I had an appointment with my dentist recently. I always look forward to seeing Larry—I think all his patients call him Larry—even though my time with him is always short and I really cannot talk much with his hands in my mouth. I have been seeing him for more than 30 years; he is a most gentle and thoughtful man.
Larry greeted me with, “Hello Christian!” I was unprepared for that salutation, so I asked what inspired it. He said, “You are the one person I know who is a Christian; all the rest are pagans.” Before I could get another question out he was inspecting my teeth and I could not talk. We never got back to his motivation for the greeting. Sure, there was a tone of humor in his statement, but I kept thinking about it on the drive home—how did he come to his conclusion?
What has happened to our society that one loving and intelligent man who has worked with individual people intimately for his whole career has concluded that we are all pagans? Larry sees all kinds of people, and after 40-plus years of dental work on them, he sums us up as pagans? This is making my teeth hurt.
I wonder sometimes whether, if we live our lives as Christians and behave in accord with our beliefs, would anyone notice? If they did, would they recognize our behavior as particularly Christian?
Christians love this phrase, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It is a key guiding principle for life and living. In Paul’s popular teaching on love in 1 Corinthians 13, he ends by saying that three things will last forever: faith, hope, and love.
Larry demonstrates his love by the way he treats his patients and staff—even the pagans. We must show everybody our Christian Love. Especially the pagans.
Fr. J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Public Service at DePaul University and Values Director for Depaul International, an organization that serves homeless people in seven countries.