It was my sixth-grade teacher who first taught me this: that everyone has good in them, no exception. It's just that in some, she said, we have to dig a little deeper.
That stuck with me, and yet how easy it is, in the day to day, in the divisiveness of this world, in the mix of misunderstandings and misfires, to forget.
Recently, I was reminded all over again, and the way I heard it this time made my heart leap.
I've been studying the book Consoling the Heart of Jesus, by Father Michael F. Gaitley, this year. And in the most recent chapter, he arrested my heart in the way he explains the message of mercy. He talks of two outlooks we can employ in approaching people in our daily lives: the merciful outlook and the judgmental outlook.
The merciful outlook, he says, "aims to discover the other person as a unique member of the Body of Christ." We are able to see in another, if we gaze at them this way -- as Christ does -- "an utterly unique fact of the mystery of Christ." Everyone, without exception, can be looked upon this way; the saints have been exceptional at it. "To know and love Christ is not only to know and love Christ the Head but also to know and love his members."
But there are limits to this merciful look, he goes on to say. "It's not our job to see in the other what the other's own inner eye sees. In fact we can't do it. Our gaze can't penetrate to the inner sanctuary of another's conscience, and we ought not to try...Another's conscience is sacred space the Lord himself guards."
Fr. Gaitley explains the danger of trying. "Just as the merciful outlook can give life and draw out the good, the judgmental outlook can draw darkness out of the other and even destroy him."
When we look at others with the judgmental outlook, he says, we abandon our part in the Lord's patient and loving strategy.
Is employing the merciful look always easy? No, Gaitley admits. But we must try, if we are to truly live in the light of the Lord.
In rare times we are obliged to confront our fellow brothers and sisters in their sin, but those times are the exception, not the rule, Gaitley explains. More often, our responsibility lies in what he calls "deep-sea diving."
"In overcoming temptations to go from the merciful to the judgmental outlook, it's good to be like a deep-sea diver who searches for sunken treasure," Gaitley says. "Such a diver knows there's treasure down there, and he goes for it. Sometimes he has to swim through dark, murky water and even fend off underwater beasts, but he keeps going. He knows the treasure's worth."
The merciful outlook doesn't pretend that sin and annoyances don't exist, he adds. It simply makes a strategic choice to go past them. It chooses mercy over justice, and trusts in the power of mercy to bring an even greater good out of evil.
And I say, wow, and yes, and let's do this. What if we all did? What if we all donned our diving gear at the beginning of every day, intent on searching for buried treasure in everyone we encounter? Can you imagine the gems we'd find? I'm excited just thinking about it.
What do you say? Will you join me in jumping in?
Q4U: What treasure have you found in another this week? How does Father Gaitley's idea of merciful and judgmental outlooks strike you?
Copyright 2015 Roxane Salonen.
Photo by Sgarten, copyright 2014 via Morguefile.
About the Author
Roxane B. Salonen, a wife and mother of five from Fargo, North Dakota, is an award-winning children’s author and freelance writer, Catholic radio host, and speaker. Roxane co-authored several spiritual works, including “What Would Monica Do?” (Ascension Press, September 2022) and writes a regular diocesan column, “Sidewalk Stories,” about her encounters at an abortion facility near her city. Her work can be found at RoxaneSalonen.com