St Zacchaeus, patron saint of the “anteroom”

As we’ve seen in previous posts (1 | 2), Tomáš Halík’s book Patience with God is an extended meditation on Luke’s account of the conversion of Zacchaeus.

We don’t know what happened to Zacchaeus after Jesus (and thus salvation) came to his home and he repented joyfully of his former misdeeds. Halík offers three possible continuations of Zacchaeus’ story, including one in which he lived a long and good life, so that “in him the promise was fulfilled that this son of Abraham would receive salvation”.

In this “version of the apocrypha about Zacchaeus”, while “various major bureaucratic obstacles” prevent his sainthood from being recognised by “the relevant Vatican congregation”:

Jesus not only did not begrudge him a halo, He entrusted him with a quite specific mission in the communication between heaven and earth: St Zacchaeus became the patron and protector of the eternal seekers, the “peepers-out”. And surprisingly, his role is not to convert them (and old saint could do that), but to watch over their patience in the anteroom of faith. (p.186)

St Zacchaeus is there for God’s people “in the intricate labyrinths of searching”; those on the “other bank” to whom Jesus still addresses the words: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. But we have an essential part to play in that task:

Who is to transmit those words to them if not ourselves? But how are we to do it so that the tidings are really a joyful message? How is Jesus’s news to be addressed to them by name, so that what they hear from our lips does not scare them off? How can we ensure that it is perceived truly as a friendly invitation that appeals to their freedom and not as an obtrusive attempt to proselytise them, an arrogant appropriation of those who don’t want to belong to us?

Of course, the start point is for our “friendly invitation” actually to be just that – for it actually not to be the “obtrusive attempt to proselytise” into which we can so easily slip (especially when we conceive of it as “winning souls” – or worse, “winning arguments”). We need to show:

…not just tact and “pastoral foresight” but also the love that – in Levinas’s words – allows others to be other, respects their otherness, and does not seek to erase all differences and convert others to our side straightaway.

Halík gives one example that is both moving and slightly terrifying: an example of the sort of boldness that is certainly not for every circumstance, not least because any attempt to imitate it would almost certainly be reducing it to an evangelistic technique rather than arising from the spontaneity of love:

When the Catholic writer François Mauriac read one particular text by the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, he wrote to him asking: “Child, why were you not one of us long ago?” Marcel discerned therein a call from God, and he converted and was baptised.

Halík continues:

Can it be that easy, and is that the right way? I often say it not only in respect of those I see standing timidly in the church porch, as I once did, but also in the case of many people who have started to reflect seriously and honestly about important issues, or who experience to the full some genuine happiness or grief.

As Halík concludes, summarising the challenge that faces us:

How, when, and whether at all are we to tell those “far off” that they are actually close to us, without alienating them? May the prayers of St Zacchaeus bring us wisdom!

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2 Responses to St Zacchaeus, patron saint of the “anteroom”

  1. D.S.Ketelby says:

    the love that… allows others to be other


  2. Rick Ritchie says:

    I’m going to like almost anything that argues that evangelism shouldn’t look like a Four Spiritual Laws conversation or Evangelism Explosion conversation with emphasis on “closing the sale.”

    But then there’s the surprise that boldness can still have a place. Very promising. I like to see the boldness where he puts it, too. In proclamation.

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