What rights do I have to know things about other people? And what rights do they have to know things about me? “Why, only what you and they chose to disclose, Claire”, I hear you reply. Yes, of course, I agree. We all control what we give of ourselves to other people, and are told whatever they want us to know in return. But whilst we normally accept the limitations quite happily, there are situations where that doesn’t work for us.
Not knowing is sometimes unbearable. Try watching someone cope with a beloved’s decision not to undergo any more medical tests. Knowing too much is sometimes unbearable. Try living with the knowledge that someone has a terminal diagnosis that they do not wish to share any further.
In these cases, we may strain to stay within the limits that normally seem so reasonable. Yet we have to remember, we can never wholly understand another person. Our knowledge of them is always restricted to a greater or lesser extent. We cannot feel their pain (oh, how I hate being told “I feel your pain”), we cannot always understand their perspective, we have not lived their experience, no matter how close we are to them.
One of the privileges of priesthood is sometimes to carry knowledge that cannot be shared (and no, I’m not carrying either of the situations described above, they are deliberately chosen for that very reason). There is always a temptation to tell other people “what I would do” as they share problems they face. But let’s be honest. These are not my problems for me to solve, but they are problems in which I can share, in which I can listen, in which I can pray. And they are things that I do not bear alone, but in the love of Christ, who bore all.