Obsessed With Others…In Good and Bad Ways

Today’s NY Times has reporter Laurie Goodstein talking about Conservative Catholics (her term, not mine) being disenchanted with Pope Francis. One particular commenter stuck out for me.

Steve Skojec, the vice president of a real estate firm in Virginia and a blogger who has written for several conservative Catholic websites, wrote of Francis’ statements: “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”

Should it? I’m not sure it should. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be gloriously happy if we had a bunch of new Catholics around, but I’m not sure I can MAKE anyone convert to our faith. I also think it would be haughty for me to think I could.

The truth is that we can’t control anyone and often, at least I find that there are many who are overly concerned about control. They need to have rigid rules and strict adherence to those rules–not merely for themselves, the one person that they actually have control over, but also for others. There seems to be a constant preoccupation with influencing others and their beliefs.

But shouldn’t we be obsessed with others? That’s the forthcoming question and my answer is a certain yes, but not with an eye towards controlling them and making them into who we hope they will be–any parent knows all too all well that this is a recipe for disaster. Rather, we need to be obsessed with people who are far too often left out. We need to be obsessed with those who face poverty, with those who can’t care for their children, with those who are elderly and lonely.

And by being obsessed and working closely to care for their needs and even more so, by changing the systems that keep people in vulnerable situations, we, in fact, convert others without controlling them or even saying a word.

We are most powerful when we are not merely living FOR others but also living WITH others. When we don’t exert our power over another but have the courage to be with people in solidarity. Giving people the freedom to be who they are and being humble enough to realize that we don’t always have all the answers.

A prime example: As the director of Campus Ministry there’s obviously a power imbalance between my students and myself. Less so, but still there, is a different kind of power imbalance between the campus ministry staff and myself.

I find that I’m a much more effective director with the campus ministry staff when I am open and honest with them. When I share my feelings with them. When I am able to be myself and allow them to see me as a person who cares for their professional needs and doesn’t just want them to complete tasks.

With students when I can care and empathize with their struggles and share a bit of my own, I find I can develop a deeper relationship with them. One based on mutual trust instead of my authority as an administrator. When I can treat each person as an individual instead of trying to get everyone to just get in line and do what I want, I find people are more willing to give me the benefit of the doubt most of the time, mostly because they know I have their best interests at heart.

When we are far too concerned about the results, we miss the person standing in front of us. We also keep people at an arm’s length–as if we only care about them as they relate to our success, our conversion rate, if you will, where numbers on converts trump caring for people despite what they believe and emphasizing that conversion lies in coercion instead of realizing that the conversion of souls lies in the person’s development in their relationship with God, not in their relationship with you.

We need to give people freedom and be obsessed with their lives, not with our own.

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