Meeting people where they are is probably the most misunderstood phrase in Catholic circles currently. I have seen it used to defend circumstances that could put salvation at risk: ‘gay’ marriage, living together, avoiding confession, or receiving the Eucharist unworthily. It is time to examine what the phrase and teaching is actually saying to us.
Imagine a tar pit. Someone is stuck in that pit and cannot escape without help. They struggle and only increase the pull the tar has on them. You see that person and at first, you wait for them to catch up, not realizing that they are stuck. Eventually, the situation becomes clear to you. You run back to where they are with a firm desire to help them. Do you aid them by jumping in the pit with them? Do you plunk yourself down beside the pit and tell them all will be well? No, you grab their hand and lead them out. So it is with our faith.
It is our duty (to ‘Sainthood’ as Mother Teresa would say) to reach out to those whose lives and choices are keeping them from moving closer to Christ. We can meet them ‘where they are’ only if we have a plan to lead them to Jesus.
Let’s analyze a practical example: A couple in PreCana is engaged, but currently lives together and is not chaste. First, we applaud the good choice to marry in the Church! We are thrilled that they want to stop ‘living together’ and their desire is a sacramental marriage. We don’t push them away because of their current situation, we encourage their choice to move towards holy wedlock. However, we must counsel them on the correctness of the Church’s teaching on chastity. Explaining their options of moving apart from one another, or living platonically until their wedding. We have an obligation to thoroughly explain the makings of a truly sacramental marriage and help them to focus their efforts on creating that union. Furthermore, we must explore how they can continue a marriage free from objectifying or lusting after each other, but rather respecting and treasuring the gift of their complimentary sexes.
Someday, we will be called to stand before the throne of God and give an accounting of the choices we made. I truly believe He will ask us to defend the times we had the opportunity to tell the truth and move someone closer to Him and refused to do so for fear of pushing them away. The truth must always be told with love and charity, but it must be told.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15