The Lost Sheep

There is no question about it: our world today is riddled with divisions. Divisions between political parties, people of different races, and differences in beliefs are slowly ripping our country apart. When we view the world today, we’re faced with dichotomies, forced to choose one “side” of an argument we want to be on: Democrat or Republican; pro-life or pro-choice; religious or atheist.

While I would argue that there is “right” side to two out of three of these examples, it is the idea of the sides themselves that bothers me. When we start creating sides, we quickly adopt an “us vs. them” mindset — we begin to villainize or antagonize the side that opposes our own beliefs, refusing to listen to their arguments or dismissing the arguments as invalid simply because they belong to the opposite side. This mindset, instead of creating change for the better, only increases the already-rampant division between the two groups. This is clearly evident in the U.S. political system, where the tensions and divisions between Democrats and Republicans is incredibly high, and are only getting higher as the two parties continue to argue.

We would hope our church, the body of Christ, would be immune to this unproductive infighting. And yet, the Catholic Church, too, faces disagreement and conflicts of ideas. Among this Church that claims to be universal and whose primary message is one of God’s infinite love for all people, there are those who exhibit hate towards people of color, towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, towards Protestants, Muslims, or atheists; in a phrase, people who don’t share the same beliefs as they do. How are we to address these individuals? How are we to confront these people who claim to profess the Catholic faith, but in reality, live in opposition to it? Should we confront them at all? Often, they are older than us. We’ve been taught our entire lives that older means wiser. What if their beliefs are correct? Who are we to oppose them?

My answer to all of these questions begins with a story. Like many stories, mine begins in an unusual, dangerous, and intriguing place: Twitter.

Ah, Twitter, a wonderful, yet terrible thing. For those of you unacquainted with the ins and outs of Twitter, there is a whole sphere of Twitter that calls itself “Catholic Twitter,” and it teems with sisters, monks, brothers, priests, seminarians, laity, traditional Catholics, hipster Catholics, and everything in between. I joined Twitter about a year ago, and my experience with Catholic Twitter has, overall, been fairly good — I’ve learned a lot, laughed a lot, and witnessed hardcore debates about ice cream (don’t ask).

Last week, though, I stumbled across a Catholic Twitter thread that made me uneasy. I won’t go into detail, but it included a picture of a group of Catholics doing something that seemed somewhat un-Catholic (to me and the editor of this post, at least), and praised them for doing it. I clicked on the thread, expecting to see comments that reflected the uneasiness that I was feeling — but there were none. Almost all of the comments on the post were commending the men in the picture for their actions.

There was, however, one comment from a non-Catholic that questioned how Catholics could support this photo, when it seemed in opposition to our beliefs. The replies to this comment criticized the person for even asking that question, labeled him as ignorant, and a few were insulting and derogatory.

To set the record straight, I replied that the post, did, in fact, make me uneasy. In response, I was rebuffed. People were quoting Scripture against me that didn’t align with the image of Jesus I’ve come to know. I was suddenly worried that what I’d said was wrong and that the people I had spoken out against had the right idea, despite my uneasiness and conviction that the action wasn’t okay. Not sure what to do, I ignored the thread for a few days and decided that if I was going to reply, I’d have to sleep on it for a few nights.

In the course of those few days, I stumbled upon a Scripture passage that spoke to the situation. One of the daily readings was a passage from Matthew about Jesus’s commissioning of the Apostles. These were the verses that spoke to me:

Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 10:5-7

In Matthew’s Gospel, this is the first time that Jesus commissions the Twelve. Jesus does not send them out to the pagans, or those who have not heard of the Messiah; he sends them out first to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” — those who have strayed from the path.

As Catholics, our highest calling is to live our life like Christ lived his. We are called to love one another as Christ loves us — and Christ loves every one of us infinitely and completely, regardless of our sins, mistakes, or beliefs. While we can never attain a perfectly Christlike love, it is our job to attempt to do so and to try to love everyone on this earth as Christ loves them.

This means we love and welcome people of color. This means we love and welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community. This means that, yes, even if we don’t agree with their actions or words, we try to show love to racists, criminals, and people who completely misunderstand or misrepresent Catholicism. This means we love the lost sheep.

One way to show your love for the lost sheep — the ones that have misunderstood Catholicism, and claim that the Catholic Church hates one group or another — is to correct these people, and give witness and reminder to the fact that we’re called to a Christlike love. Before you do this, though, reassess your own position on the issue at hand: is what the person is saying valid? Are your own beliefs on the issue fueled by personal opinion, or do they also have a base in Scripture or the teachings of the Catholic Church? Do your research and decide if your response and reaction is justified and informed by Church teaching. It’s highly possible that we ourselves could be the lost sheep and have yet to realize it until someone points it out. To quote my friend Aidan Galt, founder of INFLAME: “Often, we get too caught up in how we ourselves practice and value Christianity and we fail to see the true objective, which is to emulate Christ.”

Once you’ve decided that your belief is well-informed and thoroughly supported by Scripture, begin to correct the person you believe to be incorrect. Do this carefully and respectfully; don’t insult them or make fun of them. This isn’t a diss track. You’re guiding them back to the right path. Have respect for their human dignity. Using insults and derogatory comments mean you’re committing a sin of calumny – a malicious statement designed to injure someone’s reputation. In the instant, digital age, it’s incredibly easy to engage in calumny before you even realize what you’re doing. Therefore, we must be cautious of what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. Our goal is to emulate Christ and guide the lost sheep back to Him; if we’re engaging in calumny, we’re doing neither.

Chances are, the person you’re addressing won’t respond well to being corrected. That’s okay. It’s scientifically proven that it’s never easy to hear that you’re wrong (“confirmation bias”). If they engage you in a debate, take some time to think it over; if they have valid concerns or questions (or blatant errors), take some time to calmly and respectfully respond, making sure not to fall prey to confirmation bias yourself. If they’re quoting Scripture to you that doesn’t seem to align with the image of Jesus you know, look up the verse yourself; context is incredibly important and can change the entire meaning of a verse. If they’re just insulting you, and claiming that your arguments are false, but aren’t supporting their evidence – leave it. Don’t continue to engage them. You’ve planted the seeds of truth; it’s their job to respond. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12,

“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

Because we’ve been taught that contradicting our elders is disrespectful, it can be difficult to speak in opposition to people older than us. Don’t be afraid to face this challenge. These conversations are incredibly important to have. While older often means wiser, it does not mean the person is infallible.

If I could summarize the content of this article in two words, those two words would be love and respect. We are called to love everyone with Christlike love, and we are called to respect the human dignity of those who we don’t agree with.

As a young person in the Catholic Church, I’m often daunted by the number of people who profess the Catholic faith but live in contradiction to it. It is practically impossible to get everybody on the same page, but it’s part of our calling to guide the lost sheep back to their Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

There’s no question that it’s difficult to stand up to people and stand up for your beliefs, especially as a young person. But do not be afraid – you were born to do this. I’ll leave you with this quote from Scripture:

“Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.”

1 Timothy 4:12

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