Knowing that most people are very reluctant to share their private inner griefs and battles with others, my husband and I are always astonished, honored, and blessed when someone confides in us. We have listened to people so battered down by clinical depression that they have lain on their couches for most of the day, been unable to work, have lied to their spouses, have cheated on their spouses. We have listened to women who have been sexually abused by fathers and other relatives, entered into abusive marriages as a result, and watched their daughters go through similar patterns of abuse. Women have wept over miscarriages and abortions that happened when they were young.
We have listened to women who years later were still angry at their fathers for committing suicide. Listened to women angry at the Church and the Church Fathers who do not acknowledge their gifts. Men have confided in us about their deep depression over struggles to discover and accept their sexual identity, and their fears about "coming out" as gay to their relatives and friends. We have held both men and women as they cried over the coldness and rejecting behavior of their biological families and their Church families, especially Pastors. We have touched the hands of those still angry over racist comments and gestures that occurred years ago, at work and in Church. We have listened to Jewish friends who have a hard time trusting Christians because of the horror of the Holocaust and the sting of some Christians blaming all Jews for the Crucifixion of Christ.
Everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Everyone! If we remember our own angers and griefs and temptations, our own stumblings in the dark, our own private battles, we will know how to "be" with others. We will be kind. Always. We will be careful of what we say. Always. We will be careful about not making false presumptions.
Don't presume that everyone has had a kind mother or father whom they loved. Don't presume that everyone's sister is a gem. Don't presume that everyone can afford bottled water. Don't presume that everyone can afford a new coat. Don't presume that everyone is capable of working, even if they "look normal."
Don't presume that non-Christians don't have relationships with God, whoever and however they name Him/Her. Don't presume that all atheists and agnostics are bad people. One of the most sensitive, spiritual women I know practices the Baha'i faith. One of the most caring, loving men I know is an agnostic.
Don't presume that those who are caretakers for the physically or mentally ill can be on duty 24-7, are always patient and kind, and are never interiorly angry at the sick one. Don't presume that everyone in a good marriage has never been tempted to be adulterous. We can't control our feelings; we can only control what we do with them. Even if we do act faithfully and kindly, our feelings need to come bubbling out to a safe ear, for if they stay inside, a person can be poisoned by them.
Don't presume that the person you are talking to is a heterosexual. Don't presume that the person spiraling into addiction doesn't want to change and can never be sober again and deserves your contempt for being weak. Don't presume that everyone who attends the Mosque in your neighborhood or town is a secret terrorist; during World War II people presumed, wrongly, that every person of Japanese, German, and Italian background in America was Anti-American. Don't presume that the woman in a current adulterous relationship deserves only your scorn; she might well need someone to hold her while she weeps and to encourage her gently to change.
Christ has no other ears but ours. If we really pay attention to how he lived, we can see that he never was unkind or dismissive to anyone, and he was especially kind to those who were suffering in any way. The only people whom he got angry with were the Scribes and Pharisees, who were the educated religious leaders and should have known better because they were the ones who studied the Torah and the Prophets. He visited with pagans like the Roman centurion. He protected the woman caught in adultery from those who felt "superior" and wanted to kill her with hurled stones. He didn't "talk down to" children but told everyone to imitate their simplicity of heart.
If Jesus came back on earth today, how do you think he would dress? Whom do you think he would talk with and listen to? Would he only visit your Church, or Churches of your denomination? Would he only go to the homes of Christian believers? Would he only consider "straight" couples his friends? Would he ever visit prisons?
A beautiful passage in the book of the prophet Isaiah found its fulfillment in the person and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah has God say "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one...upon whom I have put my Spirit.....A bruised reed he shall not break." Later Matthew, writing about how Jesus loved people, and healed people, quoted these lines about him. Today God calls us to be His humble servants, to reach out to people as equals as Jesus did, and God promises His Holy Spirit will be with us, to inspire our words, our listening, our actions.
God is our Counselor; God knows to be patient with us because it takes us years - years! - to let go of negative emotions, to overcome addictions, to seek right relationships. And God gives us His patience - He will not break us with coldness, rejection, harsh judgement, or cruelty. God is the Way, the Truth, and the Life Who never breaks bruised reeds, people who are fragile, lost, suffering. People, through insensitivity and unkindness, break bruised reeds. And the people they break will often lose their faith, leave their Church, isolate themselves from family and friends. God our Counselor Who teaches us to be kind asks us to find those bruised and broken reeds, to strengthen them, to heal them with love, to accompany them in the right direction, to help them be whole and flourishing again. In their time. At their pace.
Pope Francis encourages us to treat others with loving respect by living from our center, Who is Christ:
"Respect is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs. The self-centered person inevitably seeks his own interests; he thinks this is normal, even necessary. Those 'interests' can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always 'self-interest.' Charity, however, makes us draw back from the center in order to set ourselves in the real center, which is Christ alone. Then, and only then, can we be persons who are respectful and attentive to the needs of others."
Everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about. So are we. Treat others with the respect and with the kindness that you yearn for, especially when you feel bruised, even broken. Let God counsel you in your listening, words, and actions. Speak the Gospel truth with love. And let God do the judging!