Yesterday I went to the funeral of someone I'd never met.
He was the husband of someone who works at my college, whom I don't know that well either, but I went to support her and because several other people from my office were going as well.
I know that everyone is always spoken highly of at their funeral, but you could tell from the stories shared that this man was truly an outstanding individual. His sister said that if you wanted to know what he was like, just pick up a Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13. As a teenager, he came home without a shirt on one day and said he'd literally given a man the shirt off his back because "he had no shirt," as if it were the simplest thing to do. He even brought home a little boy, who was begging on the street because his family had abandoned him, and convinced his family to adopt him. (Yet he was humble about this -- I found out later that his wife didn't know until he was on his deathbed that this young man was not her husband's biological brother.)
His family members said he didn't make quick judgments about anything. He listened to other people's opinions. He thought about them. He tried to keep an open mind and heart always. If you asked him his opinion about anything, he was likely to say, "It depends."
Again and again his family members said that it came down to love. He loved everyone and everything. He didn't hate anything, not even the cancer that killed him -- he saw no reason to hate.
Sometimes it's hard to know what being Christian, what being Christ-like means until you see it actually lived out in another person.
If we accept that it's impossible to literally follow everything in the Bible, we are faced with a choice of where to place our focus. There are hundreds and hundreds of definitions of what it means to be a Christian, or more accurately, hundreds of opinions on "what you would do if you were really Christian." And I don't think it's possible -- or even necessary -- to definitively say whose beliefs are right and wrong.
What this funeral reminded me was why I choose to call myself a liberal Catholic and to place my focus on social justice, human rights, tolerance, and unconditional love over following anyone's strict guidelines on morality.
Because I can't imagine someone getting up at my funeral and saying, "She was such a good Christian; look at how she shut down that abortion clinic."
I can't imagine being remembered as, "She was such a good Christian; she made sure only baptized Catholics ever took communion."
I don't ever want someone to say, "She was such a good Christian; she stopped couples from getting married if the Catholic Church said they shouldn't."
I'm not sure anyone will ever say that I gave the shirt off my back, but that is the kind of Christian example that I'm working toward. One that is about love and acceptance, not about making others conform to a moral code.
In this, my main role model has been my maternal grandmother, who passed away six years ago. She was a living model of Christ if I ever saw one, someone whose home was open to anyone, anytime, and who cared deeply and fiercely about other people. She worked in Child Protective Services, which is not an easy thing to do, but that's where her heart was: serving others. She lived the Gospel at its core -- love, love, love.
Would anyone say she was not a true Christian because she didn't make it to church every single week?
Sure they would. But that's not the definition I want to live by.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."