I got a funny message last night. Well, it wasn’t meant to be funny, but it sure made me laugh. It read:
“Dear Simcha, I read your post about how you [did a thing that is not immoral but which many Catholics think is immoral] and while I wouldn’t have I do believe that it’s more important to keep good communication lines open than closing them and declaring somebody too lost to communicate with.”
I laughed because, based on previous communication, I read his message like this:
“We all know you’re entirely depraved, but I’m unwilling to assume that you are actually already in Hell, so I’ll deign to continue contact.”
I do get messages saying just that kind of thing, in so many words, pretty often, except without the part that says I’m not already damned. (And no, this would not be the best time to message me for tips about how to break into Catholic media. My short answer is always the same: Fly, you fools! ).
So I laughed. Gee, thanks, man. I’m willing to acknowledge that there might possibly be some hope for your soul, too. And a Merry Christmas to you and yours. I somewhat snarkily responded to his message, “I’m honored.”
Then I was filled with shame, because he didn’t realize I was being snarky, and he responded with gratitude. He replied that he’s learned a painful lesson about losing friends after lashing out at them for doing things he considers immoral, and he regrets it. (Yes, I got his permission to share our exchange in public.)
Mind you, I still disagree with him. Mind you, he still disagrees with me. And I still think it was rather high-handed of him to hold out an olive branch that had a little “you’re wrong!” tag tied to its leaves. I don’t think I need his patience. I think I’m right, so where does he get off tolerating me? I’m right!
But … he did write the message. Do you know how hard it is to do something like that? It’s so hard, I’m not sure I can think of a single time I’ve done it myself. He did mean well. He did reach out. He did make an effort, if a clumsy one, to repair some damage he thinks he did, and he did make an effort to avoid making a mistake he made in the past.
This is the widow’s mite. And we all know what Jesus said about that.
I’d much rather get a message that says, “You were so right to do that thing you did! Your writing and your entire person has inspired me in a million ways, and that is why I am sending you a sack full of cash and a key to my island estate!” I’d rather get this kind of letter, a treasure of compliments and encouragement and reward, than a letter saying, “You’re not so great, but I guess I can manage to put up with you.” Anyone would. There’s a reason treasure is more popular than pennies.
But woe to me if I keep on being snarky to someone who is trying hard to make amends, trying hard to be a better person. I wouldn’t smack a coin out of the hand of a widow who’s being as generous as she can be, and I shouldn’t despise a message like the one I got. I should, in fact, follow his example.
Goodness knows I expect Christ to graciously accept my feeble attempts at repentance and generosity. Most of the time, I am the widow; and most of the time, to be perfectly honest, I don’t even give my mite. Maybe half a mite on a good day. The point is, if I expect my paltry offerings to be received with gratitude, then I need to show gratitude when a mite is offered to me. I probably need it more than I realize.