Lessons To Live By

On his 12 hour return flight from Brazil to Rome, Pope Francis answered several questions in an impromptu news conference.  When asked about reports of homosexuals within the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, his response sent ripples throughout the world.

If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?

In a recent article, John Shore shared responses that he received when he asked the question: “How you feel about being on the receiving end of the efforts of Christian evangelicals to convert you?”  The responses he received are harsh, but true.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my faith calls me to love unconditionally.  But it seems like the main problem with Christianity is the Christians themselves.  As a society, as humans, we judge one another through our words, actions, and thoughts.

As a Catholic, I went to a Southern Baptist University and felt the immediate pressure of individuals trying to convert me, trying to lead me on the right path, trying to save me from hell.  I’ve always considered myself a Christian, but sometimes I find myself shying away from that label due to how many people I have encountered over the years who have acted out of ignorance.

Who am I to judge?

The root of the issue is not some convoluted disagreement on doctrine.  After we break it down to the simplest form, it comes down to the fact that many of us believe that we are in some way better than everyone else around us.  My beliefs are right, yours are wrong.

Once we start to believe that we are better than everyone else, that our beliefs are superior to others, we lose the ability to truly love one another.  When we start judging one another, we lose our compassion.  When we forget how to love, we forget what it means to follow our faith.  To follow Christ.

Jesus called his followers to love everyone, not just one another.  He called them to forgive, to listen, and to share their own testimonies and stories.  He surrounded himself with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and individuals who were quick to act out in violence, but they all learned to love.

And yet, so many times I feel that if he returned in this day and age, he would be appalled at how his followers act in his name.

Our faith never called us to scare others into conversion.  It never called us to act out in violence.  To persecute others for their beliefs or the way they live.  To hate.

Unfortunately, it is a mindset that we have been raised with.  Society has ingrained it in all of us to some degree.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to let it define who we are.

We must learn how to love.  Just as we must learn how to forgive ourselves before we can forgive others, we must learn how to accept people for who they are, not for who we expect them to be.

Before we can truly love others, we have to teach ourselves to recognize our own thoughts, words, and actions that pass judgment on those around us.  We have to acknowledge the fact that we may be our biggest obstacle to love and learn how to accept others for who they are.  To live without judging others.

Pope Francis has given us words to live by.  He has challenged not only those of the Roman Catholic Church, but he has challenged the entire Christian Faith to live like they are followers of Jesus Christ.

We don’t have to agree with everyone.  We don’t have to sacrifice our personal values.  We don’t even have to stand on street corners and shout out the good news.  He challenged us to accept others for who they are and love them unconditionally as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I wonder what would happen if all of us who called ourselves Christians started acting like followers of Jesus Christ?  I wonder how many people would stop and notice the difference.

God Bless and PEACE

Advertisements

5 Comments »

  1. Reuben Said:

    You don’t really address the question here–you’re talking about other aspects–but I think it’s important to note that when Pope Francis says “If someone is gay” he means “If someone has tendencies toward homosexual temptation.” In the interview, he affirmed the Catholic teaching that accepting “homosexual” as an identity is wrong, and that homosexual acts are sinful. “Search[ing] for the Lord and [having] goodwill” implicitly includes not committing those sins. But the tendency itself brings no guilt.

    So, yes, our Pope say we shouldn’t hold people responsible for their personal struggles and that we should forgive those who have repented–which is something we all need to hear! Too often, as you say, we sadly fail. But–great news!–we too can be forgiven when we repent: we, too, have our own sinful inclinations, and we, too, must search for the Lord and have goodwill. And the best news of all, implicit in the Pope’s remarks, is that holiness is possible for us, despite our sins and temptations–they don’t have the last word. The holiness God calls us to, that God graciously enables, is the last word.

    Even if our tendencies to sin never go away on this earth, they do not define us. We aren’t constrained to follow them: we are made for more than that. We should not let other people’s temptations define and constrain them in our minds–then we will be bigots, and Christ’s love cannot be seen in us, as you say. Christ’s love cannot exist in us if we consign others to being slaves of sin. We were all made to be free.

    (If you want an explanation of my interpretation of the Pope’s comments, this article is a good one: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-what-pope-francis-said-about-gays/

    It has the entire context of the quote.)

    • stkerr Said:

      I understand where the Pope (and plenty of others) stands when it comes to ‘homosexual tendencies’. I feel that it is not my place (nor the place of any other) to tell people that they are wrong (which is why I chose to focus on my own struggle of love and judging). My personal belief is that God created man and woman to be in relationship with one another in marriage (Genesis 2:20-24), but that should not prevent me from loving others of differing beliefs. Loving them unconditionally does not mean I have to believe the same thing as they do.

      Yes, having temptations and tendencies and acting out on those are two separate things. We all struggle and we all have fallen short of perfection (the definition of Sin is to fall short of the target); accepting that is part of the journey of faith and redemption. But a persons sins should not prevent me from loving them as Jesus Christ called me to love. Jesus didn’t call us to just love those who have sought out forgiveness, he called us to love everyone where they are, especially those in their darkest days.

      People say hate the sin, not the sinner, but unfortunately our society has lumped the two together. It doesn’t matter what the sin is (murder, lying, or acting out on homosexual tendencies), we have to learn to love and to do that, we have to learn not to judge others. We do not and cannot ever truly understand their struggles that they face, but we can love them through our words and actions.

      This post was never meant to define my stance on homosexual tendencies, my thoughts on gay marriage, on how God grants forgiveness to all those who seek it and follow Him in their hearts, or how, with the strength that comes from God, we can overcome the strongest of temptations. This post was directed at people like myself who often find ourselves unable to love to the fullest because we have started to judge those around us.

      • Reuben Said:

        We’re in perfect agreement! Except on one point.

        I recognize that your post didn’t intend to address the specific issue of homosexuality; my comment wasn’t intended as a correction. Even though, as you point out, the Pope’s views are well-known, I elaborated on them for two reasons: 1) Recently, many people have been acting as if his statement was a radical break with Church teaching. It isn’t, of course. Rather, it conforms to the constant teaching of the Church–no matter how badly or how frequently Christians have failed to follow that teaching. 2) His view, when elaborated, reinforces yours. He wasn’t primarily talking about homosexuality, either, but about the unconditional love we owe to all who hurt. So the view you’re expounding isn’t only your view. The context of the quote is even more on your side than the quote by itself.

        Absolutely, yes, we can and ought to love all people, even those who have not repented yet. No matter what their sin is. God did and does that to us. And we’re supposed to be imitators of God! And that radical love, as you point out, doesn’t mean we question our beliefs. God, surely, doesn’t question His beliefs when He loves sinners; He knows we’re wrong.

        The only point I notice on which we disagree–which I didn’t bring up in the first comment–is about telling people when they’re wrong. Absolutely we ought to tell other people when they’re wrong. Not publicly, not self-righteously, not spitefully, not with intent to injure; but with love. You’re absolutely right that often Christians come across as hateful–if all people hear from us is “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong” of course they won’t listen to us. But if they hear “I love you, I desire your well-being, your life is important to me–not as an object of potential conversion but as a human being,” and if we back that up with meaningful action, then, possibly, we’ll be listened to when we offer correction. “The wounds of a friend can be trusted.” But love isn’t a means to that end; it’s always an end in itself. Jesus died even for those who will never accept Him.

        Jesus spent his time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners because “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” And a doctor who doesn’t diagnose will never heal anyone. True love is more than acceptance: it is seeking to heal. But–Jesus’ harsh words were never directed toward those sinners! They were always directed toward the self-proclaimed righteous. To the sinners he was gentle, so that “A bruised reed he [might] not break, and a smoldering wick he [might] not snuff out.” The sinners knew full well that He thought them wicked, and they were amazed that He loved them anyway.

        The unconditional, radical love of Christ doesn’t exclude correction, it requires it. But it absolutely excludes lambasting, haranguing, uncharity, and hate. The correction of Christ always proceeds from and is guided by a deep, true, and evident love.

        I can’t say it any better than Pope Benedict XVI did in his encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est’:

        “Charity [Love], furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends. But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love and that God’s presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love.”

      • stkerr Said:

        When I stated that I felt that it wasn’t my place to tell people that they are wrong, I was referring specifically to this blog. My writings here are not the place for me to tell people how to live, which is why I focused on aspects of life that I feel I need to improve on myself. I agree with your statement that love should guide our teaching and ‘corrections’.

        Have you ever thought about starting to write as well? You are extremely elegant with your words and it always makes me smile when I hear from you!

      • Reuben Said:

        Ah! That makes a great deal more sense! I’d thought you wouldn’t have said something quiet so silly.

        And thank you for the compliment! I have thought about writing a blog, but I’m not sure that it’s my place to tell anyone anything at all. My current position in my life doesn’t give me time to write much, and I don’t feel comfortable assuming that the internet world at large would be interested in my thoughts. Which isn’t a judgment on others who do write–people have different vocations. But I’m not sure yet that this is mine.

        So in the meantime, I just blog in other people’s comment sections!


{ RSS feed for comments on this post} · { TrackBack URI }

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: