Saturday, September 18, 2021

Picking up what they are putting down

Feeling indignant lately?  Or are you outraged?  Are you feeling that way more often in recent months than you recall from times long ago?  If you are, this is hardly surprising.  Many people are more agitated to begin with, and therefore more irritable, because of the stressful circumstances surrounding the pandemic.  But that is not the worst of it; no, in these days, people are actually working to make us indignant; people are actually paid to elicit our outrage.  They have the best tools, and they are good at what they do.  So more often than you would like, you feel like you could spit nails. 

In this era of virtual communication, social distancing, and personal isolation, circumstances are ripe for developing a conviction that other people are SO WILDLY DIFFERENT FROM YOU in attitude, priorities, and behavior, that you have little or nothing in common with them.  Disdain grows naturally with distance.

Our Lord wants better for us.  He wants joy, not outrage, to be our lot.  If your first instinct is to assert that you would be plenty happy if those other outrageous people would simply shut up and go away, then reject that impulse and listen to the great, long homily we call the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with what we all know as The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).   Another way to put that would be “The Happinesses,” or “The Joys;” and if not all of them, at least one would surprise you.  

In a sermon on the Beatitudes, Saint Leo the Great, who was Pope A.D. 440 – 461, draws our attention to the happiness offered to those who mourn.  Crazy, you say?  I beg you, consider:

After preaching the blessings of poverty, the Lord went on to say: Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. But the mourning for which he promises eternal consolation, dearly beloved, has nothing to do with the ordinary worldly distress; for the tears which have their origin in the sorrow common to all mankind do not make anyone blessed. There is another cause for the saints, another reason for their blessed tears. Religious grief mourns for sin, one’s own or another’s; it does not lament because of what happens as a result of God’s justice, but because of what is done by human malice. Indeed, he who does wrong is more to be lamented than he who suffers it, for his wickedness plunges the sinner into punishment, whereas endurance can raise the just man to glory. (Sermo 95, 4-6)

To mourn the sin, the bad action, of some other person, helps us to find and focus on what we have in common with him, and nurtures the charity that brings life to us, and to the world.  To recognize that the sinner, even the egregious sinner, is VERY NEARLY JUST LIKE US AFTER ALL in that he is human and weak, fallible and afraid, and therefore vulnerable to eternal misery and death, is an act of charity.  It is a greater act of charity to desire some other outcome than damnation for that person’s choice to sin.

Imagine how painful was Jesus’ grief over your sin, and mine, that He willingly took up and endured the cross to rescue us, offering us rescue from the pit we ourselves had dug.  His own mother, Our Lady of Sorrows whom we celebrated this very week, stood by His cross grieving his death, and grieving her loss, but no less mourning the cause: your sin and mine.  This great grief accomplished redemption and rescue, but fresh sin brings yet fresh grief.

When confronted with the bad actions of another, whether presented to us by a professional grievance-monger or by a well-intentioned amateur, you and I have the power to escape indignation, and refuse outrage.  Mourn the sin; pray for the sinner.  Now enter in to the joy of your Lord.  (Mt 25:23)

Monsignor Smith