Thursday, January 05, 2006

Some thoughts on offense and conversion

I woke up this morning before the children and decided not to just surf the Net. Age quod agis. But what should I do? There are dishes, laundry, website work, etc.

I finally settled on a little spiritual reading and pulled out Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. Good choice. Just what I need right now.

Here is a little story I want to share from the book. I love how Ratzinger shares a Jewish story in a book introducing Christianity. That in itself is interesting and wonderful for a lot of reasons. But here is the story (in the first chapter on "Belief in the World of Today.")

An adherent of the Enlightenment [writes Buber], a very learned man, who had heard of the Rabbi of Berditchev, paid a visit to him in order to argue, as was his custom, with him too and to shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi's room he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, wrapped in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to the new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly and said, "But perhaps it is true after all". The scholar tried in vain to collect himself - his knees trembled, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But Rabbi Levi Jizchak now turned to face him and spoke quite calmly: "My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you; as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and nor can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true." The exponent of the Enlightenment opposed him with all his strength; but this terrible "perhaps" which echoed back at him time after time broke his resistance. (pgs. 20-21, cited from M. Buber, Works, Vol. III, Munich-Heidelberg, 1963, p. 348)

It contains a great deal of truth in itself, but also reminds me of some other tidbits about conversion - like Evelyn Waugh's "Tug on the Thread" from Brideshead Revisited and even this little piece I was reading today from Barb Nicolosi's blog. Her blog has a tendency to keep my perspective in check. She's a little feisty, perhaps, and I'm sure some take offense at her strong opinions. But I think it's easy today to become a too-comfortable Christian with lots of leisure to be offended by things. We're not going to win the culture war by being offended and boycotting organizations that offend us. A particular organization may choose not to offend us in the future, which isn't a bad thing, but no hearts will be changed and moved by this.

I think we need, on occasion, to swallow some of that offense in order to look at what other people need and see what we can do to change the culture, even in a very small way. If we can stand having an open, honest discussion with someone who doesn't believe, or who doesn't see the world the way we do - one in which we do a lot of listening and trying to understand - we can perhaps just plant a little seed. But maybe that seed will turn out to be a mustard seed, eh?

This to me is part of the joy of homeschooling. I can teach my children (with the assistance of God's grace through prayer and the sacraments) to enjoy and appreciate the fullness of the Church's teachings and the Unity of Truth, the "marriage" of faith and reason. They can appreciate Science partly because it is learning about God through his creation (and partly because it's fun and interesting - why should we be surprised at that when God is ALL goodness). They can see how great works of literature, sometimes inadvertently, will tend to confirm timeless teachings of the Church. They can build their own "skeptometer" in order not to be swayed by everything they read, but to "test everything and hold fast to what is true" (I'm paraphrasing here). And perhaps someday, they will go out into the world and be more interested in planting seeds (ESPECIALLY mustard seeds! [grin] ) than being angry and frustrated that other people out there don't agree with the Church already.

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