Until recently, debate fueled my passion and challenged my intellect. As a kid, I relished being right. It was the highest honor to achieve in conversation. And so I thrived in college, even when I was the only student who carried a particular opinion in class. One incident comes to mind.
“Jeannie, tell the class why you think women should become priests.” My moral theology professor, Dr. Loving, called me out unexpectedly during one of his lectures. I hesitated, because I wasn’t expecting a question in the middle of class. It wasn’t Dr. Loving’s usual M.O. He pressed me by repeating his statement, and I could feel every student’s eyes on me, expectantly awaiting my answer.
Maybe they didn’t know what to say, either. Maybe they were relieved he’d chosen to put me on the spot so I could either agree with his view or refute it. I knew what he said was cloaked in deception. “Please tell the class why you think women should become priests.” Dr. Loving made his first mistake by assuming this was my stance on the issue. But it wasn’t.
I finally replied, “I’ve never said I believe women should become priests. I don’t believe it.”
Dr. Loving was taken aback, and I heard a collective sigh (gasp?) among my peers. He was hoping I’d piggyback off of his lecture, but I cut through it and told him how it was — my honest opinion.
That’s how my friends have always described me. “What you see is what you get with Jeannie,” they’d say. At the time, I didn’t take it as a compliment. It sounded more like sarcasm or irritation. As time passed, I wore this transparency badge proudly. Even today, I believe in truth.
But I also believe in charity. And it is charity that greatly, sorely, lacks in our world today — and even in the Church.
I can’t hop on the internet, chat with a neighbor about a book, or engage in lively discourse with a family member without someone immediately claiming the defensive. It is wearisome, draining, and discouraging.
That’s why quotes such as the one from Elisabeth Leseur resonate with me these days. I hope it speaks to you this day. She is encouraging the reader to spend his or her time allowing God to transform the heart. That is where honesty meets charity — in the human heart.
I think it’s important that we bring our deep-seated hurts, misunderstandings, fights, and even long-standing estrangements first to the Holy Spirit. In the past year, I have prayed for the virtue of humility, that I might see myself more honestly and approach others with greater empathy. And now, everyone is pushing to have their voices heard by using more scandalous language than everyone else who gets a huge platform.
The true art of rhetoric has vanished. What has replaced it is word vomit — a smattering of thoughtless, selfish ramblings.
We have to get back to investing in genuine concern for our neighbors (and enemies) before conversing with them about any hot-button issue. I’ve chosen to be more intentional about speaking less about trite topics and listening more.
Why complain? Why hate?
We can ask ourselves this day, this coming week, for the Holy Spirit to infuse in us true healing and a greater love. This enlivens us to listen to one who is angry. This is also what transforms us to recognize our own biases and strong emotive responses.