I used to be someone who judged other people harshly, and the recipients of my harshest judgments were the poor who could be despicable in the way they tend to act like parasites. I also harshly judged the Catholic Church for feeding the poor without thought about how they are encouraging these people to remain parasites of society.
I know now that I am mistaken.
It’s not the Church’s job to solve poverty or to make people understand that they have to help themselves and to stop being parasites. Rather, the Church helps those who are in need, period. No questions asked. This is not because the Church encourages people to remain parasites, but because we can never know what exactly is going on in these people’s lives. Perhaps someone among them is only building up the strength to take responsibility for his life. Perhaps someone is not yet ready and needs a few more years of being a parasite. Perhaps someone feels forlorn and is about to give up on life and just needs a bit of care. Imagine if the Church gave up on these people or before helping them would ask first a bunch of questions: Why don’t you have a job? Why don’t you want to help yourself? Why can’t you understand that being a parasite is bad?
I know this because I once trod the path of parasitic selfishness. I used people and I didn’t care about their feelings. If God gave up on me during that time, I’d probably continue on that path forever; but that was something I needed to experience to be able to do what I am currently asked to do.
Recall St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul and St. Augustine. They led horrible lives before their conversion, but those experiences enabled them to serve God better. I think God makes some of his servants experience horrible pasts because only the actual experience of evil can make us completely understand what the evil person is going through.
In my case, because of my experiences, I understand how difficult it is to let go of the ego, to let go of selfishness and pride, and to have self-control for my emotions. If I am able to do these things easily from the very beginning of my life, I would not understand why some people are unable to be good. I would likely be judgmental and say that they are not trying hard enough, or that they are pathetic and despicable.
The thing is, when dealing with human weaknesses, such comments would likely not help.
For example, nobody would consider being a soldier for the state if the advertisement focused on the hardships, the possibility of dying in a firefight and the relatively low salary. Young people would shun that kind of life and choose the easier, more financially rewarding careers.
Instead, the military recruiter should focus on the good aspects of the soldier’s life, e.g. the value of serving one’s country, of saving the weak and oppressed, the chance to prove one’s courage and strength.
And so it is with the Christian battle against evil. The best soldiers are able to know which weapon to use against even the most hardened sinners. The best weapon isn’t self-righteous spiritual pride, but an acknowledgement of how tempting sin is which gradually leads to the highlighting of how comforting the rejection of sin can be.
Those who led horrible lives in the past are less likely to easily give up on hardened sinners. Also, since it is easy for them to see their past selves in the sinner, they understand that every person’s conversion comes at different times. It shouldn’t matter whether this happens early or late, only that it happens.
Given this, I now understand what St. Augustine meant by ‘Not yet.’ Sometimes we know what we have to do, but if the time is not right, then we ought to say ‘Not yet.’ It’s true that this is a mark of our weakness, but aren’t we all weak in one way or another?
Some blatantly anti-Catholic protestant churches in the Philippines are quick to make fun of late conversions. They say that the Catholics encourage people to remain evil their whole lives and only convert when they are about to die. Can such a life be considered virtuous? I remember a comic book I once read as a child which contained propaganda against the Catholic Church. It made fun of the fact that Emperor Constantine only converted at the end of his life.
I can’t remember the rest of it because I threw it away after learning it was anti-Catholic; but now that I recall that comic book, I recall St. Peter, the first pope, who repeatedly proved that he was guilty of human frailty yet Jesus still gave him a great responsibility. I recall my past self, and even my current self for I am still pestered by temptation.
We are not perfect. Even the best soldiers can feel fear. Even they can occasionally feel tired from their constant battles. Yet why does God not simple eradicate the human race and create perfect beings who always follow His will? Only God can answer that question, but what we can know is this: God created the world as it is with human frailty and the temptation to sin. Our glory lies in succeeding despite our shortcomings.
Think about this: leisurely walking around the park is no achievement because everybody can do this. Winning the marathon is an achievement because it requires a lot of effort. A former obese person winning the marathon is a higher achievement because of the amount of effort that needed to go into that. The gym exists and will continue to exist until the obese person is ready to get into shape, and the best personal trainers will never dismiss doughnut-eating slobs as people who will never, ever win the marathon. Who knows? With God’s grace, it could happen.