For almost twenty years, I have operated under the assumption that souls generally come to God through a hearing of the Truth. After all, that's how my own faith was awakened -- by an exercise of the intellect. I read and I studied and I compared and I examined, and everything Catholicism claimed made beautiful sense to me. It was reasonable, logical, cohesive, coherent, and consistent. On the basis of that coherence, I changed my actions, my beliefs, my heart, and my soul, and I have never looked back. The Truth of the Church was, to me, the essence of her appeal. One of my favorite sayings when it comes to evangelization is "Truth comes with graces attached" -- and yes, it does.
However, I have recently come to understand that I and those like me are not the norm. I have learned that most people do not come to Christ and the Church through an exacting and exhilarating exercise of the intellect. For most people, Truth is not what initially propels them toward Christ.
Well, knock me over with a feather.
But don't get me wrong: Somewhere in my brain, I knew that already. Every human being is unique by design, and I'd read that different folks are drawn to God in different ways: Some are drawn by the fact that God is Truth, for sure, but others by His Oneness (unity), or by His Goodness, or by His Beauty, etc. I've referred to these different "voices of God" when discussing the call to conversion, but I don't think it truly sank in until recently.
First came the election of Pope Francis. For those of us who live mostly in our heads, adoring Truth, embracing intellectual order, craving clarity, and swooning at doctrinal precision, Pope Benedict XVI was our dream pontiff, following on the heels of another beloved papa, the philosopher Blessed John Paul the Great. We Truth-groupies had two popes in a row who nourished our souls by feeding our minds as well. Then suddenly, Pope Francis burst into our comfortable neatness and encouraged us to "make a mess" -- by leaving our books and debates and pristine doctrines for a time and going out into the streets and byways to meet our fellow human beings exactly where they are. Francis had impromptu, non-authoritative exchanges with journalists, secularists, and atheists, chats that were off-the-cuff, even sloppy -- not at all the polished and carefully weighed words of his predecessors.
And the world went nuts. And folks like me readjusted, mentally.
The world "likes" this pope, not for the doctrine and morality he teaches and preaches (which is no different from what came before), not because of ordered thought and careful words, but because he seems to care and listen and love. He seems relatable and real, and more like a loving grandpa in the neighborhood than a Supreme Pontiff on a throne.
But let me stop right here, lest anyone misunderstand: It's not that his predecessors did not love and care for and ache for every soul on the planet! Oh, how it boils my blood when people misunderstand the mystical, saintly JPII who embraced all mankind, or when they malign the shy and kindly Benedict, a quiet and gentle introvert. It's simply that Francis moves the world in a different way, and I think it's that he makes people feel something first, before he makes them think something.
For so many reasons, the soul of modern man is desperate to feel, and feel profoundly.
Francis instinctively operates on an understanding that I needed to learn: Most people do not come to Christ through Truth first. Most people come to Christ prompted by an encounter with Beauty or an experience of Goodness. Love and Truth cannot be separated, of course, but in this era of disconnection, isolation, and despair, Love must precede Truth or Truth won't get a hearing, much less an understanding. They will not hear our Truth if they do not first feel (and believe) our Love.
The next step in my broadened understanding came when I started pondering what I do on this blog. My whole shtick is debating and dissecting and raking over ideas for Truth and clarity. I know from the combox and from my email inbox that this approach is helpful to many, especially those Catholics who, due to poor catechetical formation, need to understand the tenets of the Faith better. I have something to offer in that area, it's been the main goal of the Bubble all along, and I've absolutely no intention of changing what I do on this blog (so don't worry, truthoholics!).
But I have noticed something other than the intellectual debates (and the insistence on Truth) quietly at work here.
You cannot imagine (heck, I would never have imagined!) what goes on behind the scenes of a blog like this. I don't want to reveal anything personal or betray confidences, but trust me when I say that many of the most challenging and even exasperating commenters are the nicest folks off-screen. I love them, truly, and I think they know it. I've been quiet friends with some of them for years, and a few have asked my advice or poured out their hearts, sensing that for all my doctrinal rigidity, I really do care. I've even had one hit-and-run Church-hater email me later to apologize and tell me the heartbreaking story behind the rage in her comment. I was able to pray for her and her family, and both our hearts were changed.
It's in the relationships forged, not so much the technical debates, that real human connections are made, and the fruit I've seen is that an opponent finds some respect for the Church and gives consideration to Christ where before there had been no such thing. I've even witnessed small miracles that have come through the heart-to-hearts and not through the doctrinal debates.
At some point, l will be able to tell you specific stories. Today, I will just remind you that behind every comment, query, challenge, and curse is a person who has a story -- and wounds that we cannot see. Be gentle and kind with everyone you meet and everyone you debate, because for most people, if they can't sense your authentic love for them, they will not want anything to do with your Truth.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. -- 1 Corinthians 13
|Thank you, Pope Francis, for reminding us that Truth is not|
always the first way to introduce Christ to the human heart.