Daily Archives: December 24, 2010

Shepherds and Car salesmen

Originally Published 12/24/2006

I recall reading a Christmas meditation somewhere that speculated about who *else* might have heard the message that First Christmas–and ignored it.

Were the shepherds the only ones who saw the angels in the sky and heard the first Gloria in excelsis deo? How many people figured it was just a dream or hallucination? How many people just heard the commotion and hid in fear? How many simply slept through it?

How many astrologers saw the star and ignored its meaning or misinterpreted it?

Did God call the shepherds and Persian Magi only, or were the just the only ones who bothered to respond?

Throughout the Gospels, from Bethlehem to Calvary to Emmaus, it’s the shepherds, the fisherman, the prostitutes and the tax collectors who “get it”. With a few exceptions, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the theologians are out of the loop.

Today, I had my car in for a service, and, as I was waiting, I wandered around the dealership. I had brought my Christian Prayer with me to say Lauds. But first, I thought I’d wander around and look at the cars. A salesman came up to me and struck up a conversation. First, he noticed my “Good Book.” It’s often a moment of gentle evangelization when a Protestant asks about my “Bible” and then I say, “Actually, it’s a breviary,” which leads into an explanation of the Divine Office (Apologetics note: one of the many advantages of saying the Office vis the Rosary, besides that it’s actually liturgy, is that it’s a lot easier to explain the Office to a Protestant than it is to explain the Rosary).

As it turned out, he said, “Oh, I used to say the Office a bit in college, but fell away. . . .” As he proceeded, I was pegging him for some kind of Episcopalian. Of course, we were both “beating around the bush” a bit and speaking in non-denominatoinalese.

Then he started talking about his theological debates with some of the other car salesmen in town, and that got to my mentioning pursuing my MA in theology.
He said, “Catholic theology, I assume?” I replied in the affirmative, and that got us off the “beating around the bush”and into some pretty serious sharing.

He explained that he’s an orthodox Catholic, FUS graduate, but works with many Protestant ministries, as well, including the 700 Club. I talked about Flannery O’Connor’s theory of the convergence of Evangelicalism & Catholicism.

He warned me against the dangers of arrogance when one becomes a “theologian,” and I wholeheartedly agreed. Earlier on, he had mentioned how his theological debates (he specifically mentioned Calvinism & Purgatory) usually focus on the concept of relationship: God created us to relate to Him, and everything else stems from that. I agreed, and talked about my own work, how I’m working on a book on that topic, and my work with bioethics and the pro-life movement. I noted how I’ve been seeing the same problems popping up with “conservative” and “Loyal to the Magisterium” theologians that we see in “liberal” theologians now that “our side” is more mainstream, and he agreed: the fundamentalist treatment of the Catechism, for example, such that the absence of statement on some moral question (e.g., vaccines) makes it licit, especially if a stated principle (protection of health) can be exaggerated.

He said, “Yeah, like it’s OK to eat the baby if you’re starving.”

And I said, “We shouldn’t be thinking about what we can get away with or how much we can justify. My question is: if Jesus were standing next to me, what would He think of me partaking in this?”

That was about the time when the service guy came up and said my car was ready.

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