Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. My trip out west to give a retreat to some of our MH people in Regina went well, but as always, it’s good to be home.
Our Wednesday trip through the works of mercy has taken us to an interesting one of the spiritual works, namely, to bear wrongs patiently. What’s that about? What does that have to do with mercy? And is that really a good thing? Why should we put up with other people’s failings and bad behavior anyhow? Isn’t that just being a doormat, a patsy, a victim?
It is worth noting, first, that the next work of mercy will be ‘to forgive offenses willingly’. The Church is making a distinction here between things actually done to us as deliberate wrongs (offenses) and simply things that are out of order, not what they should be (wrongs).
This is a distinction that we don’t always quite succeed in making—that between things that simply annoy us, irk us, bug us, and then those things that actually are injuries done to us on purpose. And we can work up quite a little martyr complex for ourselves, based on the fact that people just are not conforming to our (perfectly reasonable, OF COURSE) expectations and standards.
Well, phooey. Of course people don’t live up to your expectations and standards. That’s because they don’t have to. That’s because you’re not God. Take a pill. Settle down. Unclench. This business of bearing wrongs patiently is a fundamental matter of human maturity and a necessary part of living a peaceful life in this world with your fellow man.
People are… well, what they are. Some people talk too much. Others are untidy. Some people have less than ideal hygiene. Others are moody and withdrawn. Some people are indecisive and anxious. Others take charge of every situation, whether that is exactly called for or not. Some people are immature and emotionally volatile; others are grumpy and dour (especially first thing in the morning – yikes!). And… some people are hyper-critical and take careful notice of exactly what everyone else is doing wrong, eh?
In other words, when you’re trying (or not) to bear other people’s wrongs patiently, be aware that they are also having to bear your wrongs patiently, too. A little perspective and perhaps even a sense of humor goes a long way here. We all get on each other’s nerves—this is one of the things you find out, living in religious community as I do. Everyone gets on everyone’s nerves… at least sometimes. ‘There are no compatible people,’ one of our wise elders once said.
The thing with bearing wrongs patiently is that it saves us a lot of time and energy, that we can then devote to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, instructing the ignorant, comforting the afflicted, and so forth. In other words, in itself it is a work of mercy, but it is a work of mercy that chiefly is a matter of not doing something, namely trying to fix everyone and especially to make him stop doing that thing that is SO ANNOYING!!! And in that refraining from action, we free up our cluttered calendar so we can actually do things that do some good in this world.
Now, I’m writing lightly about this matter, because as I say, a little bit of good humor really does go a long way in terms of how to actually be patient with the foibles and shortcomings of those we live. I do know that sometimes the wrongs can be quite difficult to bear and that it can be actually heroic in some cases to live in certain situations. Making light of it is often a good strategy, but of course sometimes we have to go a bit deeper than that.
On the other hand, there can be a tendency to make mountains out of molehills here, to just harp about every little thing that is wrong. And the thing of it is, when we fall into that, then the legitimate works of instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner are spoiled—the signal-to-noise ratio gets out of whack. Someone who is constantly complaining and never satisfied with anyone’s efforts is not going to have much luck addressing things that are actual problems that do need addressing. Choose your battles, in other words.
On a deeper level, we have to realize that it is the actual people God has put us with, and specifically those aspects of these people that we might find hard to bear, that are the purifying and sanctifying agents in all of our lives. ‘We are the hairshirts of God for one another’, Catherine Doherty famously observed. The question, she went on to say, is ‘do you love your hairshirt?’
It does help the more we can realize that all the ‘wrongs’ we poor martyred people have to put up with (snort) are in fact there to help us become the saints of God we are meant to be. So we can stop complaining a bit about them, simply accept that we are, in fact, not God, and that other people are not put on this earth to be pleasing to us. And… get on with the real work of the day, which is to love and serve, serve and love, and attend to what God is asking of you and of me, not of them. So, let’s try to do that, today.