The Merry Catholic

"MERRY" (mer - ee) adjective: full of cheerfulness; joyous in spirit; mirthful.
"CATHOLIC" (kath - lick) noun: a believer in Christ; the Church founded by Jesus Christ in 33 A.D.

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The Merry Catholic essay: March 4, 2015:

©2015

Do We Love Mankind, But Can’t Stand People?

Christian theology teaches that every single person on earth has been created by God, in God’s image, and is loved very much by God. So, if God loves all people, who are we not to love them also, right? Most Christians do in fact love other people, and get very concerned when news reports tell of the devastating impact of wars, famines, and natural disasters.

Speaking personally, I feel a profound sense of sadness and pity when I see images on TV of malnourished children in Haiti, or typhoon victims in the Philippines, or war refugees in Syria. And I can usually be persuaded to write a small check to whichever relief agency is trying to help these beleaguered folks. And, of course, when I write these small checks, I feel very good about myself, especially when I factor in the large checks I write on a regular basis to pay my taxes, much of which goes to support various government social welfare programs. At those moments I’m certain Jesus is very pleased with me, too.

But I recently came across something by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Peter Kreeft, which forced me to reconsider this issue. He writes, “Christ commanded us to love our neighbor, not ‘humanity’.” Kreeft explains that focusing all our charitable efforts on abstract, far-away causes can give us the illusion of being very loving and moral, but in fact we are not really following Jesus’ command. We are just writing small checks out of our surplus to make ourselves feel good.

Or to put it another way, Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip, once had one of his characters say: “I love mankind … it’s people I can’t stand!”

I wonder if that sentiment is true for many of us? Do we easily write small checks to help disaster victims 10,000 miles away, but keep walking without making eye-contact when a homeless guy pleads for a couple of bucks from two feet away?

At church, when we see an old disheveled man, who has weird mannerisms and mumbles to himself throughout Mass, do we think to ourselves, “Ugh, that guy makes me uncomfortable,” and try to find a pew as far from him as possible, or do we take a few minutes after Mass to say hi to him and ask if he needs anything?

Trust me, I’m not accusing anyone. Nobody needs to ask himself these questions more than I do. Because, you see, I love mankind. I know that all people on earth have been created by God. It’s just that people, real individual people rather than abstract multitudes on different continents, are kind of messy. They’re messy physically, and even more so, they’re messy emotionally.

Sometimes it seems like my personal emotional gas tank is on empty. My own stuff—my work and family and friends and all the other projects I’m involved in—consume all my emotional energy. I don’t have anything left for anyone else. Oh sure, I can afford to write a $25 check to some relief agency, but do I have ten minutes to talk to someone who is profoundly lonely? Umm, that’s a tough question. My knee-jerk reaction is to blurt out, “No, I’m so busy I DON’T have ten minutes.”

However, if I thought about it honestly, I’d have to admit, it’s not really the ten minutes, which I do of course have. What holds me back is the fear of getting involved in someone else’s messiness.

Well, Christianity is supposed to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. As someone who is usually comfortable, this topic has afflicted me. Now it’s time to go and comfort someone, not an abstract someone, but a real flesh and blood messy someone. Please pray for me, cuz I’m gonna need it.

(Note: Listen to these "Merry Catholic" essays on WJMJ, the radio station of the Archdiocese of Hartford, at 88.9 FM or by streaming audio at wjmj.org.)