about how if you give tacit approval to people who are doing something morally evil then you are complicit.
However, I believe I should also make a bit of a clarification. We want to avoid giving scandal and leading people into sin. But we also want to be careful about cutting ourselves off from others that we deem sinful. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that the Christian and the atheist both struggle with uncertainty as part of God’s plan. He said that if either could be shut away in their towers of absolute certainty, then they would not encounter each other as fellow travelers on an uncertain sea. God wants us to not only love Him, but love each other. And we can only really love people with whom we share life’s journey.
To be sure, if the company we are keeping is a bad influence on us, we may need to separate ourselves for the good of our own souls. There is no shame in admitting when we lack the spiritual strength to be heroically virtuous. God can give strength to all situations, but we should not be arrogant about our own holiness.
Having said that, if we can, we are called to journey with others, even if they are on the wrong path.
In the movie Speed, Keanu Reeves’ character is on a bus that will blow up if it goes below 50 miles per hour. At one point, they have to get an injured man off of the bus. So the police drive a truck parallel to the bus so that the man can be transferred and taken to safety.
If someone is living a life of sin, they are on that bus to destruction. That bus is going to blow up. The only way to get someone off is if you pull up alongside them and run parallel to them in their life and travel the same path next to them. You cannot save someone from the sidelines and just shout “Stop sinning.” You need to be journeying with them.
It is also important that this journey is one of genuine care. Sometimes people feel like we are simply trying to entice them onto a different path without actual care for their lives. As a teacher, I teach God’s word to large groups of young people several times a day. And while this is an important part of the processes, it is also important to let the students know that you care about them individually as persons. It is fine to talk to groups, but you cannot love groups. God doesn’t not love mankind. He loves each man. Jesus refused to be crowned king by the crowds, because He is not the leader of a mob. Jesus is the King of individual hearts.
God did not simply send life-instructions from His heavenly throne. He became one of us in the Person of Jesus and He journeyed with us as a man.
So how do we journey with others effectively with others?
1.Get To Know Their Lives
Make sure that you approach each person as an individual. Most people intuitively know if you are giving pre-ordained responses. I remember I was part of a Bible study in college. The leader was a well-intentioned person, but rather than letting the flow of conversation go to where we were interested, she kept going to artificial, structured questions. And when we answered, she moved on to the next question without really listening to us. When we want to share the Gospel with others, we want them to listen to us. But they are much more likely to listen to us if we listen to them.
2. Act Without Agenda
A number of years ago, I wrote that we should love as if we have no hope of conversion. This is important because sometimes people don’t listen to the Gospel we give because they get the strong sense that they are just a spiritual project to us, another notch in our conversion quotas. We need to let people know that the love we have for them is unconditional. It is particularly not conditional on whether or not they convert.
I listened to a speaker recently who is same-sex attracted. She was raised Jewish but eventually converted to the Catholic faith. She is currently living a devout life in keeping with God’s plan for human sexuality. When she told her story, she said that her Catholic friends never once brought up her sexual attractions on their own. They answered questions if she had them, but they instead got to know her as a person in the totality of her personhood, where her homosexual attractions were only one aspect of her. They loved her as a person and never made her feel that this love was dependent on her conversion.
Yet in journeying with her, she was able to see the joy in their lives. Particularly, she was introduced to the Eucharist and she began to long for it. Because her Catholic friends journeyed with her, they were able to bring her to the “Catholic Bus.”
3. Do Not Hide Your Faith
Acting without agenda does not mean to hide your Catholic faith. If you faith is an important part of your life, then this should be shared as well. We are told in polite society that we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion because it makes people uncomfortable. How many Thanksgiving dinners have been sent into dramatic tailspin because of these topics? But there is nothing controversial in and of itself with sharing about your prayer life, your devotions, your charity, and your encounter with the sacraments. As long as we are not bragging, sharing these things is an act of opening our lives to others.
I often tell stories about my wife. I have a fantastic marriage, but that is not a brag because I don’t take any credit for it. I am married to an amazing woman of faith who loves me unconditionally. She is such a huge part of my life that if I didn’t talk about her, I would be hiding myself from others. My faith is also a huge part of who I am. I don’t bring it up among my friends so that I can preach to them. I do so because if I am going to journey with them, they need to see my journey as I see theirs. There may be times that this leads to conflict. But what relation is free from all conflict? Conflict in and of itself is not a problem as long as it doesn’t lead to resentment. I have one friend in particular with whom I constantly argue. But there is no wounding because we know that the loving friendship we have for each other as deep as a brotherhood. If we have strong relationships with people on a very personal level, then we have less of a risk of hurting that relationship by sharing our faith.
So let us follow the example of Christ and journey with others. Sometimes simply sharing a life with someone is more powerful than any words.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson