There are a few
verses from Sacred Scripture I pray every Catholic thinks very deeply
about -- and prays even more
deeply about. They are:
What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath
faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? And if a
brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to
them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those
things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith
also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.
But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy
faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. Thou
believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was
not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son
upon the altar? Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works;
and by works faith was made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled,
saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and
he was called the friend of God. Do you see that by works a man is
justified; and not by faith only? And in like manner also Rahab the
harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and
sending them out another way? For even as the body without the spirit
is dead; so also faith without works is dead.
These verses are
good to use as "proof text" against the Protestant idea of "Sola Fide" or "Faith Alone" -- the idea that
"Faith Alone" saves -- one of the two pillars of "the Reformation," the
other being "Sola Scriptura," or "the
Bible alone" as the source of authority But they tell us about a
lot more than the necessity of making our faith alive through works.
The specific words I pray you focus on right now are "the devils also
believe and tremble."
Contrary to the idea many Protestants have that all we have to do is
intellectually conclude that Jesus is the Son of God and we will
thereafter be assured of salvation, Sacred Scripture tells us that even
the demons know Who He is.
Think about this: the devils know Who Lord
Christ is. And their knowing Who He
is won't save them.
The point of all this is to say that walking the path of salvation is
not a matter of just coming to an intellectual conclusion. In no way is
the Holy Faith a mere philosophy! There are reasons for the Faith, of course,
and one can
find support for Catholic beliefs in everything from sociology to
psychology to physics. And you can be certain that faith and reason
will never contradict each
other. There are certainly, too, times in which the Faith must be
defended through debate and argument. But ultimately, having faith is a
supernatural gift that must
be lived in love in order for
it to be a true faith, a pleasing and effective faith that is radically
different from the demons' mere "knowing." In other
words, true faith
requires a conversion of the heart, which we term "metanoia." It
requires our seeing
the faith as
a gift we've not earned at
all as opposed to treating it like a great intellectual
achievement that just proves how bright we are, how right we are. It
requires our "putting on Christ," "taking
up our crosses," and following Him, becoming like Him, repenting of our sins,
pursuing virtue and, above all,
following "the Two Great Commandments" by loving God with
all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and loving our neighbor as
we love ourselves:
Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus
said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and
with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and
the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love
thy neighbour as thyself.
In Mark 12:31,
He tells us that "There is no
other commandment greater than these"!
But, sadly, in all the years I've been doing what I do as an online
Catholicism, I've seen so many self-professed Catholic turn the Holy
Faith into something merely to debate about. I've seen folks so assured
of their intellectual "rightness" that they've missed the Gospel
message entirely. I've watched as many -- even on my own discussion
forum -- argue with with the goal of "scoring points" and showing
"correct" they are even as they chase souls away from the Christ and
His Church by
the pride and lack of charity with which they express their (oftentimes
conclusions. The traditional
way of Catholicism is particularly prone to attracting intellectual
types because it intrigues folks who are intelligent enough to see the
problems in the post-conciliar era's presentation of the Catholic Faith
and to learn about what's been going on in the
Church since Vatican II -- but that wonderful gift of intelligence is often
accompanied by an arrogance that has no place in a Catholic's life, and
with an "intellectualism" that ignores the importance of the heart and
simple prudence -- i.e., being attuned to what is effective in terms of evangelizing and helping others.
And not only is merely "knowing" not enough, neither is offering good
works without charity.
If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not
charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And
if I should have prophecy and should
know all mysteries, and all
knowledge, and if I should
faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am
nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed
the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not
charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity is patient, is kind:
charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; is not
ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no
evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the
truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all
things, endureth all things. Charity never falleth away: whether
prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge
shall be destroyed.
Think about the
above verses! You can have faith,
you can do all the right things,
can go to Mass every day and receive the Sacrament of Confession once a
week -- but if you are doing these things without
charity, it means nothing.
Charity is the key to everything. Charity -- Love -- is the very Essence of
"So, wait!" you might be saying. "If it's not knowing Who Christ is,
and it's not
works, then what is it that saves us?" It is grace, pure and simple --
the grace of Christ's redemptive Sacrifice on the Cross. To receive
this absolute gift -- "gift" because it is nothing we can buy or earn,
nothing we "deserve" -- and to show gratitude for it by making it efficacious, we must
love, we must act in charity.
So, what is "charity"? To
have charity is to will
the good of another and to act on your will as your gifts, duties,
station in life, and
time allow. In the
Corinthians verses quoted just above, for example, the person
referenced could distribute
goods to feed the poor, but do so for the benefits to his ego, for
the accolades he might receive from others for being such an apparently
"holy person," and so on, like the Pharisee in Christ's Parable of the Pharisee
and the Publican:
And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, He
spoke also this parable: Two men went up into the temple to pray: the
one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee
thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust,
adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give
tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his
eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful
to me a sinner.
I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather
that the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be
humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.
While such acts
offered in that manner are still commonly referred to
as "charitable acts" and are
good in themselves,
they do no good on a supernatural level for the person performing them
with the wrong motives.
Distributing one's goods for accolades, or to show to others or even
oneself how "good" one is, isn't pleasing to God. But doing the same
out of love
of one's neighbor, and/or, especially,
because of the love of God -- because one "sees Christ" in one's
neighbor -- makes that same
objective act one of true
charity that pleases our
Creator. Lord Christ sums it up in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me to
eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; I was a stranger, and you
took Me in:
Naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison,
and you came to Me.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when
did we see Thee hungry, and fed Thee; thirsty, and gave Thee
drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or
naked, and covered Thee? Or when did we see Thee sick or in
prison, and came to Thee?
And the king answering, shall say to
them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least
brethren, you did it to Me.
Then He shall say to them also that shall be on His left hand: Depart
from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the
devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave Me not to eat: I
was thirsty, and you gave Me not to drink. I was a stranger, and
you took Me not in: naked, and you covered Me not: sick and in prison,
and you did not visit Me.
Then they also shall answer Him,
saying: Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger,
or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to Thee? Then He
shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not
to one of these least, neither did you do it to Me.
To try to help
you understand the subtle but very profound -- soul-changing,
differences between merely knowing
Who Christ is and loving Him,
between doing good works and doing good words out of Love, imagine being
married to a person who knows
they're married to you -- they can tell you everything that's written
on your marriage license, the whole bit -- but who treats you like
dirt and doesn't let Love enter the picture. Or imagine being married
to a person who knows you two
are married but who
performs his or her duties toward you only with the goal of showing off
to others what a great spouse he or she is, or to try to "buy favors"
from you, or to point to himself or herself as "a great spouse" with
the attitude that you now owe him or her something. Imagine
knowing that your spouse says and does the right things -- but doesn't
mean them from the heart at all. Imagine having a spouse who says the
but who treats your family like trash. God is our Father, and the
others on this earth are His children. He wants us to love each other,
not just go through the motions with egoistic (or egotistic), ulterior
motives. He wants us to love Him and our neighbor, above all else. Just knowing Who He is is not enough, and just "doing nice
things" -- especially for the
wrong reasons --
is not enough!
So, how to become charitable? Charity is a theologically infused virtue
-- one of the three Theological Virtues, along with Faith and Hope. You
must ask God for it. You must
ask Him to
make you what He wants you to
be. The traditional Act of Charity, prayed sincerely,
Act of Charity
O my God! I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart
because Thou art all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as
myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask
pardon of all whom I have injured.
Latin Version: Actus
Domine Deus, amo te super omnia proximum meum propter te,
quia tu es
summum, infinitum, et perfectissimum bonum, omni dilectione dignum. In
hac caritate vivere et mori statuo. Amen.
The following two ejaculations are
good ones to help focus one's mind and
heart on Truth and Charity throughout the day, to be One with Christ in
O Lord, may we
be of one mind in truth and of one heart in charity.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine!
One of my favorite prayers is that of the Roman Centurion (Luke 7:1-10)
which we pray at Mass just before the people's Communion, after the
"Ecce Agnus Dei."
the breast] I am not
worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word,
and my soul shall be healed.
Dómine, [strike the breast] non sum
dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur
Or pray in
your own words. Just try to make your heart "like unto" the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord.
Otherwise, use your will to do good to others, whether you "feel like
it" or not. What is the "good" that we're exhorted to do? That question
us to the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy and to repentance.
Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy
In addition to praying, there are acts of charity for others that you
to God, in the Name of Jesus. These acts can arise from natural
virtue, by folks of all religions, from folks with no religion at all,
who've never heard the Holy Name of Our Lord,
but when they're
offered for the love of God and the love of neighbor, they are very
meritorious. The Church has listed the following Corporal and Spiritual
Works of Mercy as those Christians should focus on.
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
The Corporal Works of Mercy are pretty straightforward, easy
to understand, and all fall under the category of almsgiving. Working
in soup kitchens, handing out sandwiches to the homeless, visiting
nursing homes, working to give hope to prisoners and to help them
reform all come to mind. As
for "ransoming the captive," this originally referred to ransoming
Christians who were captured during the Crusades and during the raids
of the Muslim Barbary Coast "pirates" who afflicted Europe, especially
Italy, for hundreds of years, kidnapping and enslaving Christians,1 but now it could be
thought of as
inspiration to pray for Christians in Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist,
or Communist countries.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are trickier to understand and more
difficult to live out, and it is in this area that I've seen many
problems among Catholics, at least in the "online world." The first
five are the most problematic.
have I seen certain Catholics acting as if they're trying to instruct
someone when what they're really doing is showing off their knowledge!
And how often have I seen Catholics lack prudence when trying to teach
others. Talking over others' heads, not trying first to see what is
agreed upon so that teaching can proceed, teaching with a condescending
attitude, allowing one's ego to get in the way, wanting to show how
"right" or "correct" one is as opposed to sincerely trying to convey
information that will be received,
a dearth of patience and kindness, not listening
to the other, and, finally, not having a
one's audience -- these things are far too prevalent and work against
the very cause of bringing souls to Christ! In regard to that last,
Catholics need to heed the words
of St. Paul who wrote:
For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a
necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the
gospel... For whereas I was free as to all, I made myself the servant
of all, that I might gain the more. And I became to the Jews, a
Jew, that I might gain the Jews: To them that are under the law,
as if I were under the law, (whereas myself was not under the law,)
that I might gain them that were under the law. To them that were
without the law, as if I were without the law, (whereas I was not
without the law of God, but was in the law of Christ,) that I might
gain them that were without the law. To the weak I became weak,
that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I
might save all. And I do all things for the gospel's sake: that I
may be made partaker thereof.
If "the ignorant one" isn't listening to you, has made it
clear he doesn't want to hear you, the only thing you can do is to have
answers and defenses with regard to whatever he is ignorant about, and
offer them when and if the
time and right situation present themselves. Otherwise, simply pray for
that person and set an example for him by exemplifying for him the
fruits of the Holy Ghost in you: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience,
Benignity, Goodness, Longanimity, Mildness, Faith, Modesty, Continency,
Chastity. Love that person. Be good to him. But do not nag.
To counsel the
How often have I seen, too, Catholics
jump on a
brother or sister and start throwing around words like "heretic" and
what not if
that brother or sister were to express doubt -- something that should
be seen as
a very brave act, assuming the doubter is sincere and speaking in humility
and not wanting to be
intentionally "provocative." Answers, kindness, patience, and
prayer -- not admonishment -- are
what's needed. Catholic teaching is easily defended; find those
defenses and offer them without judgment. You must study to know the
Faith! And if you hear of a doubt expressed but don't know how to
counter it, find the answers. They are
To admonish sinners
Here's where most of the problems lie.
Oh, how some Christians love to
admonish others, accuse others of "scandal"2
(a term they invariably use incorrectly), to act as if they have the
judge others' souls, to
tell others how wrong they are! The type of Christian who exults in, is
positively thrilled at the
chance to engage in "fraternal correction,"
forgets what the Church teaches about how, when, and even whether such a
thing should be done. Before you approach a brother or sister, consider
the following -- which comes from the Summa Theologica.
must ensure that you're the the right person to engage in such
correction. Is there no one else more qualified? No one else more
likely to be
heard by the (designated) sinner? No one with more authority
who is willing and has the time to talk with the person?
Second, is it
likely that your correction will be heeded? If not, then
you're just nagging. If you've been repeating yourself or doing
but making the
person angry, you, in addition to being a nag who is undoubtedly
defeating his own purposes, are being an ass. Stop. And consider the
virtue of Prudence in this matter. You can think of Prudence as the
wisdom to effectively determine proper tactics in order to achieve the
overall goal of your strategy.
In the case of admonishing a sinner, or
fraternal correction, the goal, the strategy,
is to get the sinner to
stop sinning. There are various tactics
-- many ways to try to achieve this: one could
teach him effectively in words so he no longer desires to sin. One
could tie him
up in the basement so he doesn't have the physical opportunity to sin
(which does nothing to change his heart, which is what matters). One
could think that talking about Hell might help, or one might think
stressing God's love might help. One could pray for the other, and so
on. In order to determine proper tactics,
one must get to know and understand the person being
corrected -- how he thinks, the experiences he's
had, the language he uses, how he understands the words you're using
with him, the effective way of approaching that particular person at
that particular stage of his
One must also have some sense of the person's struggles, the "context"
of the other's life. For ex., it's quite easy for someone with no or
very low libido to refrain from sexual sin -- but for a very high
libido person who, say, through sexual abuse has come to see sexual
attention in the same way a heroin addict sees a syringe full of
narcotics, it could well be a triumph to "only" have fornicated with
this year rather than the twenty she did last year. While, of course,
her "only" having fornicated with two men rather than twenty still
constitutes grievous sin, the nature of her will and ability to
consent, etc., may well mitigate her culpability in a way it wouldn't
for the low libido, never-been-abused person who willingly and
knowingly, with no compulsions or mental illinesses to deal with,
decides to go have a sexual fling "just because." I find it
tedious and as
evidence of a crisis of empathy and
of the imagination,
to see certain
Catholics who've had no experience with addiction, compulsive sexual
acting out, and so forth, who have no sense at all what it's like to,
have, through abuse, been taught they are worthless and only of value
in a sexual way, who didn't grow up without fathers, or without
families for whom drug abuse is normal, or what have you, pointing
fingers at those who do come
from such backgrounds and judging those souls at all, let alone without mercy and
understanding of the contexts of their lives. In
this regard, the story of the Widow's Mite makes for serious
What is "small" for one person could well be everything
has to give, and this story is not just about money. While we are all
called to perfection, must repent of our sins, and will pay for the
temporal ramifications our sins in some purgatorial way,
Christ alone knows our hearts and the total contexts of our lives and
how those contexts affect our culpability --
and He let it be known through His Gospels that the heart of the widow
who gave "only" two mites makes pale, in comparison, the hearts of the
rich who gave,
numerically, much more, but percentage-wise much less. And it is the
other human behaviors aside from the giving of alms.
And looking on, he saw the rich men cast their gifts into the treasury.
And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in two brass mites.
And he said: Verily I say to you, that this poor widow hath cast in
more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast into the
offerings of God: but she of her
want, hath cast in all the living that she had.
And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be
required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand
The next time you feel like judging another, ask yourself how much
you've been given -- and how much the other's been given. Ask yourself
how you know what the other's
been given and what his inner struggles are.
Consider the millions of things about this person's life you know nothing about.
There are certain psychological
types who are naturally better at discerning how to approach
others and teach or correct them. Some folks are simply better
this sort of thing than others -- and
if you discover you're not good at it, if you lack imagination and find
it difficult to "walk a mile in another's mocassins," then pass the job
on to someone
who has the sorts of gifts it takes. You could well end up doing much
more harm than good if you forge ahead without the needed prudence!
Third, if the
sin is not a public one, are you dealing with the sinner
privately only? If not, you're messing up and likely engaging in the
sin of detraction -- the taking away from someone's reputation
needlessly by revealing things that are true and which reflect badly on
him ("calumny" is telling untruths
about another that destroy his reputation).
you giving the other the benefit of the doubt? Are you assuming the
best about another -- or jumping to
conclusions, assuming that
innocent things are
sinful when, in fact, they are not? Take, for ex., "co-habitation."
People can and do share a roof without engaging in fornication. Folks
in dorms do it. Anyone who lives in an apartment building or duplex
does it. Brothers and sisters do it. People of the same or
different sex do it. It's a great leap from discovering that two people
(of different sexes or of the same sex -- even those who suffer from
same sex attraction) share an address to accusing them of fornication
or sodomy, especially given the
realities of today's economy and culture. Or take the example of
someone who has
the bravery to admit to fellow Catholics that he is homosexual (i.e.,
that he suffers from the disorder of same sex attraction): one should assume that person is chaste unless
has evidence of something otherwise. Take the single mother as another
example. As far as you may know, she became pregnant by rape, or she had been married and was dumped by
her husband, or her husband died, or she did in fact commit objectively
sinful acts but has repented of them and is right with God and in no
need whatsoever of your gaping jaw and tongue-wagging. You should
always assume the best
possible scenario for
anyone you're dealing with. And if you humbly and prayerfully determine
that fraternal correction is
you should see that job as lovingly
and prudently instructing the
not judging that person, putting that person down, admonishing that
person in order to puff yourself up, etc.
Fifth, have you judged yourself
before attempting to fraternally correct another?
Judge not, that
you may not be judged, For with what
judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you
mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote
that is in thy brother' s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy
own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of
thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou
hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou
see to cast out the mote out of thy brother' s eye.
You have no business whatsoever judging another's
soul. You can only judge actions -- and you need to be
sure that you are not making assumptions, leaping to conclusions,
positively delighting in being supposedly "scandalized," assuming the
another, assigning motives to another that you can't possibly know
anything about, talking to others about
another's alleged sins and thereby engaging in detraction or calumny,
etc., in the process.
And Jesus went
unto mount Olivet. And early in the morning he came again into the
temple, and all the people came to him, and sitting down he taught
And the scribes and the Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in
adultery: and they set her in the midst, And said to him: Master, this
woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us
to stone such a one. But what sayest thou?
this they said tempting him, that they might accuse him. But Jesus
bowing himself down, wrote with his finger on the ground. When
therefore they continued asking him, he lifted
up himself, and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him
first cast a stone at her.
You don't have
to be perfect to attempt fraternal correction, obviously (if that were
the case, fraternal correction would be forbidden to pretty much
everyone!), but the attitude,
tone, and care you take with another should
reflect the humility you should have
in knowing that you, too, are a sinner,
in need of God's grace. Before approaching a fellow sinner in order to
try to help him
through fraternal correction, in addition to going through this
checklist, pray "The Jesus Prayer" most sincerely: "Lord Jesus
Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy
on me, a sinner!"
Sixth and foremost, check
your motives. Do you derive some sort of pleasure, some satisfaction,
pride, "ego-stroking" or sense of "one-upmanship" by your act of
fraternal correction? Has there been an at least perceived injustice the one you
think needs to be corrected has allegedly committed against you,
something the other has said or done that has annoyed you in some way
and because of which your "correction" gives you some sense of
emotional satisfaction? If so, you're likely not the person for the
What you are telling yourself is your "Godly duty" in correcting your
brother or sister could very likely be a matter of pride which you
within yourself, purge from yourself, and for which you should ask
God's forgiveness and mercy. That is for you to discern, but one clue
is this: if gossip with
this person has played any part of your life, you are likely not the
person to approach this individual. A sermon recounted by Phillips Endecott Osgood in his "Church Year Sermons for Children" (1917), goes
A certain little girl had been talking unkindly of
some one. At school thy called it "Tattling." The teacher told her
mother that her daughter had been "gossipping." At any rate she had
been carrying stories right and left as she shouldn't.
Now the mother was a very wise
mother. She wanted to teach her small daughter in a way she would not
forget. She wanted her to understand. So she did not punish her, but
called her and gave her a bag of downy feathers. "Take these," the
mother said, "and go up to the top of the hill where the wind is
blowing. Remembers that every feather is like a word you have said."
The child was puzzled but she obeyed. Up to the top of the hill she
climbed. The wind was blowing hard, brusing down the grass and bending
the bushes and circling around the hilltop. Once she opened the bag of
feathers, the gusts of wind took them by the handfuls and whirled them
away. It looked as though it were snowing. Far and wide the feathers
flew, many of them beyond her sight. The bad being now all emptied,
the girl trudged home. But her mother met her at the door. "Go right
back now," she said, "and gather again all the feathers!" "Why, mother,
I can't do that," exclaimed the daughter. "By now, those feathers have
been carried by the wind most to the edge of the world. "Little
daughter of min, don't you see what your tattling and tale-bearing and
gossip has done? It is just as hard to get back your words as it is
those flying feathers. I want you to go back and get as many as you
can, no matter how hard it is to find them. And as you hunt for the few
you can find, think of all your talkings still flying beyond your
reach, out and out into the world. You cannot get them all back, dear,
try as long as you will. The best way is to never open the bag of
feathers in the first place."
This lesson has been recounted in various ways throughout the years
(I've seen the sermon attributed to St. Francis de Sales and St.
Bernard), and it has also made its way into the movie "Doubt". Please
watch this video and think
of the number of times you've "gone on" about another, made assumptions
about someone, attributed nefarious motives to another -- and then gossiped about
To Bear Wrongs Patiently
We can often find ourselves in situations in which we are wronged --
sometimes on a continual basis. When fraternal
correction (as practiced above) doesn't work or isn't feasible in the
first place, when prayer hasn't
helped bring about change in your tormenter, and if you can't extricate
yourself from the situation, the only thing left to do is to bear these
wrongs patiently. Not just
patiently, but also without caving into sin by acting on vengeful
thoughts, engaging in detraction, doing evil back to them as if two
wrongs make a right, etc.
Reading about and taking inspiration from the lives of Saints who've
also suffered great injustices, and praying to them to intercede for
you with God, can be a great
help. St. Rita of Cascia, for ex., was married to a very cruel man and
withstood his abuses for many years before he was murdered. St. Gerard
Majella was falsely accused of fornication, but endured calumny,
excruciating lies, with a great patience and charity for which he was
tremendous spiritual gifts (bilocation, the ability to read souls and
to cure the ill, etc.).
It is completely normal and natural to feel hurt and angry when
suffering injustice. Don't kick yourself or feel guilty for your "mere"
feelings! What you do with those feelings, or refrain from doing in
spite of them, is what matters. Praying for the ability to endure it
praying for justice are the thing to do and come easily. Thankfully,
there is much in Scripture to
help you. The story of Job, for ex., is one of a man who suffered in
the extreme and prevailed. Psalms 5, 26,
30, 39. 41, 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 85, 101, 119. 120, 122, 123, 124, 129,
139, 140, 141, 142, and 143 are good to read when wrong is done to you.
Psalm 72 is good to pray when those who do you wrong prosper while you
To Forgive Wrongs
doesn't come so easily is forgiving those who have trespassed against
us. But this is what God asks of us, and He gave us His own words to
in the Pater Noster (the "Our Father"):
Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy
will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily
bread, and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not
into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
If someone has wronged you and asks forgiveness, you must forgive. If
you don't, you won't be forgiven by God of your own sins. Right after
giving us the Pater, Jesus tells us this, straight-out, in Matthew
6:14-15: "For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly
Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive
men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences."
-- and we must do this repeatedly, as often as the wrongdoer is
truly repentant (and if you're not sure if that person is truly
repentant, you must assume the best and carry on as if he is!):
If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do
penance, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in a
day, and seven times in a day be converted unto thee, saying, I repent;
To forgive doesn't mean to forget. It doesn't mean we must like the repentant person, or trust
him, or allow ourselves to remain in situations in which we're likely
to be wronged or abused. It means willing the Good for him, praying for
him, and not holding grudges against him.
If the person doing wrong to you is not repentant and remains an enemy,
we are still commanded to love that person -- i.e., we are expected to
pray that he comes to know God (if He doesn't), that he becomes sorry
for his sins, and that he does ask us for forgiveness so that he may
one day share in eternal life. We are to pray for our enemies that they
come to know the Truth, which is the ultimate Good.
But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that
hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you:
That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who
maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the
just and the unjust.
For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you
have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren
only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore
perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.
From the Cross, Lord Christ asked, "Father, forgive them; they know not
what they do." While Jesus knew
the hearts of His tormenters, we, as we deal with all other human
creatures, are to assume the best about them, and in the case of
enemies, assume ignorance rather than malice unless we have evidence to
the contrary. Prayer asking that they to come to know what they do and
to become remorserful for it is what God expects of us.
As in dealing with the penitent who ask forgiveness, dealing with our
enemies doesn't require us to be stupid, to not protect ourselves
against evil. It simply means being loving. Even if we are put in the
position of having to, say, fire an enemy, not be around that person
for our own mental health, or physically defend ourselves or our
families against him, even to the point of death, we still are exhorted
to pray for him, that he comes to know God and repents. It might take
the grace of
God to become able to do this, but that's what the Lord's Prayer is
meant to ask for. Asking God to forgive you through your prayerful
contrition and by your receiving the Sacrament
of Confession brings
much grace and is likely to help you become more willing to forgive
others and to love your enemies. Which brings us to ---
The other aspect of making our hearts like His is to strive
for perfection through contrition, through penitence -- i.e., being
remorseful for our sins. Contrition is sorrow at our having offended
God. Some folks might not have that
sort of sorrow, but do fear
Hell and, so, are sorry insofar as they don't want to be sent there.
That sorrow born of fear is called "attrition" or "imperfect
perfect contrition is vastly superior to
attrition (and brings forgiveness in itself), both suffice for the Sacrament of
Penance or "Confession." Please see that page on Penance for more
Sacrament, how to approach it, etc., and for a checklist of things to
in order to get that log out of your eye before you approach another
about the beam in his.
It's good, too, to develop the habit of making a nightly examination of conscience.
Looking back over your day and seeing where you've "missed the mark,"
whether by failing completely or by not doing as well as you could
have, is a rich way of not only realizing what you should confess to
your priest the next time you receive the Sacrament of Penance, but of
continually "re-adjusting" your direction so you stay on course.
Through understanding the very essence of the Gospel message, properly engaging
Spiritual and Corporal Works of mercy, and through our own continual
self-examination and repentance, our hearts can become "like unto His."
That is what
we must all strive
for. Without these things, our faith is no better than that of the
demons who "also believe and tremble."
Please see also:
1 St. Peter
Nolasco (ca. 1189-1256/9) formed a religious order, the Order of Our
Lady of Mercy, or the Mercedarians, whose members went so far as to
offer themselves as slaves in return for Christians captured and
cruelly treated by the Moors. For a book about the Muslim enslavement
of Christians, see Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the
Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Early
Modern History Society and Culture), by by R. Davis (link will open in
a new browser window).
2 "Scandal" refers to a sinful or
sinful-appearing act or words (or an ommission of acts or words that
should be present) that cause
another to sin. It does not refer to something that causes
indignation or pearl-clutching, is merely shocking, or in bad taste, or
just happens to get one's panties in a twist. Please see the essay "On Taking Scandal" by Father Frederick Faber.