Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering the Irritating Nice Woman at St. Matthias'

I was doing a little mental association during Mass this morning. It's the feast of St. Matthias, and many years ago when I belonged to Risen Savior Fellowship (a non-denominational charismatic fellowship) in suburban Milwaukee, there was a St. Matthias parish just around the corner from us. I belonged to the evangelism group, and we'd meet once or twice a month or whatever it was and go out in pairs around the church to knock on doors, offer to pray for people, try to engage them in conversation and ultimately "get them saved" by having them repeat a sinner's prayer.

Usually my evangelism partner and I headed to an apartment complex nearby, and had brief interactions, if any, with those living there. But one day we headed off in a different direction and stopped at a house that was next door to the Catholic parish. A woman lived there, and though I don't recall many of the details, I know that she had some official capacity at St. Matthias. She might have been a nun, but I don't remember her wearing a habit. She invited us in, and I remember staying there far longer than any other residence I'd ever visited in this capacity. She was happy, welcoming, warm, and open to us.

It's hard to describe exactly why this sticks in my mind some 22 years later.

I didn't know many Catholics on a personal level before I became one, but it always seemed to me there was this "something" about them that bewildered me. And whoever this lady was we visited that day, she had it, too. She didn't realize that we were armed with the "Two-Question Test" specifically designed to trip up Catholics into confessing that they, well, weren't Protestants. "If you died tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?" Catholics inevitably say no, and then we'd whip out 1 John 5:13 and tell them that by believing in Jesus they could know they have eternal life, which we'd misunderstand as meaning the same thing as dying and going straight to heaven. Then the second question: "If God were to ask why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?" The Catholics would usually give some answer that had to do with their moral life, and then we'd pounce and tell them that it's all a matter of faith in Jesus and not about some delusion that you could earn your way to heaven, silly pagan.

I don't remember if we engaged this woman with the Two-Question Test or not. I certainly didn't, as I was generally the mute tag-along to my friend Mike who did the talking. But I remember this woman talking about her service to Christ, and her treating us as equals, as fellow Christians, and talking about her own life.

She wasn't ready to shred our beliefs like I, at least, was internally thinking about shredding hers. It didn't seem right that she wasn't on the defensive. It didn't seem right that she was open to us. All of this irritated me. She was enjoying this human exchange -- such an obnoxious Catholic thing to do! I was simply uncomfortable.

I remember others in my Fellowship citing the same uncomfortability, even around those who were now "part of us" but had once been Catholics. "There's just something there" our pastor's wife said once of her own ex-Catholic daughter-in-law, with the sense that she was talking about something deeply questionable.

Perhaps the greatest grace God can offer a person through us is to provoke questions in his or her soul.

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