Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Yet Another Glimpse Upon the Shadowy World that Lurks Behind My Tortoise Shell Specs

Recalling that encounter I recently had with a parishioner brought to mind another encounter which I could use some insight into. This is one of those things where not only you are so embarassed for the person but also frustrated by the response of the person that it steals any meaningful interaction from you.

Here's the scenario. I was teaching my regular Catechism class at one of my three parishes that I serve as pastor for. I can't recall what exactly it was that the class was discussing this day when one of the people in the class drew a connection to some other aspect of the Church's teaching not on the docket. I commended this response (as I do when anyone shows profound and correct insight because, to my mind, that is God acting clearly in the present moment), saying some like, "You see. Once you master the basics of the Church's teaching, figuring out the other aspects of the Faith is really simple." A different person, in sotto voce, said, (again paraphrasing), "Well, it is not that easy for everyone, Father."

The person in question does struggle in the bible studies and classes I offer. Many times, I cannot even figure out what the person is actually asking or will ask about something that is completely not on topic. Anyone who has attended a class with this person knows that they really struggle, and I often wonder how much is really getting through. I talked to another priest about my concerns and described using the analogy of a parrot. The person parrots the right response but doesn't understand what they are saying.

At that moment, I really didn't say anything, mumbled something, and quickly moved on. After a little reflection, I thought of a response which I think goes to the core of the matter.

[Alternative Scenario]
They: "Well, it is not that easy for everyone, Father."
Me: "Okay, everyone, let's all stop our discussion and pity Person X. Isn't it so terrible that Person X is so dumb? Isn't God mean because He made Person X so ignorant?"

The hostility present in that comment speaks to the level of frustration I feel when interacting with this person. On the other hand, you can't tell someone in a parish that they are not welcome to attend a class merely because they are not as quick as everyone else. After all, that's what the classes are for, eliminating ignorance and building knowledge and wisdom in the Lord. So, clearly, this is a moment of necessary conversion -- although from what specific fault, I am still in the dark.

The person's comment strikes me, upon reflection, as basically an excuse. The comment implies that somehow Person X should not be expected to "measure up" because of some kind of deficiency, instead of aiming as high as one's capacity allows. Before you flood the comments box with hostile comments, I recognize that it is a judgment, but it is a necessary judgment if I am to figure out how to respond appropriately. Given the lack of guile this person seems to possess, I am not sure that this comment of theirs is as deliberately manipulative as my internal indicators sense.

How would you respond both in the moment and maybe in another context?

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