I learned a lot from Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, SOB.
I worked for him, or with him, for eight years. He had a large vision; he traveled around the globe for decades, talking and talking about sex and violence. He wrote short pieces about his observations that were often insightful, sometimes bombastic. He listened to people from a vast array of backgrounds – listened, really listened. He saw himself as a teacher – in fact, as a man with a mission – and was quick to push his own views with vigor. But he listened, always with interest, often with insight, sometimes with politeness – always with a global vision. When he was in Kenya, he had an eye on Switzerland. When he was in Japan, he had an eye on Italy. When he was in the Amazon, he didn’t forget Baltimore.
He was from a Midwest German family; I’m from a New England Irish family. But we shared a lot. We argued often, and fought occasionally.
A couple of years before the tough old man died, I wrote him a longish letter, thanking him for what he had taught me, apologizing for the wrongs I had done him, setting aside the wrongs he had done me, making peace. It remains painful to me that several narrow-minded and nasty enemies of his stole that letter off his desk and plundered it, using it as a source of dirt. Some people know no bounds in their bitter vandalism.
That’s a lot of background for a short point. I learned from him that people can fixate on problems to solve, evils to fight, for two very reasons. Some people fight abortion because they have been through something – abandonment, or loss of a child, or abortion, or a friend’s abortion – and others fight it because they can’t imagine it. C. S. Lewis was once asked why he wrote about all kinds of sins, but skipped two. His critic was specifically curious about “gambling and homosexuality.” Lewis replied that he only wrote about things he understood. Fr. Marx helped me see that some people wrestle with sins of passion – anger and lust, primarily – and draw on their own experiences to understand and resist abortion. But others wrestle with, say, arrogance and greed – and hate not their own sins but rather the sins committed by those people over there.
The greedy and arrogant denounce the sensual and impulsive. And vice versa. They share a blindness.
The perspective of an inexperienced outsider or a naïve and innocent observer isn’t worthless. The perspective of a struggling sinner isn’t unreliable, either. But you want to know which is which. You want to understand both.
I have great difficulty getting inside the mindset of people who commit acts of inhospitality. They astound me, baffle me. The joy of meeting strangers and stumbling slowly into a new perspective seems so obvious to me! So to get at the mindset of the inhospitable, I have to approach crabwise, with odd analogies. Some calm people don’t understand explosions of anger.