I hear it from time to time. “I wish we had more information on how to talk to [insert a kind of person here],” or “The Catholic Church has yet to release any really helpful information on how to reach out as friends to [insert a kind of person here].” I don’t speak for the Catholic Church on this or any other issue; the Catholic Church is pretty good at speaking for herself. But I can speak for me. Here’s the sort of thing I’ve found helpful. Do bear in mind that I’m talking about what I should do, and what I do when I’m not being a jerk. I wish I could say I was better at not being a jerk.
How To Be Friends With People Who Are a Different Christian Denomination than You Are, Presuming You’re Catholic: Smile and make eye contact, unless you’re in a culture that finds smiling and eye contact rude. Don’t let your dog pee on their lawn. Invite them to your cookout if you’re having a cookout. If they mention how much they love Jesus, chime in on how much you love Him too. Pray for them, but only say you’re praying for them if you can do it without sounding like a jerk.
How To Be Friends With People Who Are A Very Different Religion Than Yours: Say hello when you pass them, unless you’re in a culture where that’s considered creepy. Don’t let your cat poop in their garden. Stop to help them if they drop their groceries on the way into the house, unless you’re in a position where that would make them uncomfortable. Invite their children on play dates with yours. If it’s the time of year for one of their holidays, wish them a happy one. If you see them being heckled by bigots, intervene if you can but don’t officiously speak for them because that’s rude. Pray for them, but only say you’re praying for them if you can do it without sounding like a jerk.
How To Be Friends With People Who Are A Different Race Than You: Open doors for them, unless you’re in a culture that says that’s bad manners. Don’t accidentally run over their hostas with your lawnmower. Give them some banana bread if you baked that day. Ask them over for coffee or tea. Don’t say anything racist to them, and if you accidentally do, apologize. Pray for them, but only say you’re praying for them if you can do it without sounding like a jerk.
How To Be Friends With Gay or Trans People: Shake hands, unless you’re in a culture that doesn’t shake hands. Don’t let your children trample their flowers. Chat with them in checkout lines. Invite them to your potluck if you’re having a potluck. Call them by the name they tell you to call them, because that’s their name. Even if you have different beliefs about gender than they do because of our Faith, you don’t get to decide their name any more than they get to decide yours. Pray for them, but only say you’re praying for them if you can do it without sounding like a jerk.How To Be Friends With Disabled or Chronically Ill People: Compliment what they’re wearing, unless you’re in a culture where that’s considered rude. Chat about your pets and kids. Invite them to the church picnic, if your church is having a picnic, and bring a dish that they can eat if you know they’re on a special diet. Don’t talk in an artificially slow or loud voice, unless their particular disability is a hearing problem. If you see them struggling trying to do something, ask politely if they need help and then abide by whatever their answer is. Pray for them, but only say you’re praying for them if you can do it without sounding like a jerk.
How To Be Friends With Mean People: Bring over their mail if it happens to get delivered to your door. Return their pets to them if the pets stray onto your yard. Give them some zucchini, if your crop is abundant. Invite them to watch the fireworks display with you, if there’s a fireworks display in town. Smile and shrug it off if they say something cruel now and then. Handle it with grace if they gossip about you. Don’t return slight for slight. Don’t plot revenge. Pray for prudence and decide how much meanness you can take before you politely and gracefully remove yourself from the situation and stop trying to be friends. Pray for them. Saying “I’ll pray for you” in an angry voice is nice and cathartic, even better than “bless your heart.”
The bottom line, you see, is that there really aren’t different kinds of people. There’s only one Person, Christ, and Christ comes to you in all kinds of disguises throughout this earthly life. Your duty is to love and honor Him in all of them. Sometimes, love involves verbally preaching some kind of Gospel message to them or talking about sins, if that’s prudent, but you’d be surprised how rarely that comes up. Love people, and follow the Golden Rule. Even if they’re different from you. Even if they’re doing things that are against our Faith in one part of their lives or another, because the fact is, tragically, we all do, and our sins aren’t less terrible than theirs. Even if they don’t act like Christ to you. That’s not all there is to the Christian life, but that’s definitely part of it.
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