In this month’s message, the Lord states, “If you are not merciful and kind, it will not matter what you say, souls will be repelled.”
My friends, doesn’t this sum it up?
What is this lay apostolate? Why have we been assembled by God as a movement to greater holiness? Well, the truth is that as human beings, we crave love from one another. We crave connection. We crave emotional safety. And we are involved in connection all day through even the smallest interactions with others. We may not think that we leave an impression on the cashier we encounter at the supermarket, but we do.
We need to be oh so careful about what we say to ourselves and others. We need to do the hard work in our heads to remain positive about ourselves and others and about God’s plan for humanity. We are preaching a gospel of good news in this year 2013. And just as we are born into time, we will depart from time and enter timeliness. We are only here a short time. Death is a happy reality that should be viewed as naturally as birth. Indeed, we should view our whole lives as preparation for eternity.
About that, how does a Christian show others how to love as we will love in heaven? How does it look to be a Christian in the world, serving alongside people of all faiths and none? I’ll tell you a story.
There is a hospital. They were experiencing great changes and moving whole departments into other buildings. Now for some of us, change is taken in stride. For others, change is terrifying. In one department, let’s call it ultra sound, there was a man who had been there for years. He moved slowly and steadily and did not hurry about his work. He was dependable in the extreme and had a soothing and reassuring impact on suffering patients. This man had a lot of gifts, but he wasn’t a man who could change easily and when the move came, he struggled. Others adapted readily, within a couple weeks, but he just couldn’t find his rhythm. There was a newish person on the team. And she was frustrated with him. He was slowing her down, she said. This staff person verbalised her frustration to others, gradually making a case against the older man. She did this subtly at first, through a lot of eye rolling and innuendo. Then she began to make sarcastic comments, leaving sly, negative, impressions. She began to pounce on his mistakes, talking about them to everyone. Indeed, a case was being made.
Now there was a lay apostle on the staff as well. And initially, she said she accepted the criticisms about the man. He WAS slower in the new place. He WAS making the odd mistake. But in prayer she contemplated him, as well as the new staff person. And she thought, this is what they did to Christ. They ganged up on him. She realised that the younger staff person, by inflating his every mistake, was trying to get him fired.
Now to be clear, there are troublesome staff people who have to go but this man was not one of them. The lay apostle considered her day one morning in prayer. And she began to pray about work and as she contemplated the man, she realised that he was probably the kindest one on the team, the most gentle with everyone else and as stated, the most soothing when a patient was in distress. And the staff person, being very honest with herself, considered that she often made the same mistakes that the man was being accused of making. She realised something very simple. They were all imperfect.
She made a decision with Christ and went into work on a mission. She honestly praised the man to the heavens. Just as the new staff person had dismantled his reputation, she reconstructed it. She pointed out his every triumph and wondered aloud at the lunch table if he could teach the rest of them the skills he used to secure x-rays when a patient was uncooperative. She pushed back, my friends. She took a stand, she fought injustice, she protected a man who had no idea what was brewing against him. And he was safe. And with the support and praise, he not only adapted, he flourished. And his persecutor learned a lesson that Christ would like us to learn. People should not be viewed as disposable.
To zoom in, let’s look at what helped the apostle to do the right thing. Well, she, through prayer, was willing to admit that she was as imperfect as the one being targeted. Her honesty forced her to be humble about the situation. I often think that we should all be carrying signs around which say, I AM IMPERFECT. Think about it. It’s true. None of us is perfect. God is perfect but He created us to struggle with imperfection and to serve each other even in that imperfection or let’s say FROM that imperfection. If we remained aware, all day, that we were imperfect, we would treat people differently. We could love more freely, more humbly. And this is God’s dream for us, that we relax into our imperfection enough to love freely. Jesus Christ, our Returning King, got his way, not because the lay apostle was the perfect apostle. Quite the opposite. Jesus got his way because the lay apostle was willing to admit that she was as imperfect as the one they were ganging up on.
My friends, I’ve heard stories like this again and again from lay apostles. And while there is a lot of negative thinking in the world, I am telling you that God’s kingdom came in the x-ray department of that hospital because one person kept to her prayer commitment. Because it was only in prayer that she contemplated her day with Jesus Christ and saw the situation as Christ did. Christ wanted safety for this man and He, Jesus, directed the apostle to HIS path and thus, a good man kept his job. And do not let anyone tell you that the one whispering against him was acting righteously. And do not let anyone tell you that any one of us hasn’t made the mistake of talking about someone negatively behind their back. We are all prone to making that mistake. Why do we do that?
Well…let’s consider that the new staff person’s negative thinking was the result of a wound, maybe her own terrible insecurity. And if she was insecure, maybe she coped by looking for flaws in others. As the Catechism tells us, we cannot judge her. We do not know her or her full story. But we can judge that the actions she took against this man were wrong. And we can say with certainty that the lay apostle in this story lived her Christianity with courage.
Yes, lay apostles, we are called to be different. And we are called to live our Catholic faith with as much fidelity to detail as we can muster on each day. And while we may not always get the details exactly right, it’s good if we can grab on to the spirit of Christ and His truth.
I want to point something out that I’m afraid can be distracting for some of us. Not everyone agrees with us about the details of our teaching, our Way.
Do we expect everyone to agree with us? Is that realistic? Or would that be something that we can look forward to only in the next life, unity with all of mankind? I worry that we develop a type of dualistic thinking which limits Christ. We can be tempted to think people are either all good or all bad, depending on whether or not they agree with us. That doesn’t sound very Christian…because it’s not.
My friends, people are on different places and on different journeys. They may see certain actions as permissible or natural that we reject. We, given our commitment to the truth, believe some actions to be wrong. Our fidelity to the magisterium and her teaching directs us to a standard which we believe leads to the highest expression of dignity for God’s children on earth. But…not everyone agrees with us.
Can we live with that? Well, I think we are going to have to and I think having an expectation that everyone should think like we think is not only unrealistic but immature and dangerous. It leads to superiority which is ugly and repellent. And that can lead to us looking like Pharisees.
For perspective, did the early apostles live in a time where the laws represented their Christian faith perfectly? Clearly, not. Christ came to be a contrast, a model. He offered a different way. Clearly there was a need for His example and when he instructed them to give to Ceasar what was Ceasar’s, he acknowledged that Christianity could and did live alongside something different. We, too, must be prepared to live in peace with people of different beliefs and thinking.
That stated, there are times when some beliefs must be objected to as inconsistent, not only with our Way, but with any civilised way. I’m thinking of the right to be born, of course, and we must join with all members of society to protect mothers, fathers and their babies from abortion.
As apostles, let’s try to be sure our thinking reflects Christ and let’s be sure that our words leave marks of love on others rather than marks of hurt and cruelty. Speaking for myself, I believe fully in our Catechism. I’m passionate about the beauty I see reflected in our teachings. But I do not expect everyone to think like me. And I pray that I can love everyone around me, regardless of what they believe and how they choose to live their lives. I think this is what God is calling me to do, as a lay apostle, as a Christian and as a Catholic woman in 2013.