Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Does it matter what others think? If you asked that question to many people today, they would immediately tell you “no.” But that’s funny, because our culture seems to care what others think about everything from our clothes, our achievements, the kind of car we drive, and the shoes we wear. I think most people want to believe they don’t care what others people think, but the truth is, they do.
Should they? Totally! Should we care what people think about our shoes? Not so much. There are much more important things for people to think about us.
St. Paul was direct when he said we should be “Well thought of by outsiders.” (1 Timothy 3:7). But just who these “outsiders” are deserves our attention. The word Paul uses is éxōthen which means “from without”, and all lexicons agree that Paul is meaning those who are outside the Christian Church. So, primarily, Paul is telling Timothy that it should be our aim to to be considered well by those who have disbelief of Christ as God’s only begotten son. Paul is writing to Timothy on the duties of a pastor, but this applies to all Catholics and all Catholics can and should extend this to those who reject the Catholic faith. While it is very important for us to have good repute to unbelievers, it is also important for us to build our reputation for the sake of ecumenism. Everybody, without exception, has a set of eyes and ears attuned to their decisions and behaviors, words and actions. And the higher one’s place of responsibility is in the Church, the more imperative Paul’s wisdom becomes.
This pithy piece of wisdom from Paul to Timothy is especially important today. Today, the cultural meme is to disregard what other people think. The worldly wisdom tells us, “so long as you enjoy what you do and think you are right, you are.” This culture of relativism is a cultural killer. So it becomes paramount that we draw a careful line for where our reputation impacts the Church, and where public opinion impacts our decisions.
There is certainly a place for disregard for those who don’t accept our faith. For example, we should not quit attempting to save the unborn from the act of abortion just because a sector of the culture believes that such policy in tantamount to suppression of women’s rights. No, we will never succumb to such “outsider” influence! However, on a micro and a macro level, the opinions of others do matter. Nobody can disagree that the scandal of abuse and misconduct in the Church is a grave matter. Nobody will err to act in righteousness, not just for the sake of righteousness, but for the sake of our repute and Christian witness. A witness of hypocrisy is one of the worst sorts of cancer a person of faith can contract.
Even if they do not accept our faith, it bodes well for us when they cannot doubt our devotion to a faith that contains wonderful works of mercy and love. Whether or not we practice what we preach — promoting acts of virtue, mercy, and charity — will be considered by outsiders when we invite them to Mass, a wedding, or casual discussions of our personal faith or public policy.
A writer once said of St. Charles Borromeo:
So great was the patience and sweetness of Charles amid various and complicated affairs, that he was never known to utter an ungracious or disdainful word, even to anyone of his household. He gave audience to all who came with unwearied kindness. No amount of fatigue ever prevented him from attending to correspondence, or dictating to others as occasion required.
It should be our aim to cause others to say this about us. Rather than making it our goal to convince others that we have the right shoes or electronics, we should make it our focus every day to convince others that we have the right wisdom, charity, and that we are headed to the right place, rather than where we happen to live now.
St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us.