Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What else could I have said...?

On 1 July 2008, as I was finishing a long weekend in the Arlington, VA/ Washington, D.C. area where I had been for a conference, I, for the first time, had the experience of talking with a Mormon missionary. It was late in the afternoon and I was on my way from the hotel to the airport, as I was to fly home that evening, when, as I was about to step on to the escalator to descend into the Metro subway station, a young Moroan gentleman, dressed in the usual dark slacks, with a short-sleeved Oxford with a pocket Bible and a simple tie, was suddenly at my side with a, "Hello, ma'am, how are you today?"

I wasn't exactly surprised to find a man at my elbow asking to talk to me about religion as I struggled to pull my suitcase onto the escalator. As I had been approaching the Metro entrance, I had seen the two Mormons (they usually travel in twos when on mission journeys) earnestly trying to strike up a conversation with any of the pedestrians walking by. As I advanced toward the entrance, I had decided that, though I was and still am in no way interested in becoming a Mormon, I would try to be as polite as possible should I be approached by one of the men.

And sure enough I was.

"Ma'am, do you love your family? Would you be interested in joining the eternal family in Heaven?" Such was the topic of conversation that I briefly had with this Mormon missionary, a young man of about 25 years of age, with short, clean-cut brown hair, simple gray-black glasses, and a very kind face, as I struggled to manage my suitcase and backpack on the escalator, slightly anxious about the time being that I had less than two hours before my plane was scheduled to depart from the Reagan Airport. I tried to listen and respond as kindly and positively as I could, letting him know that, while what he said sounded nice, I was Catholic and very happy with my religion. Finally, seeing he continued to persist, I had to say to him, "I'm sorry, I am Catholic and I love and am very happy with my religion. Thank you for talking with me, though, but I am just not interested." I then was back on my hurried way to the airport and then home.

Although it was no more than a five-minute conversation, sometimes I do think about that man and my interaction with him on that really, really hot July day. I realize that, gosh, it must be so, so hard for them to go out on their mission trips and try to evangelize. ,Not only do people so often blow them off (as many were that day), but even more often are they ridiculed and poked fun at in and by our modern society. From riding in the car with some friends when one yells out "Ooo, look, there's a Mormon!" as we drive by a helmetted one on a bike, to comedian, Jim Gaffigan in his skit on religion saying that the pope would probably say, "Easy, freak, I leave work at work," should he be approached by a Mormon, to all of the attention, negative or parodized, but rarely positive, that Mormonism receives for its practices, it is pretty easy to find.

Thinking of all of this, it must be really hard for a young Mormon adult to go out on a mission trip. I find it somewhat uncomfortable to talk with people, especially strangers, about my religious convictions and beliefs. It would be hard for me to try to street corner evangelize to some random Joe Schmoe, much less strike up a neutral conversation on religion with him. I don't know if I could bear with the some of the rejection that these Mormon missionaries have to put up with.

As a Roman Catholic, I think that I do have some similarities with that Mormon, not so much in our religious beliefs and practices but in the way the society views our individual religious beliefs and practices. Because of this, I wish I could have been more compassionate and respectful of this Mormon gentleman who so daringly stepped up to me that day as I hurried on to the escalator. Rather than just saying, "No thank you," I wish I would said something more like this: "Look, I know it must be really tough for you to be out here, trying to talk to people about faith and religion and then having them ignore you, blow you off, or even be mean and disrespectful to you. I am sorry for that, it must hurt at times. I don't want to me another person to do that to you, but I am Catholic - I love Catholicism and I sincerely believe that the Truth lies in Catholicism and that the surest path to happiness in heaven you talk about lies in my Catholic faith. Thank you for having the courage to talk to me today, and my best to you."

That's what I wish I might have said. But, hey, I guess it wasn't meant to work out that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish more people of faith could feel the connection you describe. In today's world, what we have in common is so much more important than what divides us.

As a Latter-Day Saint myself, I have often felt a spiritual kinship with believing Catholics that I have failed to find with believing Protestants, for example.

I'll have to ponder why that may be. Possibly it's because I perceive more compassion in the Catholic conception of deity.

Perhaps it's also the stronger Catholic emphasis on living one's religion. Too many Protestants have tried to convince me that my refusal to separate my faith from my works somehow makes my faith inferior to theirs and automatically condemns me to an eternity in hell.

Apparently the right kind of faith is only shown by doggedly believing that your seat in heaven was permanently reserved for you the moment you recited the prayer you found inside the back cover of a Jack Chick pamphlet when you were fifteen - no matter how badly and frequently you have sinned since or are likely to sin in the future.