thou shalt not label thy neighbor

I had a conversation today with an associate, a new friend who also happens to be a priest.

We covered many topics: politics, sports, religion, the separation of Church and State. We touched on everything from the behavior of bishops to the existence of absolute truth.

Wow.

Amazingly, I think our friendship still has a chance!

I’m struck by how often we find ourselves in situations in which we want to label ourselves, and to apply labels to others. Conservative or liberal? Republican or Democrat? Dispenser of truth or fear-monger? We want to know where the other stands, and in contemplating our differences we seem eager to calculate the distance that divides us.

Our conversation was lively and well-intentioned, thought-provoking and sincere. It was also kind, and when we were finished we discovered the interesting fact that mostly, we agreed.

We agreed, most importantly, that Christians are called to know, love and serve God, although these words were never spoken. The truth is written on our hearts, and grace is freely given if we seek to understand it.

If I know anything about the PIME Missionaries, it’s that they’re not about labels at all. The only one they proudly proclaim is this: missionary. They are missionaries. Always missionaries and only missionaries. They set out to do the work God has called them to do (preach the Gospel in word and deed.) And they do it humbly, without fanfare, and without judgment for those they serve.

I label myself many things: wife, mother, friend, Catholic, writer. If I am honest I might sometimes add other labels: gossip, coward, critic, loudmouth. I learned today that labels aren’t as important as what lies beneath them. And I was reminded that God is supremely interested in – and passionately in love with – that which lies beneath.

Cathy

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