In the presence of tall, majestic bamboo trees and a warm, high sun, I felt my heart break when this Japanese woman – who I shall call Christina – told me why she’d left Christianity: she was denied the bread and wine – the body and blood of Christ – because her family couldn’t afford to put money into the donation box. “I decided that maybe this wasn’t a good religion,” she said. Perhaps I managed to maintain my composure, though my face contorted a little to show grave disappointment in the people she’d encountered – especially because they claimed to be Christians – but inside, I fell apart. I went to the bathroom and cried. I wanted to desperately tell her that those people weren’t Christians at all, and that she should’ve never listened to them and looked past their misleading actions, but instead, I took it to prayer.
Narrow-minded, judgmental Christians. That’s probably how many view Christ-followers. I suppose I can’t blame them when there are so many out there. But what if I told you that that is not the true spirit of Christianity? It’s been said: “Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live by its spirit, but by the example of those who has lived closest to it.” Look to the saints to truly understand what it means to be a Christ-follower – St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, to name a few. And above all, if you want to know the true meaning of Christian Catholicism, do not look to those who’ve committed wars and commissioned violent inquisitions and who hold up signs saying “God hates gays”, look to Jesus himself, the life he led, what He believed. You will find that all the atrocious things committed and being committed in the name of Jesus Christ were and are not OF Jesus Christ for at the core of His teachings are peace and love. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus said (John 13:35).
Still, I understood Christina’s reasons for leaving. I was genuinely sad that she experienced exclusion from people who’d claimed to follow Jesus – Jesus who knew too well the emotional suffering of exclusion. After some prayer, I told her what they did was wrong and empathized with her, expressing my sincerest and deepest regret via a letter in the misrepresentations of Christ and Christianity, which I know are many. From the bloody wars of the past committed in the name of the church and the mishandling of sexual scandals, to what Christina experienced, I, in the spirit of St. Pope John Paul 2, apologized on their behalf in my letter to her.
With that said, we must also recognize that being a follower of Christ does not require perfection, but repentance. When we look into our own hearts and see that we need forgiveness, we are better able to forgive others. After all, someone I once admired said that the church is not a castle for saints, but a hospital for sinners. So, one shouldn’t be surprised to find imperfection – sometimes of the gravest nature – in the church. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do,” said Jesus. “I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners (Matthew 9:12-13)”. And the reality is that we are all sinners. But through Christ, we may be and are redeemed.
So, let us not let man’s flawed nature define Christianity. Let us always look to Jesus who sacrificed himself to an ignominious death because he loved (and loves) us, and to teach the importance of humility and sacrifice. Let us embody His spirit of forgiveness, especially towards those who hurt us: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” Jesus said as he was dying on the cross (Luke 23:34).
Here is a good example of what being a Christian Catholic means:
Anyway – a poem (Mother Teresa’s version):
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Pic taken during my pilgrimage in Jerusalem