Yesterday, I was taking my afternoon break from work. I wandered through the little park near my office, and on to a little bench that had WiFi reception from one of the little restaurants in the square. I was checking in with the world, see, and wanted to send a picture of some flowers to my wife.
That’s when Caleb showed up with his heavily highlighted Bible, and asked me if I had a few minutes to talk about Jesus.
I reckon the other folks around weren’t as engrossed in their smartphones as I was, so I was the better target? Maybe. I said, “sure,” interested in where this encounter was going to go.
It wasn’t long before I was asked, “do you go to church anywhere regularly?,” and I answered affirmatively with the name of my parish. Though Caleb claimed to not be interested in denominations, when pressed he informed me that he was a Missionary Baptist.
I told him the truth, which is that I was raised in a non-denominational Christian Church, and that I had converted to the Catholic faith. He said, “why did you do that?,” whereupon I told him that I believe the fullness of the faith is found in the Church. It’s where the scriptures, traditions, and the teachings of the Church make the most sense.
Clearly outed as a Catholic, Caleb rapidly flipped through his highlighted tome of holy writ to find the passage where Jesus says, “call no man father.” (Matt 23:9)
“You know, Jesus says many interesting things in the Gospels, Caleb. Like that time when his mother Mary, and his kinfolk, came looking for him and he replied to the apostles, ‘who is my mother, and who are my brothers? And he told them they were his mother. Remember that?” (Matt 12:46-50)
“Hmmm,” he murmured. At this point Caleb pivoted, and went on to the subject of the pope. “Do you believe he is a mediator between you and God?”
“Nope. He is the appointed shepherd of His flock, though.”
“Let me read you a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, ‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Jesus Christ.’”
“Amen! I love that young bishop named Timothy. He’s awesome. And yes, Christ is our Eternal High Priest, like the letter to the Hebrews states later on. But you know, before he ascended to Heaven, he told the apostles that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit would make all things clear to them, and guide them as they guided the Church. It was at that point also that Jesus gave these men the ability to forgive sins, saying, “whatever sins you forgive will be forgiven, and whatever sins you retain will be retained.’ Tell me, Caleb, what do you call your father?”
“I don’t call him father, I call him dad…”
“Ah, yes! Just like Jesus called his Father daddy, or ‘abba’. You know, He came to fulfill the commandments, not to destroy them, and the 5th commandment is “Honor your Father and Mother.”
“And you know the Lord would often send the folks he miraculously healed back to the priestly authorities so the person would be recognized properly by the community. So again, Jesus didn’t reject priestly authority outright. He only called it on the carpet when it was hypocritical, or overwrought.”
“But the scriptures say these specific words of Jesus, “call no man father…”
“Seriously, Caleb, Jesus also says, ‘let the dead bury the dead. Have you taken that literally too?”
Smiling sheepishly, he said, “Good point.”
And that is where I ended it. I said,
“Caleb, I’m on 15 minute break from work, and I’ve got to get back to the office. I want to tell you that I appreciate what you’re doing by witnessing the faith to strangers. I’m going to pray that your efforts are successful, and I want you to pray for me too. You and I are brothers.”
You see, there are two types of Christians in this world. No, not Catholics and Heretics. Instead, I’ve come to understand that the two types are 1) those who willingly know they are Catholics, and 2) those who have no idea that the Church also considers them to be Her responsibility, and in her flock.
I really do pray that Caleb is successful in spreading the Gospel. Because he didn’t actually tell me what the Gospel, aka the Good News, actually is, see? He spent all of his time trying to convince me that my way of worshiping God was wrong, instead of telling me that God loved me so much that he sent his son to save me from death.
Unearned, and out of the fullness of His love for me, and for all of his creatures, Jesus wants me to live forever, and he has prepared a place for us where,
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4).
I hope he tells that to the next person he meets. Amen.
Image credit: Heinrich Hoffmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.