As I've watched college students graduate recently, I've noticed a distressing trend. Campus ministries are becoming better, teaching orthodoxy without hesitation. Genuinely Catholic colleges are brimming over with zealous young people.
There is a harshness, a sort of snobbery happening. I watch in not a little horror and listen to what they are saying, as they measure other people by their overt acts of piety, while they size people up and discard them like the stuff of yesterday's recycling bin because they don't fit the new collegiate image of perfect holiness.
And I can just imagine that several years hence, they will go together with their young children to a playdate. They will meet another young mom at the park. They will inquire as to how many children she has. And when they discover that she has two, four years apart, they will say something sanctimonious about how they are open to God's plan for having children and has she ever heard of NFP? She will sit and wonder briefly whether she should tell them about the two years of cancer between the first birth and the second, about how desperately she prayed for this second child, about what a miracle he is. That young mom, with the two children widely spaced, will have just learned how some people of faith can judge one another. Litmus tests. Checklists. As she raises a family in the real world, she will see that attitude given voice over and over and over again, while Jesus weeps for his Church, broken and divided.
What's the opposite of gentleness? Harshness. Hard lines. Brittle rules.
So there you are, you all grown up and graduated and out in the real world! You've come so far. You've left behind the safety of campus life, the happy campus ministry, the structure of academia. You've gone and gotten yourself a real job in the real world. With a real cubicle and a good excuse to shop at that very fine career wear store. Good for you!
You have a zeal for the faith that can be spotted a mile away. You wear it proudly splashed across your chest on more than a dozen t-shirts collected over the years of vibrant Catholic education. And you've come to embrace all those devotions of our faith as you've learned of them in your coming-of-age. You are on fire for your faith and you are eager to go out there into the real world and tell everyone just how Catholic you are.
May I whisper a word or two to you?
Out there, in the real world, be mindful of gentleness. Don't beat people over the head with your religion. Really. You don't win souls for Christ that way. Actually, come to think of it, you don't win souls for Christ at all. The Holy Spirit does. You just listen--quietly--for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. You just pray--fervently--that you can be His instrument. And please don't think for one moment that you are better than the guy who goes to lunch at lunchtime instead of going to Mass. You're not. You are broken and messy and in need of a savior just like he is. You have been given the extraordinary gift of grace and the blessing of faith. Given it. God gave it to you.
You didn't earn it. You don't deserve it.
Humility. You know God in the Eucharist. You are blessed. He blesses you. Now, go bless someone else.
You are going to meet so many new people in the next few years. No matter how high-powered your job, no matter how life and death your decisions, you are still and always a woman of God. You are called to be as gentle as the Blessed Mother. Here's a hint towards beginning relationships and continuing relationships with gentleness: Be the girl who walks into a room--any room, every room-- and says, "There you are! How are you?" Don't be the girl who bursts onto the scene and shouts, "Here I am! Be like me!" It's not about you. It's never about you. You are a servant of God. Serve.
I know how dearly you hope to find a Godly man who will sweep you off your feet and be the husband to the wife and the mother you feel called to be. I know you want him to be as committed to the faith as you think you are. Don't judge every person you meet with a checklist in hand. Whether it's the girl you keep bumping into in the cafeteria, or the guy who seems to ride the same bus route on your commute, don't issue litmus tests. And for goodness sake, don't do this:
Every guy I know gets slack-jawed when they watch this video ( which made the rounds last year and caused more than one married Catholic mom I know to laugh and cry and shake her head in disbelief). At first we thought it was a joke. Then, we started reading comboxes. Not a joke, at least not for some people. Who could possibly live up to this? A second-hand relic? Honey, if you think you are marrying a saint, you are in for a rude awakening. Marriage is our path to sanctification. We don't marry into sainthood; we journey towards it together.
Here's the thing: you're going to miss a lot of good people if you make up checklists like that. And you might just miss God's plan for you, both in terms of men and real, good girlfriends. Some of the best husbands and fathers I know couldn't have checked off more than one or two things on that video when they were fresh out of college. They grew into good, holy men, often because of girls who loved them, believed in them, and shared the grace of Jesus with them. And I know people who can check off everything on the video list and, sadly, they aren't very good husbands and fathers. While lots of people can follow the rules and lots of people can do numerous acts of piety and devotion, they aren't necessarily people after God's own heart. Following the rules does not automatically equal holiness.
And isn't it interesting how in that whole long list, not one act of mercy is mentioned? You want a good husband and father? Find a merciful one. Here's a far better checklist:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To harbour the harbourless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
In the real world, those acts of mercy can take many, many forms. Perhaps you'll find him ladling soup in a homeless shelter. That would be an easy one to spot. Or maybe he's the young medical student who circles back after a long day of work to read stories to the pediatric patients. Maybe he's the guy who listens patiently as his grandfather goes on and on about a distant memory not quite still within his reach. Or maybe he's the one who's working fulltime and getting his degree because he dreams of a large family and wants the means with which to support them. Is he the guy next door? The one who "only" goes to Sunday Mass, but who also cheerfully picks up two young soccer players and drives them to practice three times a week because their mom is bedridden? And all the while, in the car, he is their friend. Their real friend. A strong shoulder to lean on in a time of crisis at home. Just a real good guy. Look for a real good guy. Someone who will journey with you.
Don't dismiss someone just because they aren't as outwardly pious as you are. Don't dismiss people at all. There's a big world of people out there. And some of those people are people from whom God intends you to learn. Even if, at first glance, it looks as if they aren't nearly as holy or smart or good as you are. Even if they aren't as holy or smart or pious as you are. They, too, were created in His image and each person--each and every one--is valuable. And worth your time. Don't discount someone because they aren't as up on theology as you are or because they don't "have religion."
Remember "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." (1 Corinthinians 8:1)
And, to make it all trickier, zealous people have to guard carefully against Pharasaical sins and scrupulosity.
Whether we are growing closer to God or growing closer to people, it's not about checklists. It's about relationships.
Relationships beg coming alongside, walking together.
School is finished. Now begins the real work of cultivating a teachable spirit.
It's about listening.
It's about serving.
It's about nurturing.
It's about loving.
It's about a gentle spirit.
All the time.
It won't be easy. The gentleness thing. Pray for the grace to be gentle. We're all human, remember? As you go about your day in your busy real life world, you will brush up against broken, hurting, sinful real life human beings. They are just like you. And when you know that you are broken, too, saved by grace and gifted with faith, you will be genuinely gentle. You will look to people and assume that there is something to be learned from them, something good in them. You won't assume that because you are more pious, more obviously active in your faith, that you are closer to God. Instead, you will see Jesus in the poor, in the ordinary, even in the partier in the apartment next door.
"This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so He bade us to be gentle and humble of heart." -- St John Bosco
And in the end, He won their souls.
Go gently into that real world. Grow gently into a woman of genuine faith.
And God go with you.
Small Steps focuses on gentleness this month. Would you share your thoughts with us, let us find you and walk with you? I'd be so grateful and so honored to have you as a companion. Please leave a link to your blog post below and then send your readers back here to see what others have said.You're welcome to post the Small Steps Together banner button also.