Thursday, July 3, 2008

What I Love About Catholicism: Respect

Maybe it all started when I was a young girl, genuflecting toward the altar before I entered the pew. Or maybe it was addressing our teachers as "Sister" or "Father." (or Mr., Miss, and Mrs. ) Or perhaps it was a combination of all those different acknowledgements toward that which was holier, more educated, or older and usually wiser. Catholics know how to treat others with respect.

I also think a focus on the "dignity of life" permeates a Catholic's heart. If a person is faced with God's truth of cherishing life, it's a good bet they won't abuse themselves or mistreat others.

Years ago, I tried to live in an urban neighborhood. This particular part of town was known for its crime and poverty. However, a few visionaries tried to transform the neighborhood by adding art galleries, hip restaurants, and a few trendy bars. Artists and writers were drawn to the Friday night "gallery crawls" and an eclectic coffeehouse offering open mic nights for poetry. Since I fell into the artist crowd, I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to make my home in the midst of it all.

It didn't take long for me to notice there was a turf war over the area. On one side stood those who had lived there for years. Even though the buildings were in disrepair and chaos often erupted in the streets, it was still their home. They looked at those creating the new businesses as interlopers. They just didn't belong.

On the other side were the up-and-coming creatives who loved the old buildings and wanted to restore them to their former glory. Urban living was becoming attractive to many who wanted to be near downtown and places like the symphony and ballet house.

I was so naive. I thought since I lived near other artists, we'd have some kind of instant community. This did not happen. (Because it's just so doggone uncool to be friendly...) And in time, I discovered it wasn't the adult long-time dwellers who intimidated me. It was the kids.

One weeknight, at around 2:00 AM, I awoke to the sounds of voices outside my window. In the apartment building courtyard, I heard swearing and more noise. As I peeked out of my window, I expected to see a few older teens making a racket. Instead, I was saddened and stunned to see two small boys around the ages of nine or ten years old. Why were they out so late? Wasn't it a school night? Didn't anyone care where they were?

I ended up calling the police who arrived and escorted the young boys out the front door. (Officer: What are you guys doing here, anyway? Do you live here? Boy: No, we don't live here, but the door was open!")

After that episode, I pondered the issue of respect. Obviously, these young boys weren't taught to respect themselves because if they were, they would have naturally respected someone's property that was not their own. So much of society's ills is the direct result of people not respecting themselves and others. Jesus had an excellent point when He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He knew if we truly loved ourselves, it would follow that we'd treat our neighbors well.

When priests and nuns started to wear "street clothes," I felt a sense of loss. First, I do believe that religious clothing is a witness to the world. There is a difference between the sacred and the worldly. But I also felt that it diminished the respect usually given to those who had surrendered all in order to devote their entire life to Christ. Could it be that the vestments worn by our priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals are a way of maintaining respect?

I can't help but wonder what would have happened to me if I had not been raised Catholic. Would I have given in to the gravitational pull of the culture, compromising any thought or pattern of morality? Would I have absorbed relativism like a sponge, insisting that it really didn't make a difference whether I was a thief or a liar?

It is only by the grace of God that He placed me on a solid path from the very start. Sure, I wandered. But somehow I knew the right direction that would get me home.

God is so very, very, very, very, very, very good.

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