Spiritual Pigeonholing

I’ve been at the Frank J. Lewis Institute this week with a group of first-time campus ministers. (They all think I know something about this ministry thing, so please don’t tell them I’m a moron yet). We’re all of varied Catholic stripes. Some very traditional and pious, others somewhat irreverent and earthy. Many of us play the middle of the field as a mix of many ministerial styles.

There’s workshops throughout the week for these folks and Fr. John Grace gave an excellent keynote presentation on Educating for Justice this morning. He made the point that we often talk a good game about justice, but we also often shoot ourselves in the foot. Often, we act unjustly even towards our own colleagues in ministry. We size them up and ask how we might manipulate this relationship for our own personal gain.

Or we characterize people into different camps. The younger priest who often wears his collar is automatically a conservative. And those priests that aren’t head to the other side of the room. Even we lay people do this. Avoid those who we think we have no commonality with.

I’ve met few different people this trip and often this week, people have challenged my assumptions. There’s the very evangelical guy who has a great gift of evangelization, but might be more closed to social justice, something I value in my faith. I could pigeonhole him, thinking I know all there is to know about him and frankly, I did. I gave him short shrift, maybe not publicly, but certainly in my own thoughts.

He mentioned that he often thinks the poor are lazy, and dirty, and they use the system unjustly. And I suppose that sometimes he’s right about that in some cases, but I could feel my blood pressure rising with his every syllable.

But then, he told this story:

One time he found a guy who had lost everything and the guy simply asked him for a ride to the bus station.

He was a former minister himself and he was fired from his church for whatever reason. He had a hard time finding a job and his wife left him. He ended up on the streets.

That really spoke to my new friend. He was a man not at all unlike him. As he spoke, genuine tears fell from this hulk of a man’s eyes. He could see a bit of himself in the other…and I’ll presume a bit of Christ as well.

And there I was humbled as well. Because I had judged my friend as perhaps someone who could never see the poor as he sees himself.

It reminded me of some of the experiences shared with UB students in Cleveland, especially. We ate at a house of hospitality—and that’s all we did. We weren’t there to serve a meal. Instead, we were told to get in line, sign our names in their book, get some food and then take a seat with other guests. At first, I didn’t even want to write my name in their book–because…

“Well, you see, I’m not really a guest here.”

By week’s end I had become comfortable enough to carry on conversations with people who were regulars. No longer strangers, we ate in solidarity and found more commonalities than differences. The week continued and I found similar connections with men who were court ordered to do community service in the neighborhoods we served. Not so different from me at all, they just made a mistake or two along the way–and so have I. I could see the other in myself.

As Catholics living in this postmodern world, we all must keep talking and drop our own assumptions. We don’t know all there is to know about someone else, and if we can’t even get our ministers to do this with one another, how might we get our students to see the hungry, the homeless, the refugee…as they see themselves.

You see, that’s the thing about the principle of solidarity…we have to love those with whom we disagree, and to do that, we dare to learn about them and to see life from their eyes, not merely from our own suspicious landscape.

So today, let’s pray that we might see a bit of ourselves in one another and especially in those who we might not like, agree with, or want to spend time with.

Because by doing so we will encounter the Lord as well in our midst, prodding us to remember that we need to know each other and stop being so dismissive.

Each time we do this, especially when we do it for the least of our brothers and sisters, may we too, like my new friend, cry with great joy.