Sometimes the most intriguing persons in the Bible are the secondary ones: the unnamed Phoenician woman who badgers our Lord until he relents; the unnamed centurion who — I think — is the only person in the Gospel that our Lord “marvels at.” Another is St. Ananias.
Ananias was the man in Damascus whom the Lord commanded to visit St. Paul, heal him and introduce him to the Lord after St. Paul had been struck blind. Now, put yourself in the place of Ananias. You’ve heard of this man, Saul; perhaps you’ve seen him at work. Maybe you were there when they stoned Stephen and you saw Saul cooperating in the affair. Now he has come to your city with a warrant to arrest Christians, arrest YOU, and possibly do to you what he did to Stephen. You or I probably — and understandably — would leave town. We certainly wouldn’t go to meet him, and it would seem suicidal to talk to him about Jesus.
Yet that is what God asked Ananias to do, and that is what he did.
“For God loves all men and wants all to be saved” (I Timothy 2:4). All, even those who disagree with us, ridicule us, lie against us, and do violence against us. Yes, we must pray for them, but like Ananias, we may have to talk to them. It may do no good, but that’s not our affair.
It is easy to dismiss the “other side,” and talk only to those with whom we agree. But someone who is already converted doesn’t need to be converted.
Another example: During WWII, while the Nazis occupied Rome, Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty ran an “underground railroad” in the Vatican. He saved an estimated 4000 Jewish refugees amongst others. The Nazis were out for him, especially the commander of the Gestapo in Rome, Colonel Herbert Kappler. Knowing that O’Flaherty liked to walk the Vatican grounds, Kappler drew a chalk line around the Vatican with orders to shoot anyone who walked over it. A monsignor and a Nazi: one committed to saving Jews the other to killing them; one the hunted, the other the hunter.
O’Flaherty survived the war and so did Kappler. The latter was later tried, convicted and sent to prison in Rome. No one ever visited him. Except O’Flaherty. In 1959, Kappler converted to Catholicism.
Our nation has been torn apart by Roe v. Wade. An estimated 50 million children murdered, and who knows how many lives of women and men scarred. I find it difficult to be civil in a conversation with someone who supports abortion or trivializes the issue as “one among many.”
And yet. And yet there is Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade. She soon repented of her part in the travesty. She became a speaker for the pro-life cause, and in 1998 converted to Catholicism. How? Why? She recalled that she saw the peace and joy of the pro-lifers praying outside the abortion clinics. When she spoke with them, they did not condemn her, but instead admitted their sinfulness, too. She met a kind, compassionate priest, Fr. Frank Pavone, and a soul was saved for eternity.
There is Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders NARAL, and personally responsible for more than 75,000 abortions, including those of his own children. But people began praying for him. He felt it. One by one, the bricks of his intellectual and spiritual defense started to fall. One day he came to an abortuary where a group was praying outside. “The pure love on their faces,” he remembered. “They prayed for each other but never for themselves.” Then Fr. C. John McCloskey sought him out. Nathanson later said of McCloskey: “He’s receptive; he’s a listener.” In 1996, Dr. Bernard Nathanson converted to the Catholic faith.
Peace and joy. A willingness to talk; even more, a willingness to listen. An admission that I, too, need forgiveness.
We can’t compromise or dilute the Truth; we can’t overlook sin or be sentimental. This is not about a “cause,” though. Our Lord didn’t die for a cause. He died for persons; for you and me and that person I don’t like because he or she is so incredibly wrong and dangerous and sinful. I don’t like this at times, but I can’t change it because it, too, is a part of the Truth and I need it. Some of my most grace-filled moments have been when God has pulled me aside and reminded me of all those saints of his who were willing to talk to me and listen to me when I was dead wrong.
A priest once told me that if I am not willing to talk to others with whom I disagree, sooner or later (the last judgment?) that person will realize I don’t love him. And in my own case I know that an unwillingness to talk often shows a lack of faith in my faith, a fear of having my beliefs challenged, and a laziness in studying and learning my faith.
The feast of St. Ananias is February 25th. On that day, let’s make a list of those persons we “know are wrong” and commit ourselves to praying for each one. But let’s not stop there; let’s also pray for the grace to hear if God is asking more from us. And if, as I think He is, He is asking us to “get out of our comfort zones” and talk to these persons, let us beg Him that we do it calmly, kindly, and with a willingness to listen. As I said, it may not do any good, but it certainly won’t do any good if we don’t try.