Young Adult

When I was a campus missionary for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Brew City Catholic, one of our formators had us do an exercise that I still think about often. We first made a list of problematic “isms” or ideologies at work in the world today. Then, for each of them, rather than analyzing its problems, we had to come up with the good motivation that lies behind it. That exercise has stuck with me and, honestly, I probably think about it more as time goes on.

In a world of echo chambers and righteous anger, there might be some part of us that hears that exercise and thinks that it is doing something wrong: giving ground to an argument that’s problematic or even destructive. While I understand this, I do not think that seeking out the good in the world and in the people whom God created is something we need to fear.

We have become so fixated on proving our own point that we sometimes forget that it is OK to just sit and listen sometimes — even to people who are wrong. We are so afraid of accidentally endorsing something problematic that we can fail to see the real people who hold this belief.

A few years ago, for whatever combination of these reasons, I had to consciously acknowledge and decide that I do not need to be afraid to listen to anyone’s perspective and opinions. There may be times when I need to back off or rest or think about something else — I am certainly not required to spend all of my time listening to hot-button debates. But I believe I stand in the truth, which means I don’t need to be insecure about questions and doubts or about just listening to someone’s experience without any plans for how to respond. Nor should I hesitate to “steel man” any position I disagree with. (The straw man fallacy is when someone articulates an opponent’s argument in an exaggerated or even false way to make their own rebuttal seem obvious. The opposite is colloquially known as “steel man,” i.e. to present the best possible version of the opponent’s argument, sometimes even better than what the opponent actually presented.)

There is a certain and even reasonable fear that comes with many people so wildly disagreeing with things that we know to be true based on our Catholic faith, but we should not allow ourselves to be driven by that fear.

We don’t need to. God is in charge and we can trust him.

Also, it is crucial to not allow that fear to drive us because it can blind us to people — people who are suffering, some of them profoundly and over the course of many years. Hurt people hurt people because they are desperate to protect themselves from yet more pain. Their defensive walls get higher and wider, and easier to trigger.

Perhaps in this month of the Sacred Heart, we can take a moment to ask Jesus to help us to see them with his eyes and heart — to approach with compassion and reverence each image of God who is suffering and lonely and so desperately in need of the unconditional love of the Sacred Heart. No matter how much they might be lashing out, behaving irrationally or even cruelly, they are still the beloved child of the Father and the beloved of the Sacred Heart.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I listen to many secular interviews and podcasts — especially writers and artists. I probably disagree with all of them at least in small ways, and definitely disagree with some of them in very profound ways. Yet, most of them are genuinely good, principled people who are committed to doing what is right, even if the conclusions they have come to about what is right do not line up with Catholic teaching. I admire them. I would even go so far as to say that I love them. I don’t mean that I have any delusions about any kind of relationship with people I have never met, but I desire their good and pray for them and that can feel kind of silly sometimes. I had a lovely moment in prayer a few months ago, where I was praying about these people and how I see them, and I had a sense of God saying to me, with delight and excitement, “Aren’t they beautiful?” I realized that any time I see good in them, anytime my heart breaks for what they lack, anytime I earnestly desire good things for them, I am only experiencing a shadow of the way that God, who created them out of love, sees them.

June can bring out some territorial instincts, but God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Perhaps a good way to celebrate the Sacred Heart would be to set aside some of our political expectations of people, listen to their stories and do the best we can to love with the Heart of Jesus, who came to seek and save what was lost.