Today at morning prayer I was struck by one of the petitions for this Friday in the seventh week of Easter. In it the Church asks God, "Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith - may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love."
American culture these days is poisonous in so many ways. Sexuality is trivialized and human beings objectified. Violence has become entertainment ("World of Warcraft" is just one example of incredibly violent video 'games' being offered our children). We dehumanize our enemies (Arabs, felons, gays, immigrants - especially, but not limited to illegal ones, conservatives, liberals, the ultra-orthodox, the heterodox), making it easier to judge, dismiss, hate or even kill them.
On our airwaves, on the television, in casual conversations, in the blogosphere and in print we are actively twisting one another's words, taking them out of context, attributing motives to words and actions, and generally failing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt unless they seem to think and act just like us. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise given that we live in a fallen world, but I would hope that Christians would know better.
And who are these "weak in faith" for whom we are to show reverence, be patient, kind and loving?
They are those who have don't trust the teachings of the Church's Magisterium.
They are those who want the Magisterium to tell them exactly how to behave.
They are those who want everything regarding faith to be ambiguous.
They are those who want everything regarding faith to be absolutely unambiguous.
They are those who don't want to follow Jesus anywhere.
They are those who don't want to follow Jesus everywhere.
They are those who will follow Jesus as long as it's not too difficult.
They are those who believe they are following Jesus only if it's difficult.
They are those who act as though Jesus should follow them.
I hope you get the point. All of us are weak in faith, and Jesus himself treats us with reverence, kindness, patience and love. Who are we to behave differently?
Apparently, we are not the first Christians to struggle with reverential treatment of one another. St. Paul chided the believers in Galatia, and these words of his are perennially appropriate, but especially so as we approach Pentecost.
You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.
St. Paul himself even slips up a bit on this point, when, in a moment of frustration against those who were insisting that Christians follow the Mosaic Law - including circumcision - he wishes "that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!" Gal 5:12
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [my emphasis - pick your poison, please]
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. [my emphasis, again - does this describe your behavior with those with whom you disagree?] Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ (Jesus) have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another. Gal 5:13-26
In a more dispassionate moment, when dealing with the struggles between Judeo-Christians who found it hard to give up the special holidays and dietary restrictions of their former faith and those for whom it was not a struggle, St. Paul could say, "Welcome anyone who is weak in faith [i.e., still observing some Jewish practices], but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant?" Rom 14:1-4a
Every one of us is 'someone else's servant', since we are all servants of our Lord, Jesus. He will be our judge, none other. We must help one another in our weakness, speaking the truth in love and in humility, and being open to correction ourselves. Salvation is at stake, so we all need to love one another and help each other in our mutual weakness of faith.
May we devoutly pray with the Church today to the Lord, "Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith - may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love."
"Lord, come to our aid and save us" (from ourselves).