A few days ago, I
pathetically bemoaned mentioned my lack of a salad spinner. One of my friends joked with me about it and then bought me one on Amazon and had it mailed to me.
Yeah, really, he did. It was completely unexpected and delightful. But it wasn’t shocking, per se, because this particular person, along with his wife, have spent the better part of the past decade becoming two of my most cherished friends. Their generosity is just one aspect of their consuming charity.
No one would mistake them for orthodox Catholics, and they actually tend toward the liberal side of things. He convinced me that I was an idiot for not believing in the Big Bang Theory, and every time we see them, he and the Ogre go rounds about something or other while his wife and I drink wine and giggle. To say that we disagree about everything under the sun wouldn’t be an understatement. And yet, we enjoy their company more than any other couple we know.
They know where we stand on contraception and we know where they stand on it, because we’ve had conversations about Church teachings and morality and theology and everything else. Can I tell you how many times we’ve had a conversation about whether or not they use contraception? Zero. Zero times. They know where we stand on it, and they see us living out those beliefs. It would be profoundly uncharitable, Pharisaical in the worst way, for us to have the audacity to claim that we could judge their souls. More, it would be freaking horrible and would likely destroy our friendship with them. I can’t imagine a friendship that kind of proselytizing wouldn’t destroy. But mostly I have no leg to stand on, because I think I’ve learned more about love and charity from them than they’ve learned from me.
Once upon a time, I had a friend who was morbidly obese. Her eating habits were bad. She didn’t exercise. She didn’t seem much inclined to change her lifestyle. But I really loved spending time with her, and I never once refused to go to Sonic with her because it would be a tacit approval of her gluttonous lifestyle. I did, however, gossip about her sometimes. She was fat, you know? Not to be rude or anything, but…
Much later, I accidentally overhead a conversation in which her ardent defense of me was related. The speakers, unaware of my presence, were incredulous that she would get so touchy, because I was knocked up, you know? And not to be rude or anything, but they were pretty sure that I was on drugs.
It’s one thing to speak the truth in love if a friend wants your opinion and guidance. It’s another thing to be a self-righteous jackass who thinks it’s okay to point out other people’s sins because “love”.
Sometimes I think people have forgotten how to read the Bible. Jesus went and hung out with the tax collectors and prostitutes because he loved them. Listen, they were marginalized and avoided. The Pharisees were horrified at Jesus for going. Do you think, for one bloody second, that the tax collectors and prostitutes were under any illusions about their lifestyles?
Seriously, think about it. Do you think there were any shortage of Pharisees and Saducees and whatever-else-ees telling them that they were dirty sinners? I think they got the message. I don’t think Jesus saying “sin no more” was some kind of huge surprise. I doubt they were all, “oh, this is sin? Holy crap! You are literally the first person to tell us that!”
Probably what made them listen to Jesus was that he loved them. Not, like, from a distance. He chose their company over the company of those who hated sin so much that they couldn’t bear to associate with the sinner. He just skipped right over the faithful, the people who had been following the letter of the law that God Himself had given them to follow in preparation for the coming of His Son, in favor of the ones who needed His mercy more. And the Pharisees were so busy being offended that they failed to recognize Him.
Here’s a revelation: I’m not Christ. (I know you’re shocked.) But what that means, practically, is that I can’t just tell people to stop sinning whenever I want. There have been extremely rare times when that’s what the Holy Spirit asks me to say. I hate those times. It’s horrible, knowing the depth of my own sin, to have to point it out in someone else. It’s always something I don’t want to see, it’s always someone I don’t want to see it in, and it’s always a kind of crucifixion to say the words and hear the response. There are other times, though, when I toss the “sin!” accusation off the cuff because I am a petty, small, vindictive person who is too prideful by half. Sometimes it feels like righteousness. It never is.
Priests are given the job of helping people identify their sins. Apostles, disciples, and leaders of men are sometimes uniquely chosen to point out sin. The rest of us are usually supposed to worry about our own sin and love each other.
My godparents, God bless their wonderful souls, have spent years giving shelter, sometimes inside their own home, to women in crisis pregnancies. They’ve spent a small fortune doing for these women what no one else would. They’ve made it their lives’ work to help these women and their children, and no, not just until the baby is born but for as long as they need help. And they love them for much, much longer than that. They don’t pull punches and they don’t obscure truth, but their love and help don’t come with conditions, either. They don’t say, “we will help you if you will acknowledge the truth of Catholic teaching on sexual morality.” They just say, “we will help you.”
Your love shouldn’t come with a litmus test. If you can’t imagine ever being friends with a gay person because you feel you would first have to explain in detail what you think about their lifestyle, you’re doing love wrong. If you are friends with a married couple who only have one kid and you think it’s your job to talk with them about contraception, you’re doing love wrong. If you scream “murderer!” at a lady going into an abortion clinic, you’re doing love wrong. And if you kick a pregnant teenager out of your school, your church, or your life, you’re doing love wrong.
It’s impossible to write this post without acknowledging my obvious hypocrisy. Just writing this post probably makes me a self-righteous jackass who thinks it’s okay to point out other people’s sins because “love.” But I’m writing it anyway, because I know from experience that when someone is mired in sin the only thing that can pull them out is love. Active, messy, hands-on love that offers genuine, unconditional friendship instead of a catechism lesson. I’m tired of seeing endless debates about “how to love the sinners” that end up being conversations about how to make it abundantly clear that any effort to extend charity does not mitigate the gravity of the sinners’ sins. Holy crap, people! That’s not what God said to do! That commandment didn’t go, “Ensure that your neighbor understands they are sinning, then love them as yourself.” If you really want to know how to love the sinner, it’s not that hard. Just remember that you are one and shut up about their sins, already. Treat the sinners the way you want them to treat you, a sinner.
And every once in a while, send someone a salad spinner for no reason other than love. They will be grateful. I promise.