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architectural photography of churchPhoto by Chris Karidis, courtesy of Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Find today’s readings here.

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.
But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. (Jn 10:24-26)

How can you make someone believe?

If you are like me and have been educated in or teach STEM, this is an eternally frustrating question to answer. From firsthand experience, it is doubtful anyone has the answer.

Whether we’re talking about climate change disinformationists or alarmists, anti-vaxxers, Young Earth creationists or general anti-science cranks, just having someone hear the truth of a situation is never enough to have them change their minds.

This is also the case for those in free democracies who unabashedly support foreign tyrants despite possessing a wealth of information necessary to call them out. (This is as equally true for civic leaders as it is for citizen grifters.)

And on a smaller scale, maybe you have had a hard time getting someone to actually believe your incredible story of a great catch or an incredible celebrity encounter.

Today’s Gospel details just that problem, and, if not the solution, then at least an explanation as to why you can neither force belief nor convince someone of the unconvince-able. Jesus is confronted by religious leaders who doubt his claims of being the Messiah and demand immediate proof of it being the case.

Today’s Gospel details just that problem, and, if not the solution, then at least an explanation as to why you can neither force belief nor convince someone of the unconvince-able.

Jesus responds by saying that of course they are not able to hear what he has to say and believe it; they are not among his flock. The sheep who follow his voice are given grace by God through Jesus and cannot be led astray or taken away.

Not all of those who follow Jesus are immediately apparent—thousands of years later, there are still more people being drawn to the faith and hearing the word of God. But that is the hopeful news, that more are joining the flock after all this time means that the message is still being listened to, not tuned out over time.

There is always going to be some segment of the world that will deny the obvious until their dying breath. They might have a financial incentive; they might not be able to feel the consequences of their words; or maybe they are truly lost.

For the former two cases, there is not much you can do other than deprive them of oxygen. Focus on the latter with education, patience and hope, and you will not make belief—you will realize it.

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