In her book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell discusses five thresholds of conversion. These are trust, curiosity, openness, seeking, and discipleship. Ms Weddell describes these more deeply than these single words, but for the sake of this essay, I want to put the first, trust, in perspective.
When I worked with student leaders, we discussed these thresholds and what they meant for people they knew, people who explored coming to church for various reasons, and the more committed believers.
Often enough we would share stories. Trust was easy to identify in their peers. There was often a recognition from a roommate, a project partner, or another student there was something different about a person who didn’t drink (much), or cheat, or have bad or gossipy things to say about others. A person who trusts a believer is open to their company. Curiosity can follow, sometimes quickly.
Earlier today I found a social media post critical of full planes and bars and “empty” places of worship. There was a tinge of disapproval in the victimhood suggested by this. Likewise, news stories about vandalized churches. Ms Weddell writes about trust, or the lack of it, something that struck me after browsing these current events:
“As we work to rebuild trust or to build it for the first time, we must pray and work to avoid such things as defensiveness, seeing ourselves as a “victim,” and avoiding or judging those who don’t trust us.” (p 133)
Certainly, there is a truth that churches are vandalized out of anger, and thinly populated in this time of pandemic. Catholics in the public eye are vilified, probed, and in fake news dumps simply for being different than their critics. It is usually unfair. But it reinforces perceptions, especially the one that engenders distrust.
I certainly can’t change social media. But I can suggest that we Catholics would do far better to end our complaints about mistreatment, and focus on the harm heaped on other people. Compared to the violence perpetrated on the physical bodies and the psyches of innocent people, damage to property and attempts to damage reputations really do pale in comparison.
What does this mean? Certainly, report vandalism to the police. Apply for resolution on a social media platform. Press charges or even sue in civil court if it comes to that. But better for the Church and for the Gospel to be mindful of a Thomas Aquinas quote to which I refer often:
To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of actual sin.
Our striving could be more toward perfection. Leave justice in God’s hands. Aim for trust of those who watch us carefully. We don’t need to be victims to accomplish this.