There are days when it feels like no one is listening.
Part of this is the fact that I am getting older and the world I used to know is slipping away. All people begin to feel this way with age. The solid ground of values on which we were raised begin to be replaced by the next generation. Some of this is natural. But some of this is a specific attack on the Christian foundations of our society.
As this continues, our world begins to become more and more separated from the truth. We begin to feel like we are living in the times St. Paul described where the people “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever, Amen.” (Romans 1:25)
Because of this, we lose more and more common ground. We no longer feel like we are able to talk to each other, but instead all we do is yell at each other. Social media hasn’t helped with this. I have very rarely ever seen a thoughtful, humble, nuanced debate on Twitter. Instead, we look to each other as our enemies and scream at them that they are wrong.
But are we really reaching anyone that way?
Fr. Larry Richards has a phrase that I love, “Too often Christians try to hit people with the truth of God before they’ve ever experienced the love of God.”
We must take a moment and look at the faith from the outside from the perspective of those who have been taught about Christianity by the secular world. From the outside, the Church is an old, out of touch institution run by a superstitious patriarchy that stands in the way of progress and equality in the world. The Church’s main function to act as a moral busybody getting involved in everyone’s personal life so as to control them.
I am oversimplifying a bit, but based on my conversations with my students, not by much.
And while the faithful balk at this image and are scandalized that people would say such horrible things about Holy Mother Church, we must remember that this is where many people begin. And we must always reach people where they are. We are a missionary Church. Some think this means that we must travel to distant lands to preach the Gosepl. But what it really means is that we must go to the people who don’t know Christ, even if they are in our own backyard.
With this in mind, the truths of the faith are filtered through these ingrained prejudices. The world already views the Church as guilty of things like homophobia because we stand by the truth that marriage is only for one man and one woman. This perception poisons a great deal of the message.
Imagine if there was someone in your community who was widely understood to be a virulent racist. Now imagine this person coming to you and lecturing you on morality. Would you not be disinclined to listen. This is how many perceive the Church as sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.
Is this true? No.
Is it fair that this is the perception many have? Also, no.
But life is not fair and we are living at a time when this is where many people begin. Shall we now be cultural missionaries to them.
I remember the movie The Mission, where it opens with a remote tribe murdering a Jesuit who came to preach the Gospel. They viewed him with fear and suspicion and so killed him. Soon after, his superior Fr. Gabriel goes back to that jungle. Before he meets with them, he sits in the woods and plays a beautiful song on his oboe. This attracts the people. Some are still suspicious, but some are intrigued. He met them where they were and let them know he was their friend.
When we encounter those who are hostile to the Church, we must make sure that before anything else that they are loved. This does not mean that we in any way soften or deny the truths of the faith. But many will never listen to those truths unless we show them that they are loved.