Actually, the OP never said his or her age. I threw in the advice about minors, just in case. An adult, on the other hand, should be able to tell when the touch is harmless and when one is being caressed.
In the part of the country where I live, a kiss and a hug are the typical greeting on the third encounter. It’s the local culture. People with common sense and who know the local culture can tell the difference between custom and the inappropriate touch.
We want people to be safe, not to be fearful. If we stop and counts the number of people whom we meet in our lifetime and the number with whom we have interacted at school, work, church, neighborhood and other places, it’s quite a large number. How many of them ever posed a threat?
What I’m trying to say is that the number of people who pose a real threat is actually small compared to the number of people with whom we interact throughout our lives. Therefore, fear is not the appropriate response, charity and safety measures are appropriate.
This past Sunday, I was standing outside after mass when I hear someone excitedly call out my name. There must have been about 800 people around, since one mass was going out and the other was coming in.
I turned to look. A young man of high school age, came running toward me at the speed of a hockey player, with his parents in tow. He gave me a big bear hug. It would have been very uncharitable for me to embarrass him by pulling away or putting out my hand as if I were a crossing guard ordering him to stop. I returned the greeting and greet both parents as well. Everyone was very affectionate toward me. The mother said, "He saw you during the mass and his face lit up. I had not seen this family in a very long time.
The story behind this is that this young man was my student in CCD when he was in grade 6. He’s now in high school, at least four years later. For confirmation, he chose the name of one of our Franciscan saints and had to write a paper on his patron saint. It’s a requirement for Confirmation. He asked me to lend him some books on the Franciscan saints and later asked me to proof read his paper. After finishing my class in grade six, he began to write articles on pro-life issues for his school paper. He has been telling his parents that he wants to join the Franciscans of Life after high school.
To the casual observer, who does not know any of this history, a high school boy running up to hug a friar would look rather strange. To the parents and me, everything seemed so normal. I bring this example to the table, because this is a family that is careful and respectful, but not fearful. These parents have taught their children to be the same.
I try to be careful and responsible, without putting anyone on the spot or embarrassing anyone who wants to be affectionate, is spontaneous or has a certain cultural background. I also make it a point to let the other person have as much space as is physically possible in the environment.
Prudence without charity is not a virtue. It’s apprehension. That’s not part of God’s plan for our lives. He does not want us to life in fear. He wants us to be safe.
Br. JR, FFV