25 February 2013

Dig two graves. . .

2nd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

History is often written from the carnage caused by vengeance. The tit-for-tat, back and forth violence of revenge erupts from its poisoned cell in the human heart and does its dirty work with the grim self-satisfaction of an executioner. Justified by nothing more than self-righteous anger and a deeply felt wound to our pride, the dark spirit of revenge assures us that the violence we do is not only a good thing but a needful thing. And even the best among us will listen to this reassurance, if only to have our outrage quieted for a time. Our Lord understands the tumults of the human heart, most especially its need for justice. But he urges us to exercise mercy instead. If his admonition to be merciful as the Father is merciful proves inadequate to the task of quelling a need for revenge, then perhaps a more pragmatic promise will do the job: “Forgive and you will be forgiven. . .the measure with which you measure [your forgiveness] will in return be measured out to you.” If for no other reason than spiritual self-preservation: measure your forgiveness in five-gallon buckets. 

Unless you are a living saint, you will likely smile at the sentiments of the 19th century German poet, Heinrich Heine, “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.” (Confession: I smiled.) Heine's point seems to be that justice should precede mercy, mercy being a grace best bestowed upon the dead. A faithful follower of Christ will respond to Heine, “When you plan vengeance, start by digging two graves.” Even if you survive a violent outburst of revenge, your soul will be mortally wounded. And its death is now only a matter of neglect. Of course, most of us will never act violently on a need for revenge. Being somewhat cowardly, our preferred modes of vengeance are slander, gossip, detraction, calumny, and petty acts of passive-aggressive mischief. Over time these accumulate like a slow poison, and we commit spiritual suicide. All the virtues we enjoy as followers of Christ are killed off one by one: joy, gratitude, peace, and finally, love. Calling us to the perfection that only he can provide, Christ shows us the way to bandage our hurts and find healing: “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you.” The greatest grace we can receive is the mercy we give to those who wound us. 

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  1. Yep - "accumulate like a slow poison, and we commit spiritual suicide". Been there, done that. Thanks for the reminder! (and, yes, I smiled at Heine's quote, too)

    I'm giving you a pass because of the time stamp! Not fair to critique something a man has written before he was fully awake. ;-)

    1. I think this one is pretty good! Shorter than usual. . .

  2. My complaint, as I have before, is that the Church here --and you, in this instance-- falls down very badly on the job of teaching.

    Forgiveness is one of the most difficult and psychologically (and societally) complex processes known to man. The Church is in favor of it, exhorts people to do it, but is pathetically negligent in teaching and showing how to do it. No wonder most people don't.

    If it spent 10% of the energy on this issue that it wastes on its bloviated and Laputan "social doctrine", it would be a much better Mater et Magistra than it is.

    1. How--exactly--have I failed to teach forgiveness? It's an act of the will. Just do it. "I forgive you." All the emotional stuff that comes with forgiveness is largely irrelevant to the act itself. American Catholics have been soaking in the heresy of Feelingsism for four decades now: it's not real unless I feel it. Nonsense.

    2. I don't typically engage in the combox, outside of joking around, but here I will bend my rule. In the time I have been reading this blog, Fr. Philip has done an excellent job of "teaching" forgiveness. It's as simple as what he wrote above - "Just do it." To make it any more complex is to add unnecessary levels of nuance to a simple and straightforward process. Sure, I may still feel some emotional response to something/someone I have forgiven, but our emotions are fallen as well. That doesn't mean I haven't forgiven - just that I haven't forgotten. I learned this on my own a few years ago. People still ask: how could you forgive...? And I tell them: "by saying I forgive...". Does this mean I am reconciled with and buddy-buddy with this person? Hell no! That would, in this case, be stupid and potentially dangerous on my part. But I have forgiven. It is done, and it is done because not doing so was poisoning me from the inside. I agree that many in the Church do not teach this, but I'm not quite sure how that is either Fr. P's fault or his responsibility. OK, now I "feel better"!

      Oh, and Father, I agree that this homily was pretty good - last line was about the only thing I had issue with, and it by itself was a wonderful line, but as an ending it left me wanting something more or different. Thanks.