Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 29, 2001
Clerical clothing stirs reactions
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Wearing clerical clothing is a terrific magnet. People respond to our priestly uniforms in a variety of ways, but they certainly do react. In the best of circumstances, you get a kindly nod of the head and a smile that says "Good to see you, Padre!"
Then there are stares it's harder to categorize. Some people seem intrigued that anyone does what we do for a living. Some gaze at you as if you were more an object than a person.
But by far the most interesting are those with a bone to pick. These folks would never call or write to complain, but with a priest right in front of them, they reason, "This is my chance to tell him what I think of them all!"
They also seem to think that talking to one priest will get the message to every priest.
In one exchange, a woman waylaid me at an airport to ask if I knew her town's priest, Father Paul. I asked her the priest's last name. She wasn't sure. Then I asked her where her hometown was located. She told me it was in northern Minnesota.
I explained that I come from New York, don't know many priests from Minnesota. The woman looked a little puzzled. "I though that you all knew each other," she admitted.
At a recent wedding reception, a man came up to tell me that while he was baptized a Catholic Christian, he "hasn't seen the inside of a church for almost 40 years." Presuming he wanted to tell me his story, I asked, "How come?"
Seems that when he was about 20 years old, he heard a priest preach a sermon he didn't like. The priest was his pastor and apparently suggested that people should donate a particular percentage of their income to the church. Nothing new about this; most folks recognize "tithing" as a type of responsible stewardship.
But for this disgruntled listener, it was too much. He told me, "You know, I really resented that guy telling me how much I should put in the basket. That's my decision, Father, not his!"
He's certainly right about that. Each person must decide for himself or herself what is an affordable amount to share with our faith community. But for me, a larger question remained. So I asked it.
"You mean that you stayed away from praying with your faith community, reflecting with them over the Sacred Scriptures and receiving the sacraments for 40 years because of one priest and a message you didn't like?" The man nodded.
"Well," I concluded, "that seems like a very dear price to pay."
That man is not unique. I have met many people who've left their home faith communities because of past slights or misunderstandings.
Yes, hurt is a difficult thing to handle. But isn't working out our differences equally vital? Isn't seeing our religion as bigger than the relationship we have with a single person equally important?
I have met a few priests, who, from my viewpoint, just didn't measure up, but they never cost me my beliefs. Probably because I recognized them as members of a church, not as the whole community.
Can you imagine how few homes would be intact if every time people fought or disagreed, someone walked out? Families, friendships and marriages endure because we acknowledge differences, express disappointments, try to heal wounds and then move on.
Human beings don't have perfect relationships. But part of the glory of all faiths is the power to forgive, the grace to be reconciled.
The man I told you about happened to be a Catholic, but the same story could be told in any religious community. I can't help but hope that he - and those like him - will look again at the great good they miss when they use the mistakes of the past as an excuse for not celebrating a spiritual present.
They might be surprised by all the good that's been done these past 40 years. What a shame if they miss the next 40!
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