Let me ramble a bit about something I read in the Sayings of the Desert Father.
I was reading about Abba Theodore of Pherme this past week. In one story, another father noted that he had come to see Abba Theodore and found him “wearing a torn habit, his chest bare and his cowl hanging in front of it.” At that moment, a “great man” came to see Abba Theodore, who greeted the man and sat down to talk with him. The other abba took one side of the cape and covered Abba Theodore’s shoulders with it – but Abba Theodore “put out his hand and snatched it off.” When the “great man” had gone his way, the confused father asked Abba Theodore why he had done that; after all, the great man “had come to be edified; perhaps he will be shocked.” The story continues:
Then the old man said to me, “What do you mean, abba? Are we still the slaves of men? We did what was necessary, the rest is superfluous. He who wishes to be edified, let him be edified; he who wishes to be shocked, let him be shocked; as for me, I meet people as they find me.”
Well, if someone comes to see me, it is not generally to be edified, but nonetheless, I do attend to my physical appearance lest the visitor be shocked! But these days, I don’t take too much care; when we had people over for dinner a few months ago, I did put on a clean pair of sweat pants, and a clean sweatshirt, too! Still, some of the care I take is simply vanity.
But when I read the above “saying”, especially where Abba Theodore says “I meet people as they find me”, I thought more about how I speak to people, and what I speak to them about. My extended family is not too happy with me these days, because on the in-law side, they are slip-sliding away from the faith, and I tell them so; and on my own side, they are all agnostics, pagans, or worse. I don’t see them in person very often, but I have emailed them about important issues and events in their lives that show that they are not serious about their Catholic faith. I know that I could be more “pastoral”; I could be more gentle and try to cajole them along into an awareness of the beauty and truth of the faith. But I don’t. Sometimes I feel like there is so little time left, I cannot mince words and hope they will understand!
The truth is, though, I have been told many times in my life that I am not very tactful, and that is true. It is a skill that has eluded me since I was a child. Sometimes I am sorry for that lack of gentleness and tact, and other times, I am not at all remorseful, feeling that it’s more important to say the truth plainly than to put a sugar coating on it. At those times, I say with Abba Theodore, “I meet people as they find me.”
Of course, there are not many people coming to see me these days, and those who do certainly aren’t seeking out my “wisdom”! Ha! I’m not sure I have any to offer anyway! And most who approach me aren’t even looking for Truth. Sometimes I give it to them anyway, though in these instances it is not often appreciated; so more and more, I don’t give an answer until it seems that the person is actually asking a question.
Not that I’m proud of any of that, really. I often wish I could be more like one of the saints. But which one?! St. Teresa of Avila, my confirmation saint? St. Therese? St. Catherine of Siena? They are all very different…
I guess more than one saint has noted that one should not necessarily strive to be like someone else, even if that other person is holy in God’s sight, but instead to be the person God intended them to be. Still, becoming that person is a journey and an exploration in itself, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that I have not become that person God wants me to be! Even if He doesn’t intend for me to be the most tactful and gentle person in the world, He surely would like to soften some of my rough spots!
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.