On Meeting People Where They Are - The Danger of Homogenization


During the papal visit and throughout this Holy Father's papacy, there has been an increasing awareness of reaching out beyond our comfort zones as a Church.  The idea is growing and digging into hearts that we need to be stretching ourselves more to love, more to meet people where they are, and bring His mercy and love to the ones still unloved and not knowing the true Christ.  And thank God for that.  It is a beautiful movement of the Holy Spirit to seek to become more and more like Christ, to be a Church that invites every single person into relationship with the One who thirsts for them.

There has been a lot of talk of meeting people where they are at.  That phrase and idea is being used more and more frequently but with that beautiful desire, I see a tendency creeping into discussion and practice to homogenize the people who need Christ.  The irony, of course, is that the phrase then becomes a hypocrisy.  It is a subtle but foul arrogance that only certain people are worthy of our charity and time. The same ugliness that turns one's nose up at the welfare-using jobless drug addict can be behind the snubbing of the rich white privileged executive.

We as a Church must realize that Jesus wants them both.  

The same Church that strives to meet the marginalized must also meet the privileged.  They are poor in their own ways.  That meeting will look differently, of course, and that's the point.  There is an invitation that will meet the addict and one that will meet the executive.

We need both because they both need.

What evangelizes one person might not evangelize the other.  And that's why God created a Church filled with a diversity of gifts and talents and proclivities and temperaments.  We can all reach someone  and the someones we reach will not be the same.  Our task as individuals is to listen to where the Holy Spirit is asking us to share Christ, not to criticize and belittle where others are. 

Yes, we need to meet the homeless veteran and the crack-addicted single mom and the already wounded and cynical teenager.  But we also need to meet the 30 year old educated computer service techie and the entitled suburban workaholic and the Protestant minister who loves Christ deeply but feels that there is more truth to be found.  The world is an incredibly diverse place and there are many different types of people to meet.  How we meet will be as diverse as the people who need meeting.  We cannot homogenize the people who need Christ.  
It's all of us.

There is not one group that deserves Him more and one group that needs Him less.  He died for all.

Our Lord gave the Church a variety of gifts and temperaments and instruments to use to reach the variety of people He created.  Let us be careful not to fall into a trendy self-deprecation that minimalizes all that the Holy Spirit has been doing these last decades.  Let us be very very careful not to trivialize the ways that many people come to know Christ.  The beautiful liturgy that draws one man in will be the bowl full of soup that draws another.  The apologetics that persuade one woman will be the post-abortion healing of another.  The ways that the Church has grown in catechizing and renewing orthodoxy and redirecting the veerings of wayward teaching in the past few decades is a holy and good thing.  There is always room to be better, of course, and we should be constantly reevaluating how well we are reaching out and meeting the needs of all His people.  Yes.  We are obligated to do so.  But let us not forget that the New Evangelization has produced thousands of converts and a renewed catechesis that is continually bringing people home to Christ and His Church.  We must work to keep on going and expanding our efforts but we would do well not to forget all that has been done and renew our gratitude for it.

We need the theologian and we need the soup kitchen.  We need the parish priest and we need the cloistered nun.  We need the street evangelist and we need the blogger.  We need the foreign missionary and we need the stay at home mom.  The God of the universe has deigned to need them all and each one has a role in this great big Body of His.

We need to meet people where they are and to do so we need to realize that where they are?

It's as different as each of them.


St. Therese, patroness of the missions, pray for us.

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