It was a beautiful afternoon in Concord, CA. The imposing sun radiating, its warm rays hued in golden painted the atmosphere, giving life all around it, and erasing the memories of the gray, rainy, cold winter. I was walking out of the movie theater in downtown, went for a walk to a bookstore, and bought the book "The Collar, A Year Inside a Catholic Seminary" by Jonathan Englert. Enjoying the beautiful afternoon with a walk through downtown, I finally arrived to the bus stop at the BART station. Next to me was young person. Latino, around 5 feet and 9 inches. His hair was neatly combed backwards, casually dressed, but surprisingly presentable. I opened my new book and started reading the introduction. He looked at me, then at the book title and read it aloud "a year inside a Catholic Seminary" said he with an air of dissatisfaction, as if saying "I wouldn't want to be in a Seminary". "Are you very religious?" he asked in Spanish. "Yes" I replied, "matter of fact I'm a seminarian myself". He opened his eyes, his head nodding a few times., "What about the sexual abuse scandals?" he asked. "I don't understand the question" I responded. "It doesn't concern you?". "Well, yes it does, I think it's terrible what those priests did". "What I mean with 'it doesn't concern you' is that you are not there for that reason, it has nothing to do with you" he clarified. "Yes, of course, I'm not there for that reason". "You know, I'm an atheist". "Oh really?" I responded. The Atheist looked very surprised at this and said "You are the first person who reacts this way, interesting". "What do you mean?" I asked smiling. "Usually people call me names and stuff when I say this".
Our bus arrived. He started telling me a bit about his life. How he had tried out some churches, was taught to be a Christian but eventually fell off the wagon. About his kid and her mother, and how she pleaded for him to be at his son's baptism. "I told her that I don't have to be there, it doesn't mean anything f to me". An old friend got on the bus, one that I haven't seen for years. We talked for a bit, but then went back to the Atheist. He then started questioning me about my vocation (or rather my present discernment of this vocation, which I may or may not have). "Obviously, since I am an atheist, I don't believe in the love of God, but one must be much in love with God to be a priest" "Yes" I responded. "Is it love for God the reason you're pursuing this?" "Yes" I responded, knowing that my love for God is not as strong as it should be, or as I want it to be. "Did you have a romantic disappointment?". "No, well, I did have a disappointing relationship with my ex, but I spent 2 years alone discerning whether I want this or not, its not because of that that I'm here". "I'm asking this because too many go into seminary because of these sorts of disillusionments"." I know" I said, and added, "I think that's a terrible mistake" Being on the topic of love, I remarked that I didn't know how people called him names and mistreated him for being an atheist. He said that sometimes people thought he was incapable of loving. "But I am loyal, I know about love, and have morals" he asserted. "Obviously" I said, "as a believer of God I believe that he is the source of love, and you are not outside of this love. I dunno why people think you are incapable of love, why they treat you like an almost inhuman just because you are an atheist". "Yes, inhuman, some think I am like that". After that he received a call, "I'm on my way on the bus" he told the other person on the phone. Our conversation ended and he continued talking on the phone.
I honestly don't know if the Atheist was being truthful or not. Was he playing the victim? But the scenario that he painted was not very unrealistic. I have seen it unfold a few times in my life. We don't have many atheists in Latin America, and is always surprising to find one. I do think that this conversation, though, can be a warning to how Unchristian we can be. Jesus calls us to be loving. I'm not preaching tolerance and being accepting of everything, but simply accepting and loving of others. So many times do we fail to love the sinner and hate the sin. We fail to see that atheists are atheists for a reason. Some have emotional scarring, others intellectual reasons. Some, sadly, are atheists because the behavior of Christians too often doesn't reflect the love of Christ. We can be hypocrites, condemning "holier than thou" Christians, failing to see that we are here by His grace. We are Christians because we are sinners. We fall. We commit the very sins we denounce in others. We fail to love as Christ loves all of us. No human creation of God is incapable of loving, whether he or she believes in God or not. But we Christians can fail in loving others when we don't reflect Christ in our lives, but rather our own darkness disguised as light. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it. May we do the same as His disciple.