June 23, 2020
Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
First Reading: 2 Kings 19:9B-11, 14-21, 31-35A, 36
Responsorial: Psalm 48:2-3AB, 3CD-4, 10-11
Alleluia: John 8:12
Gospel: Matthew 7:6, 12-14
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus expresses the well-known golden rule, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” While this might seem to be a straight-forward principle, in practice, it is anything but. Because the unstated assumption of this rule – if taken in overt literalness – is that you and the other person are of like mind and circumstance. For example, a large man might greet a friend who is another large man with a hearty slap on the shoulder, and welcome this in return. But if he did this to a smaller man or a woman it might be received as something discomfiting or even hostile.
Empathy is one of the hardest virtues to develop because people can have radically different temperaments, intellects, tastes, and experiences. It’s also simply the case that we see things through our own lens and have trouble understanding how other people can see or value things differently. Yet it’s absolutely critical that we develop the ability to appreciate another’s perspective, because it is fundamental to the art of communication.
St. Thomas Aquinas famously stated: “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur,” which means, “that which is received is always received according to the mode of the receiver.” In other words, it does no good for a teacher to teach a lesson in a way that the pupils are incapable of receiving profitably. (An unfortunate instance of this principle can be seen in lying; consider the fact that a child only learns to lie because he or she comes to the rudimentary realization that other people do not possess the same knowledge that they themselves have about something, thus making those others susceptible to believing the lie.)
Our Lord says also in this same Gospel passage: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” The way Jesus says this is harsh, but it expresses an important truth about living and sharing our faith. We have to be circumspect about how we engage others with our faith. This isn’t a call to retreat from the work of evangelization, but it does point to the importance of prudence in the way we go about it.
For example, St. Paul says in First Corinthians: “So if the whole church meets in one place and everyone speaks in tongues, and then uninstructed people or unbelievers should come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” Paul means here that while the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues has a place in the Christian life, this is not something to be indiscriminately shared with those outside the faith because it is so apt to be misunderstood, resulting in their dismissing the whole of the Christian message.
One sees frequently Christians who share with others, even with nonbelievers, very personal and subjective faith experiences, whether as a form of personal testimony or as an attempt at evangelizing. I often tell people that what God speaks to us privately he often means for us to keep private. Sharing personal and subjective experiences of faith can be off-putting to someone who doesn’t share that faith perspective. And even amongst those who do, a Christian is well advised to share such personal experiences, if at all, only after deep reflection that connects that spiritual experience to the perennial truths of our faith.
Recognize, too, that there are times when it is better to walk away from an argument with an unbeliever rather than to engage in a fruitless argument about Christian faith and morals. Yes, we want to save all souls and share with them the truth. But sometimes discretion is the better part of valor; we recognize that we are not the right messenger for that person, or that this is not the right time or circumstance for them to receive the message of faith from us. We pray for their eventual conversion by other means. But we recognize the spiritual danger to ourselves and to them of simply arguing about the precious pearls of our Christian faith.