The life of a young person and the vocation to which God calls each one…
Will they know we are Christians?
Ever since summer began, my young adult group has been planning different ways to get together. We’ve taken advantage of outdoor activities, even to the extreme of going on an 8-mile (or more) hike in over 90 degree weather. This weekend, we drove an hour north to go canoeing and kayaking for a few hours on a fine Saturday morning.
While we were paddling down the river, we passed a few families and groups of people who were either eating on the shoreline or taking a break in their own vessels. Usually we would smile and say a quick hello to the party as we paddled past them. Sometimes they would say something back.
One group in particular, who reminded me of the college-partier persona, were a bit more vocal. At one point as we were passing this group for the second time — we had a mid-trip delay as two of our members backtracked to retrieve a lost drawstring bag, during which we were passed by the other group — one of the women in their group casually swore. I would not have thought twice about it had she not followed up with a quick apology and the comment, “We’re not your type of crowd.” I was a bit surprised by that comment. While they were open about some of their lifestyle choices, I couldn’t figure out what gave them the hint that we were different. Yes, we had a priest with us, but he was not wearing his clerics, and I doubt they glimpsed my religious medals as we passed. Yet with only a brief interaction, the woman and her companions could tell that our groups were different in one way or another.
This encounter brought to mind the passage of Scripture where Jesus tells his followers, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). I remember singing a song based on that verse in Mass throughout my childhood, and it seemed so simple then. But it’s not so simple anymore.
Looking around at the Catholic sphere, especially on social media, our love is lacking. Yes, it’s also lacking in politics and sports, but sadly it is very prominent in Catholic channels. Twitter battles attack people for their preference in liturgy or their support or lack of support of Church leaders. Facebook comments judge articles based on the headline without reading it in its entirety. People on Instagram call out Catholic influencers for both addressing or not addressing issues such as racism.
As someone who works in Catholic media, I’m not saying these conversations don’t need to happen, but the ugliness needs to stop. We have replaced fraternal correction of friends and family with the public correction of strangers. Even approaching our pastoral leaders has moved from direct emails and letters voicing concern to public attacks or debate. Dialogue needs to happen, but criticizing a person instead of an argument is not the Christian way. And while we cannot stay silent about wrongs happening in our world and Church, sometimes we as individuals are not meant to speak; sometimes we are just meant to fast and pray.
At the beginning of the pandemic, people were so hopeful, encouraged by the thought that this could be a time in history that made great saints — that during the struggle, certain men and women began to take their faith seriously and truly say yes to the life God is asking them to live. I hope that is the case. We are all asked to answer this call, to relearn Christian charity and remember that we will be known by our love.
There is a lot of woundedness in the world and in the Church. This is nothing new. But we all can do our part to love more, to check our thoughts, speech and social media interactions to ensure they are coming from a place of love and not pride or even misplaced zeal. As I’ve written about, we are halfway through 2020. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate.
I don’t know why the other kayaking group saw us as different, but I hope they saw a bit of Christian love — in a smile, in a quick exchange. And I hope other people see it, too.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.