In a recent encounter in a small speciality bookstore, a sixties-something woman purchasing a book of Pope Francis' statements made a comment that begged clarification. She remarked: "I like this new pope. He's so different than the others. I like the way he thinks." She then looked at me, so I asked: "Oh, and how does he think?" By the grace of God, that question presented itself instead of the verbal cricket bat I was tempted to swing. She replied, "He's so accepting of gay people; he's not like the others (Other popes, that is). He doesn't judge anyone." She made the follow up remark that she liked Pope Francis because he says gays are welcome in Church. Fine, ok; everyone is welcome. However, she should have stopped before she made known her thought that homosexual acts (of a sexual kind) are perfectly acceptable.
Encounters similar to the one described above can be opportunities to engage in conversation and point people in the right direction. When seeking to engage another in a constructive dialogue, it helps to plant seeds rather than risk pulling up good things along with pulling up the weeds, to plant a seed that grows in a person's mind that might allow her to root out some of those weeds she has allowed to grow in her soul. A good gardner might say 'What? You are talking nonsense! You pull out the weeds first before planting, otherwise the good seed immediately gets choked out.' In this instant, the good seed that is planted is more like a herbicide employed by the gardener to target destructive beliefs. Or, think of the good seed as a vaccine that targets harmful viruses. It helps, too, to remind oneself that the true gardener and true physician of souls is the Lord, the Holy Spirit. The Church proposes the Faith; God disposes the soul to faith, to supernatural belief in God, and disposes man to accept the True Faith that is God's gift for the salvation of souls.
Jesus tailored His approach to each person with whom He spoke. He, of course, understands each one of us better than we can possibly know ourselves. Jesus always appeals to our dignity as children of God, as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. He knows that we suffer from the effects of Original Sin. He alone can rescue us from sin and help us overcome our sinful inclinations. He rescues us by purifying us of fear. Jesus is Love incarnate; His word purifies all who truly hear Him. He purifies us of the fundamental fear, the fear of everlasting death, annihilation. He destroys death by His death.
A well timed question, I've found, is the preferred strategy for engagement. Not a full blown interrogation but an honest question that seeks, in educababble or academese, to assess a person's prior knowledge in order to construct a response that:
1) appeals to a person's dignity;
2) uses accessible language tailored to a person's experience and understanding;
3) engages the imagination and encourages honest questions; and
4) leaves room for the Holy Spirit to act. We must be willing to let God "finish" the conversation.
A few days ago a fellow in a neighbouring apartment shared that he is entering the RCIA process at a nearby Catholic parish. What was his reason for seeking Christ in His Church? He said very simply, "I'm drawn by the joy and love Catholics have, their genuineness and gentleness. I have been invited to various protestant communities (he himself having been raised a Baptist), but I find their emphasis is always on money, money, money with no mention of where the money is actually going. I find that off-putting. Catholics occasionally ask for money, but the money is being spent on support services for the poor and understandable parish upkeep. The Catholic parish focusses on what makes you a better person, a more compassionate and loving person, and faith in God, of course. The priest is joy-filled, too."Sometimes the pain one carries around is enough to block out the present. It may be that one's partner in conversation is not ready to go the whole way and lay down their pain in that moment. He will likely require time to undo the knot of a grudge twisted together over years to form a crown of thorns. In that moment, we must remind ourselves that one's partner in conversation is free to accept or reject what has been shared. If God respects our free will, then we, too, must be willing with genuine charity to accept someone's rejection of a proposition. It might help to remind oneself not to take such a rejection personally. Sometimes—most times, really—the hurt and opposition we encounter is much bigger than we should attempt to deal with. The mountain of another person's pain (anger, disappointment, sense of betrayal...) is too big to confine within our need to help them in any one moment. That "mountain", however, can be embraced by a loving heart that is ready to listen.
If you are the recipient of another's anger toward Mother Church and/or God, or you, a disciple of Jesus, then recall our Lord's counsel:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It is to fulfil the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.—Holy Gospel according to St. John 15:18-27.
It is a sad fact of our time that many people, having abandoned the Faith due to poor catechesis or having never had the opportunity to encounter Jesus in His Church because of negative propaganda or mere ignorance, are conditioned to certain habits that inhibit the development of a personal, intimate communion with Jesus Christ and His Church. Hence, patience is the appropriate reminder and course of action to avoid all futile attempts to control or rush the action of the Holy Spirit working in the soul of another person.