Friday, November 28, 2014

Patience and Gratitude?

I have had issues with my son lately, which have created a fertile seedbed for acts and words of impatience. At the same time, today, I read a post elsewhere about the gratitude of Saint Bernadette, who listed all kinds of situations for which she gave thanks that would normally arouse impatience and complaint in most anyone. And it occurs to me to wonder how patience and gratitude might be related one to another.

Primarily, a grateful person, who includes trials and difficulties and opposition among the things for which he is grateful, sees the world and life in a way different from most of us. We are necessarily grateful for gifts, and gifts require a giver. The cosmos does not give. A person gives, and so we express gratitude to a person. Let us assume that we are on the same page as concerns God, for the sake of argument. Bernadette expressed her gratitude to God the Father, for the gifts that she received. She believed that all things were given to her by God, at least in the limited sense that he permitted whatever she received, and that he had a purpose in his gifts. She might not have understood his purpose, yet, because she saw him as a loving benefactor, she was grateful for what she received, because she had confidence that, even in her ignorance of his specific purpose, there was love in that purpose, there must be something good, even if she could not see or recognize it.

And so, Bernadette, seeing only good and love in God's gifts, had no reason for impatience, although, it occurs to me that like a child unable to open a Christmas present might be impatient to see the gift, Bernadette could have been impatient to uncover God's purpose in permitting a trial. But here, again, when one has confidence in the love and goodness of the giver, there is cause to be patient in the midst of a trial, and rather to be grateful for the giver's love and goodness, even when the purpose is unknown.

It is only necessary to see God as the original cause of a trial, even if only as wisely and beneficently permitting a trial, rather than seeing the obvious direct cause of the trial: in my case, the issues with my son.

I must respond to my son's issues, whatever they may be at the time, in order to help him, to guide him, to correct him, as needed, but it is important to see God's hand in it, that He has permitted whatever disconcerting behavior for a loving purpose. I can be grateful for that unseen purpose, for the love and kindness behind the trial, and act with patience in order to derive, and help my son derive, the greatest possible good from the gift.

To get impatient with the trial (gift) would be like stomping on a wrapped Christmas gift in frustration over being unable to open it. I might damage the gift, and therefore lose forever the blessing intended by the giver.

But most of all, the giver is entitled to my gratitude. If I manifest impatience or annoyance because I do not see the purpose behind the gift, or better, do not recognize the love and generosity behind the gift, I am really expressing ingratitude, and am offending my Benefactor.

In the case of my son, whatever good I may be trying to accomplish in my response to him may be completely lost or contradicted by my impatience. I really have to joyfully meet my son with his issues, in a spirit of love and gratitude, so that he may see, through my love, the love of God, who has blessed BOTH of us, with the gift we call a trial.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The tongue is a small member...

I have become more and more convinced that one of the more serious sins which Christians commonly commit, is a sin of conversation: detraction and/or calumny, the sins against reputation, gossip.

Often we justify these sins by telling ourselves that "I am just seeking guidance," or "I'm just getting it off my chest," or "I need some support." In reality, most of the time, these justifications are little lies we tell ourselves. And we are harming ourselves, and the person(s) we talk to, as well as the person(s) we talk about.

All too often, we also embellish our complaints about the faults of others with our own judgments, what he meant by this action, what her intentions were, what his motives were. And we might even deliberately or inadvertently add details that are simply false, making the object of our talk look worse than he or she is.

Even if I talk only to one person, supposedly seeking guidance or consolation, and even if that one person keeps the information to herself, I have harmed the other's reputation. I have denied myself the true consolation that might have been offered by God. I have set myself up as a judge, and have imposed upon myself the harsher judgment promised by Christ in his gospel. I have also set myself at risk to have my own reputation harmed by someone else's talk.

If my friend responds with her own take on things, she may add her own embellishments and judgments, thereby making things worse, ruining the other person's reputation even further in my own mind, confirming and worsening my own judgments and imputations, and bringing upon herself the same harms that God has promised to those who commit this sin.

And the two of us are stuck in this self-promoting loop of calumny and detraction, until we have utterly destroyed the object of our talk in our minds, and made of him a monster who seems utterly unredeemable.

And worse, if one of us decides to take this "information" to a fourth party, not only do we spread the ruined reputation of the object of our talk, but we risk ruining our own reputations by revealing our own sin of gossip and judgment. Further, we increase the retribution which we are promised by Christ.

This talk, or these emails, or these editorials, whatever form they take, can only feed our misery and make things worse for everyone involved. They are a form of injustice. EVERYONE without except has a right to his reputation, and we may reveal the faults of others ONLY to one who has a strict right to know, or who is truly capable of doing something about the faults or crimes the other has committed. When we reveal faults, or tell lies about others, or embellish real or suspected faults with inaccurate information or imagined or suspected details, we are also sinning against mercy, and we thereby cut ourselves off from God's mercy. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I have personally experienced the "push-back" the arises from this kind of talk. I have, with a trusted confident, talked about the faults of others, and nearly every time I have done so, that talk has turned into a fight or a dispute between me and my confident. Because we were "eating the flesh" of some other, we ended up "eating the flesh" of each other. We began finding or remembering each other's faults, and turned on each other.

And I have often experienced the other effects I mentioned above of such gossip, and have found myself punished indirectly by my own sins, easily traced back to the calumnious or detracting talk I have engaged in.

"Love is patient. Love is kind, etc." We have tended to relegate this passage from Saint Paul to weddings, as if it were only about married couples. It is not. It is a summary of Christian perfection. It is a meditation on the Beatitudes. It is an illustration of the kind of love we ALL ought to be practicing toward everyone, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Detraction and calumny, or gossip, are also a form of revenge, and there is no room for revenge in the Christian life. It is a base form of consolation and pleasure that is utterly beneath the dignity of the Christian. It deprives us of God's mercy, of God's consolation, of spiritual Joy. It sets us up for ruin and misery. It can do no good.

I admit that I have often done this, committed this sin. I have often justified it by telling myself: "I'm only telling my wife. Surely I can talk to my own wife about how another has hurt me." "I'm telling my friend. I hope he can comfort me, or give me advice. He'll keep my secret." Right. I'm taking pleasure in my talk by exalting myself over my "enemy" as if I had done no wrong, putting him or her into the position of being judged by my friend and me in a private kangaroo court.

This kind of evil talk is condemned in many places in the psalms and elsewhere in the old testament and in the new testament. It is a poison that erodes the souls of the talkers and tellers. It poisons relationships. It harms everyone who is involved in it.

I repent of this evil and firmly resolve to strictly avoid any form of it from now on. I pray for those who are in the habit of discussing and embellishing and judging the real and supposed faults of others, that they too may repent before they destroy themselves in an endless loop of bitterness and shame and hatred. May all Christians repent and give up all the criticism and judgment, calumny and detraction, and all gossip, all the evils that Saint James says comes from the tongue which is a restless evil, a consuming fire.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dissatisfaction in America, Land of Plenty

I work in a locally owned supermarket. One thing I have often noticed is people seemingly wandering around the store, with a look on their faces that I interpret to represent wanting something, but having no idea what they want. I have thought they were a little like "lost souls," Lost in the sense that there is an urge moving them, an unsatisfied longing, that they think might be satisfied by some food.

And I find it ironic on this level of food, in that, we are one of the most prosperous nations in the world, wallowing in an overabundance of food, an abundance of dietary options, and yet we remain, many of us, unhealthy and unsatisfied.

Yet, we are unhealthy in body and in soul We don't recognize that the wanting is something far deeper than hunger for food. It is a longing for something that will truly satisfy, that will make us truly happy and fulfilled. It is the way we were created: to be hungry, to be longing for something that will answer all of our needs. Yet, so often having no real guidance in finding our hearts' desire, we wander about aimlessly, seeking the satifaction in all the "subgroups" of happiness and fulfillment, which are merely signs pointing the way to what can truly satisfy.

In the "Wizard of Oz" Dorothy said one of the lessons she had learned was that if she ever goes out searching again for her heart's desire, she wouldn't have to look any further than her own back yard. She meant, I believe, her family and friends: Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Hunk, Zeke and Hickory. And Toto too, of course, but then, she always had Toto with her.

Persons satisfy the soul far better than any other kind of pleasure, whether reading a book, eating a fine meal, or accomplishing some demanding task, but more satisfying than any human person, or earthly good, is God himself, the very essense of personhood. It is God we were created for, and it is God, ultimately, who will satisfy our souls. Nothing else can come close, and in fact, all else can only point the way to Him, if we open the eyes of our souls to the messages these things are sending us.