October 22, 2019

Read the Whole Message

I always get a chuckle when I get an “urgent” email message from my wife. The heading always comes with a highlight telling me to “read the whole message.” My wife knows that along with today’s generation that I, too, have the attention span of a goldfish most days. She may think it is intentional that I skim my messages but it has more to do with just doing too many things at once. No-one can multitask 24/7. But yes, I only read the first few lines of an email. I get a lot of emails sent to me. My rule for jokes is that I will only forward them if they make me laugh. The additional rule is that they have to capture my attention in the first three lines. Admittedly, I miss a lot in my emails. I figure if it’s really important they will either pick up the phone or email again. With five active email accounts I have to gig the system in some way.

I guess that’s why I smiled so at the gospel a few Sundays ago. In St. Peter’s typical charm and fashion he did the same thing:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21)

So many times in my ministry, and life in general, I can relate to St. Peter. Here Peter goes on to say “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Peter heard “suffering” and that “he must be killed.” In his emotion he missed “and on the third day raised to life.” Peter missed the most important part of the message. In our rush, we are all guilty of missing the rest of the message.

Christians and those with political agendas love to focus solely on forgiveness when Jesus talked with the adulterous woman. (Jn 8: 1-11) This important gospel message shows us how Jesus meets us where we are in our journeys. Jesus teaches a ministry of presence, not judgment. Jesus challenged the scribes and Pharisees as he told them “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” People often hear Jesus say “Did no one condemn you?” as well as the triumphant “I do not condemn you, either.” Yet, how often as a society do we seem to miss the end of his message? Jesus clearly says “Go. From now on sin no more.” The teaching of the story cannot be complete without us noting the ending. A teaching of forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be complete without including repentance. “Repentance” means to go in a new direction. This is what Jesus is telling the woman to do as well.

I’ve witnessed church lectors trying to skip when Paul says “wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” (Ephesians 5:21-33) Taken solely in the context of one sentence it is easy to see where some would have a negative response. However, the negative response comes from not reading the whole story. Here we don’t just miss the end of the message; most of us miss the total message. Paul is not speaking as a sexist or outdated man from a first century culture. Katie Froula, in an article on this passage, offered St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teaching that this whole passage is about mutual reverence of the spouses for each other. This reciprocal submission is a daily expression of the love spouses must have for each other. Who can argue with that? Such beauty is lost when missing the whole context in the text.

Not long ago the secular media went crazy reporting that Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge?” in regards to homosexuality. “Finally,” they said, they had a Pope who would change Catholic teachings on same sex attraction. They heard what they wanted to hear in the midst of what Francis actually said. The actual quote was “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? They didn’t miss the end of the message, they ignored the middle. The quote has an important clarifier –“and he searches for the Lord and has good will.” Leaving this clarifier in puts Francis’ teaching in proper context. As he often does, the Pope was noting God’s mercy. We are all called to convert and put our sins in the past.

Of course, missing the point is not simply a religious or theology issue but encompasses all our lives. Recently, when President Trump put an end to DACA he also said that he will give Congress six months to craft legislation to replace it. Now if you are one of the 800,000 illegal immigrants affected, surely this is an emotional issue. Yet, most of what was reported in the news was only highlighting the rescinding of the executive order. The President’s call for Congress “to do its job” was mostly absent from the coverage. President Trump simply moved the issue back to Congress. Hardly the same emphasis as reported.

I have learned that in today’s politicized environment that I cannot be lazy anymore. I must challenge any media story that doesn’t seem accurate. I now look for the parts I missed and especially look for two or more sources when I hear the media report on Pope Francis. Was it ever the case that the news was more factual and less edited? Probably not, it just seems that way – look at all the stories buried regarding the Kennedy’s Camelot.

Though I’ve succeeded in becoming weary of social media and television news, I am guessing that I still won’t read my email messages any more thoroughly. That would require a discipline I don’t care to have. The onslaught of technology is getting old to me. Email is for documentation. Talking is communication. Give me a call.

But then again, you’ll probably get my voicemail.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster
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