by Father Mark Goldasich
You have got to be kidding me.
This was my first thought when I read that 45% of Americans think that the “golden rule” – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — is one of the Ten Commandments. Really? Turn to the article on page 10 of this issue to see what else the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life discovered this summer when conducting its U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey.
At first, after seeing the survey results, I wanted to just sit down and cry. When I came across the statistic that only 33 percent of Catholics could name Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the four Gospels, I was tempted to pack up my bags and join the circus.
But, as you can see, I didn’t. I’m still here, plugging away. In fact, here’s what I told the new RCIA class at the parish the very first night we met: “It’s not so important that you memorize all kinds of things about the Catholic faith; if you know where to look things up, that’s fine. However, what is of utmost importance is that you come to answer Jesus’ question — ‘Who do you say that I am?’ — and that you put your faith into action.”
I then held up two books for the RCIA class to see. The first was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This book, made up of some 850 pages, has 2,865 points about what Catholics believe. I doubt that anyone has the whole book memorized. The second book I showed the class is called “Essentials for Christian Living,” a 127-page book with large print and plenty of white space, pub- lished by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This book’s purpose, as stated in its introduction is “to recall in summary form what Catholics must know and put into practice.” Those two things — “know” (not necessarily memorize) and “put into practice” — are indeed the “essentials.”
Maybe this little story can help illustrate the point:
A certain French nobleman was raised to his powerful position from very humble beginnings. As a youth, he had been a shepherd. In his palace, he had an area known as “the shepherd’s room.” There, on the walls, were paintings of hills and valleys and running streams and rocks and sheepfolds. Inside that room he kept the staff he’d carried and the clothes he’d worn as a young boy when herding the sheep.
When asked about the meaning of the shepherd’s room, he replied, “If ever my heart is tempted to haughtiness and pride, I go into that room and remind myself of what I once was.” (Adapted from a story in “Quotes & Anecdotes: An Anthology for Preachers & Teachers,” by Anthony P. Castle.)
In a sense, that French nobleman always kept the “golden rule” before him. He knew what it was like to be poor, hungry, uncomfortable, over- looked, taken-for-granted and maybe even exploited during his shepherding days. I suspect that those memories — of once being in the shoes of the less fortunate — influenced his later actions and moved him to have a special care and concern for the poor.
It seems to me that one of the goals of faith is to get people to adopt the mindset of that nobleman. All of us at times are tempted to think that we are self-sufficient. With a little bit of reflection, though, we realize what a deceptive idea that is. Once upon a time someone changed our diapers, gave us baths, clothed us, taught us to talk and to walk, and brought us to church to be baptized. And we continue throughout our lives to be dependent upon one another: Someone grows the food we eat, manufactures the cars we drive, refines the gasoline that we put in those cars, maintains the roads we drive on, produces the medicines we take, purifies the water we drink, constructs the homes we live in, brings electricity to our homes, picks up the garbage we generate . . . and on and on.
Simply translated, the “golden rule” reminds us of our dependency and asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of another. If we don’t like being hungry, then we can’t deny food to others. If we want to provide for our children, then we can’t begrudge others that same desire. If we enjoy earning a just wage for our labors, then we can’t be unconcerned about others who want the same thing.
That brings me back to the Pew study and why, after seeing its results, I didn’t suddenly go and join the circus. While it would be nice if people knew exactly where the “golden rule” is found, I’m glad that they at least know what it is!
Let’s set a good example for others during this Respect Life Month by striving to live out that “golden rule.” By the way, if someone should ask you where the “golden rule” can be found in the Bible, send them to Mt 7:12 or Lk 6:31. But you already knew that, right?