Stumbling into that love thing

I stumbled across 1 Cor 13:4-8 again today. You know the one I mean; it’s that “more excellent way” of living that Saint Paul gave us, saying, “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

I think we should all be required to stare at that paragraph for a few minutes every day. I know it would do me some good. Like Jesus himself, that Bible verse sets the perfect standard for love. Selfless, outward-focused, always giving. Saint Paul gives us a measuring stick that we can use to evaluate our day. Were we self-centered, or other-centered? To what degree?

As you know, I’m a work in progress (and that’s being charitable). The only perfect part of me is my perfect record of imperfection. If there’s one stone in the middle of the path to Heaven, I’ll find it, trip on it, fall over it, and probably cuss when I stub my toe against it. After I get back up I’ll kick the stone down the road in anger…and then trip over it again.

I’m still stumbling, but gradually also learning that Jesus doesn’t hate me for the stumbles. He doesn’t curse me or laugh at me or get fed up with my slow progress. He winces each time I fall, sharing in my pain. His hand is there every time to help me up. He politely pretends to ignore my intemperate rock-focused-language and He waits patiently until I come to Him to talk about the rock before offering advice (like, “Pick your feet up a bit next time; there are rocks in the road”). He doesn’t get mad when I ignore his advice.

As a husband, father, brother, and boss, I really do want to live up to Saint Paul’s rubric of love. And I really can see how my particular corner of the universe would be a much better place if I did. Fifty-seven years of experience tells me that I probably won’t hit perfect marks on the Saint Paul Scale anytime soon. But those same years also tell me that’s okay. As long as I don’t stop trying, and as long as I don’t stop asking Him for help.

Because Jesus will be there. Because He is Love.

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God forgets. So should you

One of the greatest and probably least-appreciated lines in the Catholic Church is this: “I absolve you of your sins; go in peace.” That’s the moment in the confessional when, no matter what you’ve done, the Priest tells you that God says it’s okay; you are forgiven. God sent Jesus to give us this incredible gift. Jesus passed the authority to Peter who passed it on to every Bishop since, who delegated it to your parish priest, who just gave it to you. You have just been given the most incredible Get out of Jail Free card ever. From God to you.

And now that your sin has been taken away, don’t take it back. How many times does God forgive us, but we don’t forgive ourselves? Stop it! By that I mean stop carrying the guilt around. You did it, but you admitted it, you atoned for it, and God forgave you for it. It’s done; let it go.

Too much of our life’s “burden” is a sack full of guilt. We are still holding onto the guilt from that time in the second grade when we pulled that little girl’s hair and made her cry. Or when we flipped off the Honda driver who was annoyed by our sudden lane change. Or any one of the hundreds of other times we were less than fully-Christian. Do yourself a favor; make a list of those, take it with you to confession and LEAVE IT AT THE ALTAR. When Father says, “Go in peace,” do it. Leave! Go home! Get out of there! And leave the guilt behind.

Because you can’t be the loving Christian Jesus wants you to be if you are using up all your energy hauling around old guilt. You can’t carry God’s message if you’re too ashamed to talk to women with long hair or people who drive Hondas, or your mom or your coworker, or… Forgiveness is part of God’s plan, and it’s an important part. You need forgiveness to become the person God created. But, like the body and blood, eternal life and all the other facets of Christianity, we have to make the choice to believe it, and to accept it.

Micah said God has “cast your sins to the bottom of the sea.” Don’t swim down there and pick them up again.

 

Forgive to live

God’s pretty sneaky sometimes. Take forgiveness for example. Jesus told Peter to turn the other cheek not seven times, not seventy times, but seventy-times-seven times. In other words, always. But what Jesus didn’t tell Peter, at least not directly, is that the forgiveness was for Peter’s benefit, not the benefit of the other person. We have to forgive to live.

Anger, resentment and jealousy kill us from the inside. According to an article posted on WebMD.com, one study said people who are frequently angry are 19% more likely to have a heart attack, and within the group of people with heart disease, angry people are more likely to have worse health outcomes than people who are calm. Anger kills.

Negative emotions are also contagious. In my own case, I have often seen that my mood impacts how I interact with other people. If I’m feeling grouchy, I’m more likely to snap at my wife, grandchildren, the dog, squirrels, other drivers, et al. And guess what happens to them? Yep, they are more snarly and snappy. Anger begets anger.

Today’s Gospel has Jesus telling his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. So, along with your Fitbit and your goal of fewer sugar snacks today, if you really want to be healthy, follow Jesus advice. In the words of St. John, “Little children, love one another.”

Forgiveness, the best resolution ever

Today I am your New Year’s Resolution Counsellor. Five cents, please (it worked for Lucy Van Pelt, didn’t it?). After much prayer and deliberation, and even more procrastination (which is what I’m best at) I have discovered the absolute best New Year’s Resolution: forgive somebody.

Over the Christmas Season this year I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about anger, resentment and forgiveness. Apparently, I was thinking about exactly what He wanted me to think about, because God put the Catechism of the Catholic Church in front of me a few days ago, and I read about that annoying line in The Lord’s Prayer. You know the one I mean: “Forgive us our trespasses…(good so far, I like being forgiven)…as WE forgive those who trespass against US.” My whole Catholic train comes screeching to a halt on that second part.

In His sneaky and lovable God-way, Our Father has multiple reasons for making forgiveness a two-part rule. First and most obviously, the world is a better place if we forgive one another. Sitting across the table from someone is easier if you’re not mad at the person on the other side, whether it’s your boss, your spouse or the President of Russia. The more we let bygones be bygones the less likely we will blow the world to smithereens. Forgiveness is a very practical tool.

But God has another reason. It’s good for us. Forgiveness is more important for the well-being of the forgiver than the forgiven. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise. Conjure up a picture of someone you’re mad at and think about why you’re mad at them. Got it? Okay, now honestly, how are you feeling? Irritable? Uptight? A little sick to your stomach, or on the verge of a headache? Anger and resentment are poisons as real as hemlock or nicotine.

Now imagine how your subject is feeling at this moment. Chances are, whatever you’re stewing over isn’t on their minds, at least not right now it isn’t. One of the most frustrating things about resentments is that the “resented” often don’t have a clue that you are mad at them. So who’s suffering the most because of your resentment, you or them?

Let’s take this another step. With the object of your resentment in mind, say a prayer right now. Have a chat with the Almighty. Hm. Nobody home, is there? When I am angry at someone, I almost always find that those are the days I can’t make myself kneel down and pray. When I’m mad, I’m mad, doggone it! I don’t need her, or God, or anybody! So there, bleah!

Paragraph 2840 of the Catechism explains why anger messes up everything. “Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible. We cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see.” The idea that love is a single, indivisible thing is new to me, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. It explained why everyone suffers when one person is mad, why the world just feels out of alignment. And why I feel so alone when I’m angry.

So give yourself a gift this New Year’s Day. Conjure up in your mind that person who “wronged” you. Realize they are just as human as you are and forgive him or her. Ask God to take away your anger. And let it go.

And then have a Happy New Year.

Forgive seventy times seven times! Are you serious?

Bitter truth time, fellow Christians. Let’s face it; God’s most difficult rule is “Love one another.” Oh, sure, most of us can love our mom, our cute little granddaughters, our spouses for the most part, and even our own children (except when they feed their crayons to Mr. Hungry Clothes Dryer). But nearly everyone else gets put in the “usually” column.

We all know that’s not what He wants. Jesus has made it very clear that we need to forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (And in case you think the limit is 490, keep in mind that Jesus said that to St. Peter, who was probably as good at math as he was at walking on the water. Seventy-times-seven is Jesus’ way of saying, “Just keep forgiving, Peter, I’ll tell you when you can stop.”) And then there’s that little bit of fine print that says, “Forgive us our trespasses, AS WE FORGIVE THOSE who trespass against us.” If we don’t forgive, He don’t forgive. God doesn’t give us much wiggle room on this rule.

So, then why is it so doggone difficult??!! Shouldn’t the most important principle in the universe be just a little less challenging to comply with? Shouldn’t guardian angels hover quietly over the express checkout to swat me when I’m about to make a snippy comment at the lady who dared to sneak 12 items through? C’mon, Heaven, can we get just a little help here?

Maybe we can. Maybe we should use the Christian All Purpose Power Tool: prayer. Last Saturday, someone sent me one of those snotty “It’s-Friday-afternoon-and-I-have-to-deal-with-this-so-you’re-going-to-feel-my-pain” emails. It made my blood boil, but for some reason, I didn’t hit the “I’ll-reply-and-you-are-gonna-pay-for-it,” button. I let it sit. It bugged me all day. At bedtime, I asked God to grant me the grace to deal with it. And then I feel asleep. In the morning, I woke up and quietly said a prayer for the person whose frustration had slopped over into my bucket. After church, I politely replied to her request, ignoring the emotion. No belligerence. No hidden sarcasm. Just a simple reply from one human to another.

Maybe you wouldn’t call that a victory. Maybe you wouldn’t call that an answer to a prayer. Maybe the person on the other end of the line is just as annoyed with me as she was on Saturday. Maybe you’re right. On the other hand, today, two people could have been stewing over an insult that may or may not have been intended. Instead, one (me) isn’t and the other has a chance to get over it, instead of debating whether to reply to another angry email. I think that’s as much as I can do, and I think I’ve done my duty for today.

Give it a try. One down, 469 to go.