Two Sides to Every Story

Be vigilant not to jump to conclusions when we may not have the full picture

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Father Michael AckermanWhen I was in seminary, my grandmother — God rest her soul — called me one December morning to tell me that several people were standing on her front porch.

“What are they doing, Grandma?” I remember asking her.

“Nothing,” she replied. “They are just standing there. I even tapped on the window, but they didn’t move at all. One of them is enormous, too.”

I naturally began to be a little worried, so I called my mom and told her that there were people on Grandma’s porch. Now, Grandma was getting a little older and suffered from macular degeneration, but she was so adamant that people were on the porch that my mom left work to go and see. When my mother arrived, no one was on the porch, and the house seemed secure. Still, she went in to check on her mother.

“I know they are still there,” my grandma exclaimed. “Look through that window.”

What my poor grandma was looking at, with her bad vision, was the Nativity set that my uncle had set up for her earlier that day. The enormous man was nothing other than Balthasar riding a camel in search of the Christ Child.

“How about that,” she said relieved. “And I almost called the police on the Holy Family.”

Perhaps we have never confused shepherds and Wise Men for home invaders, but I imagine that all of us have jumped to mistaken conclusions at times.

Two sacristans did not like one another at a parish where I was assigned. The one sacristan came in very early for the morning Mass to arrange all that was necessary. He would unlock the vault, put on the sound system, lay out the vestments and then go to open the bathrooms and the outside doors. The second would come in after him and put the materials away, lock the vault and turn the sound system off, because he thought the other sacristan came in later and had forgotten to put away vessels and vestments from the previous day.

The early sacristan thought that the other one was controlling and micromanaging, always undoing what he had worked hard to do. The second sacristan thought the first was lazy, undependable and absent-minded.

This went on for weeks until the one day they ran into each other. They realized then that they both thought they were helping each other, and neither one was being spiteful. It was a little like the “Three Stooges” (minus a Stooge), but, when all was said and done, the situation was fairly funny, even if it drove them and a few of us crazy along the way.

In our ministry, we must be careful always to find out both sides to every story, and be ever so patient. There often is not an easy solution to problems, and we may be pulled into mediate disputes that range from the serious to the picayune. We must also be vigilant to not jump to conclusions ourselves, recognizing that we may not have the full picture either.

Nevertheless, if we truly look in every situation, we can ultimately find the truth and the presence of Christ, and maybe even some humor. May this season of the Incarnation allow us to see Christ in all things, and may we never overlook that Jesus may literally be loitering on our front porch.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and chaplain at Central Catholic High School and Oakland Catholic High School.

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