I can still picture the middle-aged man, Stephen, standing in our driveway, a huge grin on his face.
“I knew it!” he exclaimed. “I just knew it. Catholics do know Jesus! They’re not bad people!”
What an unforgettable conversation that day. Stephen had been our bug guy for several years, coming out every quarter and helping to stem the tide against scorpions, black widows and other nasties that tended to disrupt the harmony of the Soulful Catholic’s humble homestead. The outline of the fish on the back of his mini Toyota truck gave evidence of his Christian faith and, impressively, he usually found a way to bring Christ into the conversation.
Every. Single. Time.
Honestly, I found myself delighted that Stephen was so on fire for the Lord that he felt a need to share his faith as he went about his duties. Good for him. Perhaps the crucifix and large image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on our walls let him know we were Catholics.
But what was it that sparked his astonishment that day as he realized Catholics were not the enemy he’d been led to believe?
Moments before our little driveway discussion, a delivery truck arrived and parked in front of Stephen’s Toyota. The driver hopped out, opened up the back and began loading boxes onto a dolly.
“Oh! They’re here!” I gushed. “They’re finally here!” Copies of my book had been on order for weeks and I was anxious to finally hold a copy in my hands. Years of work and love and study — even tears — were poured into producing that tome.
“It’s my book,” I told Stephen. “My book about the persecuted Christians of Iraq. Their faith in God and their witness to Jesus Christ changed my life forever.” I told him about a Catholic priest, my dear friend’s cousin, who was martyred for his refusal to close his church. I told him about Fr. Douglas Bazi, the Catholic priest I’d met who was kidnapped and tortured for nine days and who prayed his way through the ordeal.
“I always knew deep down Catholics were good people,” Stephen told me that day. “My mother told me to never trust them, but I had an aunt and uncle who were very kind. They were Catholics.”
And just like that, judgement and prejudice melted away. We had a relationship. We looked each other in the eye and saw goodness and honesty. Vulnerability.
I’m not so naïve to think that theological differences can simply be swept under the rug — don’t get me wrong. There are real differences and we need to be honest and respectful of that. But there’s plenty we can agree on, too, like the need for America to turn to Jesus and repent of her many sins. Starting with my own.
I had grown up with my own set of prejudices. I’m not proud of that.
As an Irish American Catholic, I heard plenty of stories from my elders about the injustices committed against Catholics back in Ireland. “The Troubles” were still afoot in my young years, with bombings and attacks taking the lives of many on the Emerald Isle. Attending 12 years of Catholic school, I really didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Catholic. I had my own preconceived ideas about those who were different from me.
And then, years later, something happened. I was a brand new mom living on a quiet street in suburbia where hardly any other mothers were home during the day. No one, that is, except a woman named Chris. She was an Evangelical who loved the Lord and was kind to me, giving me clothes and toys her children had outgrown. We loved each other and saw each other through some struggles. We talked about God and we talked about our relationship with Jesus. We prayed together when our families went through trials.
When we’re in a relationship with a living, breathing, well-intentioned human person, someone who’s kind and thoughtful, it’s pretty hard to hate. Or judge.
In 2019, I had the great blessing of interviewing Auxiliary Bishop of Phoenix Eduardo A. Nevares on this topic of Catholics and Protestants together. He told me how he used to debate an Evangelical preacher on local radio back in Texas. How afterwards, he felt angry and upset.
He recognized the disquiet and animosity weren’t from God. And so, he invited the preacher to have coffee with him. The two became friends. They still wouldn’t agree on matters of theology but they could share their mutual love of Jesus and a good latte.
This brings me to our present circumstances here in America. The shouting and hatred and accusations and ending of friendships that have erupted over the last couple of years do not bode well.
Can we at least end the acrimony between Catholics and Protestants? I say this because I’ve recently seen some terrible evidence of persisting skirmishes between us and it breaks my heart. How do you feel when your kids fight? How would you feel if they were cruel and hateful to each other? I’m imagining our Heavenly Father shaking His head and saying, “C’mon kids! You’re all My children!”
My mind goes back to a little sign my mother kept on the kitchen counter years ago. In bold type the words proclaimed: “They will know we are Christians by our LOVE.” Amen to that.
At a time when advancing secularism and militant atheism continue to corrupt our nation, let us love one another with mutual affection and anticipate one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10). Let us work to further the Kingdom of God among us. Let us pray together that hardened hearts will soften and that our fellow Americans will repent of grave sins committed in the name of a false freedom.
Many in our beloved America do not know Christ or have left His side. Let us work to share our love for Him in all we say and do.
We’ll probably need to swallow our pride before we can swallow that cup o’ joe together.