Saturday, May 24, 2014

"I Don't Care What Your Faith Is!"

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend on the subject of religious strife.  At one point, in connection with his status as a fallen-away Protestant and mine as an observing Catholic, he said to me: "I don't care what your faith is!"

I think he meant this in the spirit of tolerance, which too many people in what now passes for Christendom think is the highest good.  I think he meant to say that he accepts me even though I believe a lot of stuff he disagrees with.  But the words are wrong on so many levels, beginning with the fact that they happen not to be true.  For one thing, my friend has explicitly acknowledged that he comes to discuss things with me precisely because of my religious convictions, which he knows are central to who I am, even though he does not share them.  For another, the essence of this statement is a callous indifference that I don't believe he really has toward me or, for that matter, anyone else.  For still another, it is contrary to the good will in respect of God and the hunger for truth that I know he possesses.  

I gave him the first response my mind could lay hold of: "I care what your faith is!"  I meant it, and mean it, with all my heart.

People who say things like "I don't care what your faith is!" are either malicious or not thinking what they are saying.  A Catholic who can say this cannot be living his faith.  It means he does not take seriously that the entire business of our lives is, first, to save our own souls, and second, to help others to save theirs, and that the Catholic faith is the means by which this is to be accomplished.  If I were to say to my friend what he said to me, what I would really be saying is: I don't care whether you go to heaven or burn forever in hell when you die; it's all one to me.  What a horrible thing to say to anyone, let alone to a friend!  In fact, it's hard to decide which would be worse: that, or affirmatively to wish for his eternal damnation.  I doubt this is what he really meant to say to me, though it is in effect what he did say; he simply did not know any better.  But if I, who do know better, were to say that to him, he should not be pleased; on the contrary, he should be very hurt.

What does it mean for me to care about my friend's faith, or lack of faith?  Does it mean I want him to conform to me?  Not at all.  I want him to conform to God, because God made him to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.  I have neither the right nor the desire to do what not even God will do, and shove the Faith down his throat.  He has to want it for himself.  But I would be faithless both to him and to God if I tried to get out of sharing with him the greatest treasure I possess.

If some little bit of joy falls into our hands and we want to share it with our friends -- a bottle of good wine, or some fudge, or a piece of good news or a funny story -- how much more should we want to share the joy that the world cannot take away?  If we have the Catholic faith, then we have a gift beyond price that we were given out of pure gratuity and on account of no merit of our own whatsoever.  With that gift comes the solemn obligation to share it -- if we need more motivation beyond love for friends and family and associates.   Of course we cannot bludgeon them into accepting it -- nor should we want to.  But they deserve to have the option of knowingly accepting or rejecting it, and we have no business withholding it from them.  I not only do care what your faith is; I must care what your faith is.