By: Fr. Andy McAlpin, O.P.
Life-lessons can come from the most odd and unexpected places. The lessons I learned recently from a Catholic web-site and a heavy metal band made me feel something that left me speechless and ultimately joy-filled.
I am constantly questioning and meditating on how I appear to the world and whether or not I am a worthy representation of that which I hold as the defining elements of my life: I am a Dominican friar, a Roman Catholic priest, a vocations promoter and a true believer in Jesus Christ, His Church and all that comes with the territory.
I recently had a mild disagreement on a popular, albeit divisive, Catholic web-site regarding an anecdotal and rather dismissive article about the success of a particular method of evangelization. The article claimed that the said method was not Catholic enough in its presentation of the person of Jesus Christ. My comments were met with some harsh, thoughtless and negative language from other readers. I countered by addressing the fact that the original article was an opinion and not based on proven or documented studies. I should have known better.
Through comments I read directed at me, I felt bad for calling out one commenter to confront me on an elevated intellectual basis and not assume I am a weak man and a hater of authentic and sound Catholicism (those who know me will laugh at that idea). I own those feelings and blame no one. But for believers in Jesus Christ, the high road is the best and only option. So, I ducked out of the forum so that my mind would not be preoccupied with the opinions of people I have never met. But I realized, when making a point, it is never necessary to insult the person with whom you disagree.
Maya Angelou said it best when she wrote that famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Jump forward a few days. One night, thanks to the generosity of my dear friends, Robert and Toni, and their connections in the music industry, I came face-to-face with Queensryche, a band I was introduced to in the mid-80s. Their 1988 concept album “Operation: Mindcrime” is easily one of my three all-time favorite albums.
Backstage, from the first handshake and warm greeting from drummer Scott Rockenfield, I felt something different about this band. For no reason at all, I was welcomed by every one of them, band and crew: Michael, Eddie, Parker, Todd, Kari, Fozzie, Bender, Alan… all of them! Simply the kindest and warmest bunch of heavy metal rockers and crew you can possibly imagine. They offered me coffee and we had a number of brief chats (Parker’s Ouija board story is one for my future book “I told you so!”). I was left feeling profoundly valued and authentically cared for as a human being, and it all happened at a heavy metal concert.
So what is the lesson I learned in the few hours spent hanging out and listening to this band? More than a lesson learned, I am left with a real question: How do I make people feel? All people, not just by brother Dominicans or the people I minister to, but all people I encounter every single day of my life? Whether on the Internet, social media, meetings, public transportation or on the street corner, how do I make people feel?
Certainly there are those who will say that it does not matter how you make people feel, it just matters if you give them the truth and preach the unfiltered Word of God to them in and out of season. I believe this is false.
How often are any of us willing to consider someone’s opinion or ideas if that person does not treat them well? Pretty much never. This is why Jesus was so quick to sit down at any time and just be with people where they were. We can never forget His response to those who criticized Him for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew chapter 9): “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Those sick people were made to feel as though their lives mattered to Jesus. Indeed their lives matter more than any of us on this side of eternity really knows.
I do not know the state of the soul of any of the people I met that night. Any faithful Catholic who has been to rock concert and has done some people watching will be saying a few prayers for many of the folks who attend. The folks I met know I am a Catholic priest. It didn’t seem to bother them and we had some chats about what I do. I was not there to proselytize (that evangelization technique Pope Francis rightly calls “pious nonsense”). I was there as a fan and I departed as a friend. If they have questions they want answered, they know they can ask me, because I hope and pray, as much as they made me feel welcomed as an honored guest, I truly hope I did the same for them as a representative of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.