New Evangelization Series, Part II: Compassion or Something Better?

June 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured

10255010_1496032373953625_2246698207046288995_nWe Christians have a problem. We know that God is love, and that all of the teachings of the Church are to be understood as propositional manifestations of that love. We know that we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. And yet, we often find ourselves on the outside of social interactions where someone is talking about something that they are happy about.

You may have heard the maxim, “Love God, and do as you please” (St. Augustine). But, of course, the “as you please” means different things to us at different times, and how do we do as we please around people unlike ourselves being happy about things we believe are wrong?

How do we respond when someone tells us that their daughter conceived twins- by IVF? Or a man excitedly relates how his girlfriend has moved in with him – what do we say? There are few that have not experienced some form of this dilemma; we want to support them and be happy for them, and yet we are afraid of appearing to condone sin. We can feel frustrated when “atheists” appear to be more compassionate than believers, despite the fact that our entire belief system is based on love. And are they more compassionate? The answer is often “yes”, because they can afford to be. Oftentimes it is their compassion which led them into atheism in the first place. We needn’t worry, though because we have the means of doing as we ought if only we know that the rules are not against it.


One would be hard-pressed to find a Christian community that did not proclaim love to be at the very core of their worldview. There is great variance, however, in the manner in which this “love” is expressed. Some versions of Christianity, despite sharing mostly the same teachings of Christ, are among the most false and most dangerous of all worldviews. It only takes a small change to turn the most beautiful of worldviews into the ugliest such that it no longer really has anything to do with God or truth, and everything to do with the false glory of believing oneself to be above other people. The act of loving (instead of damning) those who are beset with ignorance or misunderstandings about the teachings of Christ or the Church causes them to feel somehow diminished. Why? It is because, from their perspective, if those on the outside are not trash, then they on the inside lose everything. It doesn’t really matter that God is involved at all. Some Christian stances are very much akin to the faith of King Herod who blithely ordered the slaughter of the innocent to protect his own false glory. We can see if we are of a similar bent by considering how many we may have consigned to hell while God tries to save them all.

Given such potential for departure from love in the name of Christianity, when we are presented with someone who does not share our “values”, what does it mean to say that we ought to interact with them in a loving manner? Is it more loving to avoid divisive topics, or to confront moral issues head-on, or is the right way something completely different? Moreover, why is it that we are even unsure about the way we approach this? Could it be the case that there is some element of fear involved when we see people holding a different worldview? Are we afraid that we will be unable to defend our own position? Are we afraid that they will not listen to us?

And, most urgently, are we convinced that we must take a stand against them, even if it is not really our free choice to do so and maybe we would (in some cases) even prefer to see things just as they do?

While the core of any potential fear has to be answered on a personal level for each individual, we can all surely identify certain pitfalls into which we should not fall if we are loyal to the premise that God is real and he loves us (and them).


People generally do things for a reason. The reason unfailingly has to do with seeking out a good, a joy, a pleasure, a benefit or the mere desire to “feel a little better” while waiting to die in a world of death. These motives are not disordered, but are eminently in line with everything God wants for us if he really is the source of all things good.

The raging alcoholic who is trying to forget a number of untoward things in his past, the drug abuser who -not to achieve happiness – but to ameliorate unbearable emotional pain, seeks the next fix,  the homosexual who has courage to accept who they are (because they’ve tried to deny it for the sake of others and can’t), and the atheist who only wants to do the right thing -namely, to see reality for what it is without self-deception- and wants to encourage you to do the same…

Without suggesting that there are not negative consequences for sinful actions, there is always a good sought in every one of these actions even if it is hidden from the view of an outside observer. We know that these actions are incompatible with Catholic morality, but are the motives behind the actions and the people behind the motives incompatible with Catholic morality?

What is our responsibility as Catholics if we don’t understand people with struggles and attractions totally alien to our own? Is it ours to judge, or threaten, or to heap diminishment upon them? Ought we to ever kill, or even appear to threaten, the hope that they have left without a facing concomitant obligation to offer something better in return?  What does Jesus Christ think about our stance? Does it matter to us if his opinion is different than what we think, and truth is above left and right?

We do know that all the people who do the things that we try to avoid because they are wrong have at least one thing in common:

In this world of ours, they have tasted death in some measure or another, and they don’t want more of it.

Take the person who enjoys getting drunk – what is it about it that they enjoy? Is it the social alienation, the embarrassment according to their own standard (independently of yours), the lost productivity, the hangovers, and the long-term physical effects? Or is it perhaps the release of tension, the numbing of pain, or even the fact that a person suffering from the disease of simply being a suffering person can feel himself to be competent, at the very least, in his capacity to hold his liquor- a tiny sliver of treasured competency when all other successes have proven elusive? What about the woman who enjoys having multiple sexual partners- is she looking for the risk of emotional pain, disease, or potential social stigma? Or rather, does she seek access to mystery and passion without the crushing encumbrances that would seem to further her experience of death in a destroyed world? If authentic connection with another human being is already nearly impossible to her without following Catholic sexual ethics, does it make sense that she would tend to embrace rules that only seemed to make it even harder?

Jesus happens to be on their side in the motive of defying death in a world that doesn’t care if we live or die. That’s because death and all the suffering and diminishment associated with it is the enemy of God. What follows is that God and poor sinners have a lot in common, even if God does not approve of sinful actions or the bad consequences that follow. Generally speaking, we sinners don’t either, really.


Even though the types of actions we are considering are, themselves, disordered, behind them are, in fact, real human needs the fulfillment of which should not be denied to anybody. Moreover, we Catholics just flat-out would not be telling the truth if we said we never wanted some of these things for ourselves at least to a degree. They do not want them because they love evil for its own sake. Neither is it hatred of the good for being the good that drives them. If so, that hatred of the good has had at least some claim in us, and it is almost certainly still there right now.

The problem lies not in the goods sought, but in the “baggage”. This baggage is the absence of the fuller good. The absence is tolerated, endured, and would be willingly remedied in almost every case if a better way were made available. In other words, the authentic dignity of living as if we are truly and perfectly loved is sacrificed in order that we experience any measure of what feels like love or consolation at all. Perfect love is hard to wait for when someone experiences reason to think that they are not even likable.

How ironic and deceptive it is, then, if we too are busy about preserving merely partial goods which, in many cases, exist as partial only because we have denied the truth of those goods of theirs. Indeed, it may be the case that the “form” of our neighbor’s actions entails such horrors that we do not make any effort to preserve due reverence and compassion for their struggle to make their partial goods more complete. And then we might assume an entirely bad motive – as if they were not pursuing a partial good, but a total evil. Let’s reflect on a tautology of sorts:

Something is never a temptation until it is.

What does a compulsion to sin gravely feel like, anyway? If you don’t know, you never will until you do. And, then, what does it feel like to not be able to stop? Even though you may have an undiminished Catholic conscience, what is it like to not be able to stop?

It is not to be considered a horror if the form of your life is not the form of theirs. This is true regardless of whether one is experiencing the worst compulsions, or whether one has no idea how such unfortunate actions are possible to people of goodwill. Charity can be (and usually is) present beyond the forms. Appearance is rarely ever representative of reality in these areas, and only God knows what’s what. One thing’s for sure:

We will never get anywhere trying to take away the remaining good things that anyone has.

We can make ourselves different by realizing first that we can afford to be the same as everybody else. That is, we can afford it if we’re actually talking about a God of love and not a celestial North Korea. It’s God’s business, (and therefore ours) to be bigger than being threatened by somebody’s else’s partial good.

A God who is big enough to to create ex nihilo and who is able to save us from ourselves is also able to go to the good wherever it is. His radical chastity would seem a lot like promiscuity. And unless we are similarly chaste, we would be scandalized by the broadness of his outreach. We would be scandalized to see God not trying to talk them out of it and not trying to explain why the bad is bad. He knows people are already dissatisfied with the bad.

We don’t have to worry about how to defeat the worldview of another person because it doesn’t ever matter like that. As soon as we’ve gone down the road of taking away what they have, we’ve compromised to such a degree that we need to be ministered to ourselves. It is only because we are not living in the fullness of what we have that we are not able to love them without being put on guard. We should have what they have and more. There is nothing to defeat, therefore, but only a gift to offer which completes theirs in the way that they would want if their values are to be held consistently and expanded and amplified on their own terms.

If this eludes us, then we are the same as those who live a disordered life by some other method. A lack in a different area is still a pleasant home for the devil. 

And if God knows, we can know too. Or at least, we can trust him, even if we don’t understand. This will enable us to realize that it is actually safe to trust him. We know (if we know ourselves) that we also do not have the completeness of the joy and freedom which God would wish to bestow on us, and yet we don’t have to think of ourselves as trash because of our bad inclinations. God already “gets it”, and he’s not waiting for us to “get it”; he’s just offering love.

We don’t have to worry that this is a “wishy-washy” way of viewing sin, because God’s love is not a mere sentiment. God’s love is God Himself, the divine life. It is only in receiving this life that we can be freed from any sinful inclinations or actions. The fact of there only being a partial reception of his offering in ourselves says nothing of whether the Church holds the fullness of truth; indeed she does, though we may only espouse it partially. But if our inability to appropriate the fullness offered by the Church does not cause God to turn from us, we must go and do similarly for those who have less?


It’s only “tolerance”, really, because of our penchant for giving space to obstinancy. Since we can’t love them for love of God, presumably, we can at least put up with them. Try finding a more accepting group than the LGBT community. They probably wouldn’t be upset about your prayer meeting. “Hey, awesome prayer meeting, dude!”

Being truly Catholic, though, takes away the anxiety of how to respond when somebody comes to you with a moment they are joyful about that happens to violate the moral law.

A couple conceives by IVF; you can afford to be happy with them. They’re gay and they are getting “married” according to their vision of marriage. Your joy doesn’t have to be diminished and you don’t have to take theirs. You are not a threat to them because you have the fullnenss of joy. You won’t need tolerance much, then.

The fullness of joy had better be full enough for partial joys.

Will we be able say that we shared Jesus’ joy when he came to us? In other words, when he came to us as a poor sinner, did we share his joy then?

There’s something to that “inclusive and tolerant” thing. We do a lousy job because we’re caught up in rules even when it’s our policy to not be.

If we’ve lost our freedom, then who are we to criticize others for wanting freedom?

Consider, instead,  Mary Magdalene who wept at Jesus’ feet because of  her sins, and Mary the mother of Jesus weeping at the foot of he cross because his suffering made possible her grace. His paying for your sins means you don’t have any. You only have the consequences, and what’s worse (as far as “consequences” we’ve endured) than watching your son being tortured and still saying yes to God? She does not hold herself higher than any of us in that “works” way. That’s because we are all made clean, and she knows the most about how. Who are we to try to act superior?

“Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.” (Matt 15: 30-31)