A few days ago, while traveling between speaking events, I somewhat naively logged onto the livestream of a conference at a Catholic university I was scheduled to address the next day. The organizers had asked that speakers attend the whole two-day event, but some of us had prior engagements. The first thing I overheard was William F. Buckley Jr. being described as a right-wing extremist. He founded the magazine I’ve worked at for over a quarter century, and I’ve been reading his works since I was about 12. Without canonizing him, I feel quite confident that he contributed much more than he detracted when it comes to teaching the culture about virtue and stewardship. And yet, walking into the conference, I had the impression I might be flagged as a potential domestic terrorist.
I tried to embrace that reality, and when I got there, I spoke from the heart about the topic we had been assigned: covering religion. The conference was about the media, and I admitted that it’s about the last topic I ever want to discuss. Yes, you are engaged right now with the media. But do you really want to hear us talk about it? I suspect you would prefer we cover real life and not ourselves. The point of media is to highlight stories that might not otherwise see the light of day.
In the end, my impression was that the audience didn’t think I was one of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In mixed audiences, I often simply pray that people realize that I don’t hate them. Our Sunday Visitor published a book some years ago that I contributed to that talked about how, in communications, people might not remember the details of what you said so much as how you made them feel. If you’re talking about the Church, that might open a door that was previously closed. I think — I still pray — that’s what happened that morning.
Also, naively, as I left the campus, I spoke freely with my Uber driver. He asked many questions, which was a bit of role reversal, as I am most natural in that role. Because of where he picked me up, he knew I had some connection to the Catholic Church, and he quickly asked about its relevance in the world today. He cited the horrific scandals (we were in Boston), and before too long, he was talking with me about the Book of Revelation and his conviction that any Catholic pope is the antiChrist. I tried my best to listen and love, but goodness — he didn’t really want to hear much other than me surrendering to his insistence. At the end of the ride, he was still talking, and I was still wondering what on earth God has in mind in situations like I was in all of that day. Love, right?
Again, without canonizing anyone, one of the things I learned from Bill Buckley was the importance of virtue. Obviously, politics and policy are important — he wrote and spoke about it daily. But we underestimate the power of the decisions we make every moment of our lives in the interactions we have with others. Maybe it’s in a venue where we are already misunderstood walking in. Maybe it’s with family members who know all too well our faults. Winning an argument or them over is never what’s most important.
Even in public speaking, all I ever want to do is open a door to Jesus. And only the Trinity can do that.
Another one of those civil-communications principles is about remembering that when you’re talking, it’s not about you, it’s about Jesus.
Again, humility is something I learned from Bill Buckley. He was extremely accomplished and yet did not think that he was the one that all of human history has been waiting for, as one political campaign once said about a more recent generation.
The Uber driver jarred me a bit more than the academics who had caricatures about people they don’t really know. He believes in Satan and believes that’s my alignment in life. He was a reminder that prayer must be our recourse. Virtue is critical, but there are also spiritual battles that we must simply rely on Our Lord for.
I gave the driver a copy of the Sisters of Life’s Litany of Trust prayer. He thanked me, somewhat flustered. Jesus, I trust in you. I’ve got nothing better or more.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.