Church: Customers or Coworkers in Mission

Dear Folks,
The Feast of the Ascension is a time to talk about mission. It is sort of the apostles’
graduation ceremony. To be Christian is to be on mission, and it is time to ask a very
serious question.
Consider, if you will, two models of Church: Catholics as customers vs Catholics as coworkers in mission.
Catholics who function according to the customer model will think about church like any
other consumer good, and it becomes about getting one’s preferences over all (Coke or
Pepsi? Or maybe Dr. Pepper?). Improving the church becomes about how services can be
provided as conveniently as possible. Volunteering in the church will be seen as
extraordinary, not normal. Adult faith formation is seen as “for those who like that sort of
thing” rather than a normal part of being a disciple. I believe it was Richard Neuhaus who
said that many Catholics thought their only duty was to show up to be served. Things like
faith formation and Christian service will be seen as extras to be sacrificed for the sake of
“basic functions: keeping the buildings open and the Mass schedule. Such people may be
more likely to quit if they don’t get things the way they think they should be.
Catholics who see themselves as co-workers in mission are going to be focused on how the
Church can better draw people to Jesus. They will ask more questions like how can we
better draw outsiders to Jesus? How can we be leaven, salt, and light in the larger
community? How can we inspire others to see the goodness, beauty, and truth about the
Catholic faith? What reasons do the surrounding community have to be grateful we are
here? Instead of asking “how much am I obligated to do?” the question is “How can I, with
my circumstances, do as much as possible?” Some, given their situation, can only do a
teeny bit, but if we do it with love, it is huge in God’s eyes. Learning more about the faith
becomes urgent, so that we can better witness to it. There is an urgency to growing in
holiness, so that God’s light will shine more brightly through us. There is an attentiveness
to how we represent the faith community to others; we are God’s ambassadors. Such people
will be more resilient when hard times come, when we lose things we are accustomed to,
when being church grows difficult. Such people will not watch helplessly when things go
bad but will build something better.
Parents’ first mission is passing on the faith to their children, and if we believe the Gospel
is true, then we believe that the faith is the most important gift they can give their children.
Many parents have suffered the heartbreak of watching their grown-up children stop the
practice of the faith. If they did the best they knew how to do at the time, they have nothing
to be ashamed of. As they grieve for their disappointment, we turn our attention to how
things can be made better. The task at hand is to become a church that better draws people
to the faith. The data makes it clear that what was done in the past does not give them what
they need. It will take all of us together to make that happen.
So, this leads to the question: what is our model? How do we see ourselves? And, most
importantly, how would Jesus want us to approach being Church?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Love: Easy to say; hard to do

Dear Folks,
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Leviticus 19:18 commands
that we love our neighbors as ourselves, so what is new here? What is new is the standard
to love as Jesus loves. Great. How do we do that?

Many years ago, Joseph Fletcher wrote a book called “Situation Ethics”. In it he claimed
the only rule of morality we should have is to love others. Then he would pose situations
and say that the rules say this but what is the loving thing to do? I soon realized that he
thought it was obvious what the loving thing to do was, and that every honest, decent
person would come to the same conclusions. A moment’s reflection will tell us that is not
true. We have terrible disagreements on how to seek the good of others. First, we don’t
agree on what is good. Is getting what I want the greatest good? An addict most wants to
feed his addiction, but enabling the addiction is not the loving thing to do. As sinners, we
are all something like addicts, and our sinful state distorts our vision of goodness (This is
called concupiscence). Jesus came and showed us a greater good, one that often involves
letting go of things we strongly desire, for the sake of something greater. The other issue,
even when we agree on what is good, what will get us to that good most effectively. Can
we better fight poverty with more government programs or more free enterprise solutions (I
have opinions, but I won’t bore you with them now)? Sometimes we think the
disagreement is about ends when it is about means.

What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? Some people project their own prejudices and
desires. I remember an animal rights group who put up a sign that said that Jesus was a
vegetarian. When they were challenged how they knew this, they said that Jesus was a
good person, so of course He would be a vegan. Of course, we know that He was not a
vegetarian. In Luke 24:43, it very explicitly says that He ate a piece of fish. We also know
about His multiplying loaves and fishes, and miraculously enabling huge catches of
fish. Furthermore, He observed Jewish practices throughout His earthly life, which would
include eating Passover lamb. What is clearly happening is people are either not reading
the Gospels, or reading and missing a lot, and then presuming that Jesus would see things
the way they do.

Demanded complete loyalty and unlimited sacrifice (Matthew 10:37-39). Jesus threatens
with hell. A Lot. I found Matt 5:22; 29-30; 7:13; 19; 23; 10:28; 33; 39; 11:23; 12:32; 37;
13:30; 42; 49-50; 16:25; 18:3; 21:43-44; 22:13-14; 24:48-51 in Matthew alone (I did not
count the times in Mark, Luke, or John). By the way, that doesn’t mean we should be quick
to threaten people with hell. What works for one audience will not work with another. Part
of loving service is taking the effort to get to know people well enough to understand how
to connect with them.

Jesus’ teaching on marriage was fierce in Matt 19:1-15. His teaching is based on natural
law, the way we were created. We notice that He doesn’t talk about love (we are to love
everyone), but on the fact that “From the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and
female.’” The consequences were so serious that He scared the disciples who said, “If that
is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said marriage was not for
everyone, “but only to those to whom that is granted.” Marriage is a heroic act if one takes
it seriously, and it takes a great deal of courage. To teach that nowadays would get you
called “unloving” or even “hateful” in some circles.

Jesus loves all people; He does not love all behaviors. Jesus taught things that were hard. If
we think we have it all figured out, we are probably wrong. It takes a lifetime of
discipleship to learn how to love as Jesus loves. Then we have to do it. We need a lot of
grace. Let’s pray hard.

Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Helping Those in Need

Dear Folks,
As we continue to celebrate Easter, we are reading a lot from the Acts of the
Apostles. It is a continuation of the story of the Gospel of Luke, and the story
of the early Church, and a wonderful picture of how to be an Easter
people. This is what the first Christians did as a response to the resurrection
and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In our first reading this week we see the early Church worked together as one
body. They each cared, not just for themselves, but for the good of all the
members of the Church. Soon we will see Christians helping others who were
not members of their faith community. This was not something people did in
the ancient world, and it made Christians stand out as different. It is one of the
reasons many people decided they wanted to learn more about Christianity. It is
a way of proclaiming the Gospel that not only gets people’s attention but earns
a good deal of credibility.
Right now, as I understand it, the Catholic Church does more to help those in
need that any other organization. However, could we agree there is room to
grow? As a rough guess, what would you figure is the proportion of our
church’s resources that are dedicated to keeping the church itself going? Now,
what proportion do you think is dedicated to helping people in need beyond our
church? What proportion would Jesus want, if the church worked the way He
would like it?
Imagine a central database of opportunities to help those in need, so that
everyone could find some need that would match their gifts, abilities, and
circumstances. Some can do more, and some can do less, but if all one can do
is a teeny amount, if it is done with love, it is huge in God’s eyes (Mark 12:41-
44; Luke 21:1-4).
This will accomplish three things:

  1. It will make Jesus happy (do we need another reason?)
  2. It will proclaim the Gospel in a way that connects to people who are not
    impressed with institutions or rituals (at least, not impressed yet).
  3. We will encounter Jesus personally in the people we serve (Matthew
    25:31-46).
    We are called to do two things: encounter Jesus and share Jesus. The more we
    do those two things, the more we will flourish as church, the more we will
    flourish as disciples, and the more we will flourish as human beings.
    For the past year we have been playing defense. It is time for that to
    change. We will revisit the survey that had been taken. I will share the work
    that has been done as a result, some mistakes that I made and what is to be
    done in the future. One of the things that needs to improve is messaging. I am
    determined to do better with that myself, and everyone can play a role in
    making that happen. I believe there is much reason to approach the coming
    year with hope.
    Blessings,
    Fr. Jim

Prayer for Wayward Politicians

I have never thought it proper for me to use my position to endorse a particular politician. I have focused on teaching principles of Catholic social teaching, and thought that was not only more correct, but more effective. However, I do not believe that any faithful Catholic could object to this, and I think we all agree, there are many politicians who need prayer. Some people might get together and pray regularly for certain public officials who especially need it. Who knows what might happen. God clearly loves to take terrible sinners and make them great saints. https://www.catholic365.com/article/9502/6-sinnersturnedsaints-and-what-we-can-learn-from-them.html

Who then can be Saved?

Dear Folks,
Our Gospel today (John 3:14-21) is cause for rejoicing but also raises some questions.
We rejoice in “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into
the world to condemn the world, but that the word might be saved through him (John
3:16:17).” We read elsewhere that God “wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge
of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).” This is great. God is not simply an objective judge who is
content to send us to hell if we don’t measure up to some arbitrary standards. God wants us to
be saved, wants it very much.
Then things get interesting. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever
does not believe has already been condemned, because he does not believe in the name of the
only Son of God (John 3:18).” This is serious. What does that mean? Does it mean that all
who are not explicitly Christian are going to hell? Does it mean that affirming the right
doctrines guarantees me salvation? The Catholic Church would say no.
“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to
light, because their works were evil (John 3:19).” If, by God’s grace, one chooses light as
best as one can understand it, that may be saving faith. The Second Vatican Council’s
Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) says, “those who have not yet received the
Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways (LG 16).”
“Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he
gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills
all men to be saved (1Tim 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the
Gospel of Christ or his Church but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and
moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their
conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation (LG 16).” We see in 1 Timothy 4:10
that “we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who
believe.”
Make no mistake, anyone who gets to heaven does so by the grace of God through the one
sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, none of us would be saved: we
would all be toast (extra crispy). There would be nothing we could do about it, nothing at all.
It is possible to believe in Jesus like I believe that Carson City is the capital of Nevada. I
believe it’s true, but it doesn’t affect my life in any way. That is not faith in the Christian
sense. It is possible to go to church, say all the right things, and still have more faith in sin to
make me happy, that is, prefer darkness to light. On the other hand, if one has been taught
such a bad imitation of the Christian faith that one cannot see the goodness, beauty or truth of
it, one would not be blamed for rejecting that caricature. I suggest that people who believe a
feeble imitation of the Gospel are far more common than most people think.
So, whom should we evangelize? Everyone, with no exception, including ourselves. Our
faith is imperfect, and we can all wander off if we are not attentive. St. Paul said, “I drive my
body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified
(1 Corinthians 9:27).” If he was not smug, how much less should we be? That shows the
seriousness of his warning that “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to
fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).” We should never despair of anyone, and we should never be
complacent. We may someday find that a small act of sharing light may make all the
difference.
Lent is serious.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Basic Housecleaning for the Soul

Dear Folks,
We never outgrow reviewing the basics. This week we read the Ten Commandments (Exodus
20, see also Deuteronomy 5). Pope Saint John Paul said that the Ten Commandments formed
a foundation, and the Beatitudes were a structure to be built on that foundation, reaching
higher and higher with no limit. To have a sound structure, we must regularly attend to the
foundation.
We begin: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of
slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in
the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the
earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.” The first principle is Who is
God and who is not. We want to be in charge and do things our way. From the beginning,
there has been temptation to do things our way rather than God’s way (see Genesis 3 about the
Fruit Incident, and Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel). It forbids carving idols, not because
God hates sculpture (He doesn’t: see Exodus 25:17-22; Numbers 21:4-9), but because of the
danger of thinking they could possess God. This goes back to who is in charge. This was a
problem with the Temple as well. There was a sense that God was uniquely located in the
temple (see Psalm 18:7), and some people thought that as long as the temple was in Jerusalem
God would take care of them no matter what they did. Jeremiah said, “Do not put your trust
in these deceptive words ‘The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the
Lord!’ (Jeremiah 7:4).” If they didn’t do things God’s way, there would still be
consequences. Imagine thinking that a St. Christopher medal would protect me so I don’t
have to drive carefully: it isn’t going to work.
Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Nowadays, cancel culture has sometimes raised
language policing to ridiculous levels, but it is true that how we talk matters. Our talk should
always contribute toward reverence for God. Keeping holy the sabbath day means that we
break from the usual routine to focus especially on God. Of course, central to that is
worshipping at the Eucharistic Liturgy. When people need to get tasks done and not doing
them would cause hardship, we remember it is supposed to liberate, not strangulate. Sometimes people must work on Sundays, but still, it is important to find some way to break the
usual pattern so it is not just another day.
Honoring Father and Mother is a particular case of respecting authority. That is part of the
recognition that our understanding and our perspective is limited. It also means putting what
we think and what we want in second place. In our society, that is a radical idea.
Do not kill. This means respecting all life, from conception to natural death. It includes
standing up for the lives of others and helping those who cannot sustain themselves. This also
means respecting each person’s dignity. This is a huge job. Where people are viewed as
objects or commodities, standing up for life is a battle. We have a lot of work to do.
Do not commit adultery. God made marriage, sexuality, and family core to what it is to be
human, and they are sacred beyond words. Revering how God made us is an enormous part
of protecting human dignity. We have a lot of work to do, and it begins with learning more
about theology of the body. You shall not steal. The right to property is a part of human
dignity, and we are called to honor that. You shall not bear false witness against your
neighbor. This would include passing on rumors and memes that are harmful and that we
don’t know are true (but we want them to be because they match our prejudices). Even
recognizing that much would be a great step forward for our society.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (or husband) and you shall not covet your
neighbor’s stuff, two distinct but related commandments. If it is sinful to do something, it is
also wrong to enjoy fantasizing about doing it. There is a part of our brain that doesn’t
distinguish between fantasy and reality (which is why we are sad when a fictional character
we like dies in a story). It may seem harmless because it is in our heads, but that is the most
crucial territory of all. When we entertain ourselves by fantasy about doing bad things, it
rewires our brains to believe, bit by bit, that it is not so bad, that it is good and friendly, and
then, even if we do not act it out, it means our hearts are less and less in doing what is right.
Much housecleaning to do.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Children in the Ancient World

Dear Folks,
This week we talk about the testing of Abraham, in which God tells him to sacrifice his son,
his only son, the son whom he loves. There is a lot to be said about this, but many people
ask how could Abraham do this? Why would he believe that God wanted him to do such a
terrible thing? It is important to remember that in Abraham’s time, what God was asking
was not at all unusual. It was very common for people to sacrifice their first-born sons to
Moloch, presumably in the hopes that they would get more children. What was remarkable
at the time was not that God demanded such a thing, but that He stopped it. What was
remarkable at the time about Abraham’s response was that Isaac was the son of his old age,
and it was a miracle (literally) that he was there at all. It was an incredible act of faith.
We tend to think that moral principles that seem obvious to us have always been obvious to
everyone, but much of what we take for granted had to be learned and developed over
time. In the Old Testament we see gradual development of thought. The Hebrews started
out being very like the people around them (as could be expected), and God lead them
along with more refined principles. It is easy now to look down on the notion of an eye for
an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but we remember it was a big step up. In Genesis 4:24,
Lamech says he will be avenged “seventy-seven times.”
God had to include in the Law of Moses “You shall not offer any of your offspring for
immolation to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord (Leviticus
18:21).” It was not something that could be taken for granted. And it was not always
followed (2 Kings 3:27, 16:3, 17:17, 21:6. See Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 32:35;
Ezekiel 20:26,31; Ezekiel 23:37). It is amazing how often that comes up.
Offering the first fruits of one’s produce to God is a Biblical concept (e.g. Exodus
34:26). The first-male of the livestock were to be offered, and the first-born sons were to be
consecrated and redeemed (Exodus 13:1-16). The presentation of Jesus in the Temple
(Luke 2:22-39) was in fulfillment of this command. The problem is when people see their
children more like products or possessions than people.
I once had a conversation with a woman in which we were discussing the ancient Aztec
practice of offering human sacrifice, cutting their still beating hearts out of their chests and
offering them to their god. She said that she couldn’t understand how people could do that,
that there would be something inside them that would say no. I said that we humans have
quite an ability to accept all sorts of things and mentioned how many abortions there were
every year. She said, “Oh, you’re against abortion? I’m not. We won’t talk about it.” I
didn’t push it, but I figured that she had definitively refuted her idea. We can be led to
accept anything if we are not careful (and perhaps even if we are).
Looking at history, there have been many times societies have set apart groups of human
beings as not worthy of respect, dignity, or empathy. The danger of this can hardly be
overstated. During our journey of Lent, perhaps we should be reflecting on how that works,
and how that might be happening now.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Jesus heals a leper. He can heal sin.

Dear Folks,
Today Jesus heals lepers. I’m always in favor of physical healing, but I would suggest that
when Jesus heals, He is also teaching something deeper. We do not look at someone
suffering and conclude they are being punished by God. Jesus closed that door (John
9:3). However, leprosy does teach us some things about the effects of sin.
Our foundational teaching about sin is the infamous Fruit Incident in Genesis 3. After
sinning, they were alienated from their own selves/their bodies (v. 7), from God (v. 8), from
one another (v. 12) and from nature/the earth/work (vv. 16-19). A leper experiences similar
alienations. Their bodies became their enemies. They were not able to enter the temple or
the synagogue, and so were cut off from much of the practice of their religion. They could
not be with their families, friends or community. They could not engage in any trade to
earn a living and couldn’t even draw water from a well. When Jesus healed a leper, He not
only cured the disease, He restored their lives. They could reenter the Temple and the
synagogue. They could reconnect with friends and family, with the community. They
could earn a living again. Their bodies became home again and not a prison.
When people go to heaven, God glorifies their bodies (1Corinthians 15:35-49; Philippians
3:21). People of every tribe and tongue and nation will be gathered around the divine throne
(Revelation 7:9). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). We shall
know God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). The challenge now is to live like
people longing for that future.
In a couple of days, we start Lent. It is a time for examining ourselves and repenting of our
sins. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we shall have a chance to see ourselves in a
clearer way. We seek to know our sinfulness so that we can better repent and follow Jesus
more faithfully. It is a time to grow in our desire to become more like what God made us to
be. It would be good to consider the four areas of healing:
• Relationship with God: Do we treat God at least as well as our best
friend? Where do we need to grow in trust? Is He welcome in every aspect of
our lives?
• With others: Where do our relationships need healing? Is there something we can
do? Are there situations where the other person will not try, and we just need to
keep ourselves as safe as we can, pray for them, and avoid giving into hate?
• With nature and labor: Balance between work and rest? Care for the
environment? How are we focused on leaving the world better than it would have
been without us?
• With ourselves: Are we growing in chastity? Are there times we look upon others
as objects rather than beloved children of God? Do we treat our bodies with at
least the care and respect we give our smart phone or our car? Do we engage in
destructive self-talk? When we fail or make a mistake, do we spend time and
energy berating ourselves, or do we learn from it and strategize how to do better?
Obviously, these questions are not a complete list, but just a few examples. What might
God be calling us to become in the four aspects of ourselves? How can we better receive
God’s gift of Himself, and better give ourselves as gift to Him?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

Dear Folks,
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (clever/cunning/
crafty) as serpents and simple (innocent) as doves (Matthew 10:16).” The greater the evil
that we fight, the more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. On
Amazon I saw a book called “In Defense of Looting” that apparently suggested that looting
was an effective tactic of protest. (Wasn’t Amazon the group that de-platformed Parler?
But they allow this?) If we say that our tactics are justified because our cause is so right and
just, we want to remember that Everyone’s cause is right and just in their minds, and those
tactics may be used for causes we don’t approve of. Many have pointed to those who
defended the rioting last summer as making it easier for others to believe they should break
into the capital. I highly recommend Ann Garrido’s book “Redeeming Conflict.” Her habit

4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions do not guarantee good actions. The

scribes and Pharisees who opposed Jesus certainly thought of themselves as the good guys,
but they lacked self-reflection. They had a mighty lens for seeing any hint of fault in
others, but were blind to their own shortcomings, or dismissed them because they
considered themselves so good.
Of course, the Bible has some helpful stuff. Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry but do not sin; do
not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” James 1:19-20
reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” and that our wrath “does not
fulfill the righteousness of God.” Matthew 12:36: “You shall be held accountable for every
idle word that you utter.” When we are about to say something or type something, imagine
talking with Jesus on the last day and explaining how this comment is serving the kingdom
and showing His goodness. Jesus was sometimes fierce, but He wasn’t mean for the sake of
being mean, no matter how much someone deserved it. Jesus was very angry in Matthew
23, but he didn’t stay there; he moved to sadness and mourning for Jerusalem. Then He
went to work.
In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he says, “In any nonviolent
campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices
are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” He knew that their efforts needed
to be based on facts that would stand up to skeptical scrutiny. He did not just grab a few
tidbits of information that seemed to support his narrative. He describes their purification
like this: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the
questions, ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ and ‘Are you able to endure
the ordeals of jail?’” This was disciplined and they held themselves to a very high
standard. They showed their power not with physical force but by imitating Jesus.
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of consensus in this country, and a great
moment to have some serious conversation about how to prevent such things in the future.
There could have been serious steps taken so people could be confident that when they
interact with the police their lives would be protected and their dignity respected, as well as
the police being confident that if they do their jobs wrong there will be consequences and if
they do their jobs right their superiors and the community will stand by them. Then there
were riots night after night. The country was divided, and the moment was thrown away.
That may be the greatest tragedy of all.
I think we can heal as a nation. It will take a lot of self-examination. It will take many
deciding to look beyond their anger at what is wrong, to some well thought out strategies
for solving problems. It will require being clever as serpents and innocent as doves.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Jesus has Authority Over Evil

Dear Folks,
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ first miracle is casting out an unclean spirit. He had just been
in the desert facing temptation by Satan, then He started preaching, called the first disciples,
and now this. It was the first blow in a battle that would culminate on the cross. He did not
come merely to fight this evil or that evil, but evil itself. Ultimately, our enemy is not
people who do evil, but evil itself. How much the devil is personally involved and how
much is just human sinfulness is not a question to spend time with (too much interest in the
devil is a bad idea: he is the greatest of all seducers).
There is no doubt there is much evil in our society today, and that we are broken into
factions that are getting farther apart, more hostile and more suspicious of each other as
time grows on. How can we fight this evil? How can we bring healing? How can people
who disagree have constructive and fruitful dialog? I have some thoughts.
Our greatest weapon against evil is our relationship with God (Ephesians 6:10-17). If we
want a better world, the first step is to fall more deeply in love with God.
It is very human to believe that what seems obviously true to me is obvious to everyone
else, if they will only admit it. Until we recognize (and keep reminding ourselves) that
intelligent people of good will can see things differently from us, we cannot have good
dialog, and we will tend to get louder and angrier instead of increasing understanding.
It is easier to see faults in others than in ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5). This is an unconscious
thumb on the scale. If we do not remember that and compensate for it, we will keep talking
past each other. When we call out the faults of people on our side more energetically than
the those on the other side, it will be a great step forward for dialog and healing. Also, we
are not called to judge the state of their souls but call out bad ideas and bad
behaviors. Arguments that support our point of view seem stronger. Arguments against
our point of view seem weaker. This is another unconscious thumb on the scale. We can
have better dialog if we keep it in mind.
It is easy to look back on atrocities committed in the past and say with hindsight we would
not have participated; we would have resisted. Oh really? We have the advantage of
knowing what we know and being raised by and surrounded by people who support our
point of view. How do we know that if that were different, we would not be different? Dr.
Philip Zimbardo was involved in the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which they simulated a
prison setting and observed people’s behavior. Many behaved quite differently from how
they expected. Dr. Zimbardo came to Aquinas College and talked while I was there. I
remember his final comment was that the more people thought they were immune to being
influenced, the more easily they were influenced, and the more concerned they were of
being influenced, the better they could resist. Humility is called for.
I strongly recommend the book “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save
America From the Culture of Contempt” by Arthur C. Brooks. He reminds us that dialog
with people who disagree with us is a gift. It helps improve our ideas and sharpen our
perspective. I know I have failed many times: I have spent most of my life picking up bad
habits. I suspect I’m not alone. If we work together, we can do great things.
Part 2 Next week.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim