To Bear Wrongs Patiently
Bearing wrongs patiently does not come easily to most of us. However, ‘joining the human race’ often means accepting that the price of love is frequently allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and at risk of being hurt by others.
Bitterness is an understandable temptation in such circumstances. Because of things that have gone wrong, often beyond our control, all of us have some deferred hopes about an important dream for our lives, our families and our Church that remain unfulfilled. We can feel aggrieved and wronged and sigh, ‘what might have been?’
The Lord calls us nevertheless to patient trust. We are called to ‘trust’ that something will eventuate as we muddle our way through! Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson spoke of how each of us has to negotiate, as children, a conflict between ‘basic trust and mistrust’. I do not think it ever gets fully resolved for many of us. For no one gets through life without having their trust disappointed or broken at some point.
Like it or not, the reality is that all of us are called to live patiently with some harsh realities that are far from perfect, or even right. If we are not careful, a reactive mistrust can become like a law of being; a rule of how to view the world and the Church. Some get eaten away with the desire for revenge because of what they, unfairly, have had to deal with.
If, for instance, we believe that everything out there is hostile and working against us – and we become perpetual victims – then most of what we do will finally be dominated by fear and resentment. And if we are fearful, we will be unable to achieve the inner peace to ‘bear wrongs patiently’.
Our life will become a constant effort to counter this fear by looking for ways to control it or insure our life against it. Mistrust and anxiety will be our daily bread.
If, however, we trust, accepting in the words of John O’Donohue, “that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway”, life and Church become spaces where we can explore and taste hope and love, beauty and trust every day. Trials then become an opportunity to continually open our lives to God’s grace and blessings and when necessary ‘bear wrongs patiently’ as a path to new life.
For bearing wrongs patiently is truly a ‘sign of transcendence’. To make sense of our world, we need to hold on to a basic trust in life and God’s providence itself, despite all the bad things and the terrible tragedies that can happen to very good people.
We do not need to become Jansenists, wallowing in our struggles. Masochism is not a healthy recipe for the spiritual life! But we do need to let go of our pain and our ego – which so often prevents us from accepting suffering as a moment of grace. Such surrender allows us to dare to believe that he whom Jesus called ‘Abba’ is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
May Teilhard de Chardin SJ’s prayer be ours as we practise this work of mercy: “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” ▪
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We would like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet, it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time,
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
—Teilhard de Chardin SJ
To Forgive Offenses Willingly
One is struck at times at how much anger and resentment exists today in the Church, and society, at so many levels. The tragedy is that if we do not forgive those who hurt us, we actually destroy ourselves and become paralysed, unable to move forward in discipleship.
But forgiveness and healing are possible! I was reminded of this a few years back when, in 2008, a brief but moving report about a ‘tragic terrible accident’ featured in The Sydney Morning Herald. It concerned the forgiveness extended by a Samoan family to a young man who had gotten into a fatal fight with their son outside a Sydney pub.
In an extraordinary scene inside the King Street court complex following an ‘accidental death’ verdict, the family of the dead man wept and embraced the young, accused rugby player, in an expression of forgiveness, some kissing his cheek. One female relative who did not want to be named told him, after kissing him, that she hoped his life would change for the good: “You will always be in our prayers”.
The accused young man shed tears as he embraced the deceased’s sisters and nieces and a nephew, who had travelled from Samoa and New Zealand for the trial that ran for seven days. These Samoan relatives also embraced and kissed the Australian defendant’s parents and relatives, who were weeping as the jury brought in their verdict. Both families were like two sporting teams leaving a playing field, embracing, hugging, weeping and kissing.
The Sydney detective sergeant, who investigated the matter throughout, said of the Samoan family: “They are simply the nicest family I have ever encountered. A deeply religious and loving family who heard the evidence and prayed constantly throughout the trial, not only for the defendant, but for his family, the judge, the jury, the legal counsels and the police.
“I have never seen anything like this in my career as a police officer; the ability of people to accept and forgive,” he said.
Before leaving the court, the family joined hands in a room and held a collective prayer for the young man who accidentally killed their son.
How is such forgiveness possible? It defies belief at one level, given the human desire for revenge, which is so deep in all of us. Clearly, the remarkable love and compassion of this Samoan family can only have come from a divine source.
It was the late Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt who once said that Jesus of Nazareth introduced forgiveness into the human condition. For Arendt, the power to forgive constitutes the true content of Jesus’ miracles. So often Jesus proclaimed: “Your sins are forgiven – get up!”
A blessing of the Catholic Tradition is that forgiveness, healing and mercy are readily accessible in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We also need to understand the importance of community reconciliation as families and groups. The Samoan family forgave both individually and as a unit. Pope John Paul II also acted for all Catholics when he led our entire Church in asking for forgiveness and reconciliation for errors made and sins committed by Christians over the centuries that disfigured both humanity and the Body of Christ.
In that regard, Irish Bishop Willie Walsh (now retired) is particularly inspiring. His story is recounted in a wonderful book, Facing Forgiveness (Ave Maria Press, 2007). Bishop Willie modelled a unique way of concretely fostering reconciliation in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal.
In December 1999 – in preparation for the new millennium – he made a ‘Pilgrimage of Reconciliation’ across his diocese in an attempt to begin a process of reconciliation and healing, and to beg pardon not only for the sins of sexual abuse committed by those acting in the name of God and of the Church, but also for all the hurts that people had experienced in and from the Church and its leaders.
His journey lasted three weeks and wound its way through 40 towns and villages. Bishop Willie, who was in his mid-60s at the time of this pilgrimage, walked from church to church in the diocese in the cold, rainy December Irish weather. He took no umbrella and simply carried a plain wooden pastoral staff, the symbol of his role as shepherd. The members of the parish where he had just presided over a healing and reconciliation liturgy would accompany him halfway to the next parish, where he would be met by parishioners from his next destination. They would then begin the journey of penance with him to their parish. When he arrived, he would celebrate a sacramental reconciliation service.
A poignant moment in this pilgrimage is recounted. One of the priests of the diocese had been erroneously accused of sexual abuse. During the Sunday Liturgy at which the falsely accused was re-installed, Bishop Willie stopped in the middle of his homily, set aside his prepared text, and said to the congregation, “How difficult it is to be a priest today.” At that point he began to cry, and a teenage girl emerged from the congregation with a tissue in hand to dry his tears. Bishop Willie Walsh is one of the most human and compassionate bishops in our Church.
May we too in our own journeys follow the witness of these fellow Christian disciples – for there is no more powerful witness to the Good News than to see divine forgiveness and compassion gracing human hearts. ▪