Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Conversion of the Heart

There are a few verses from Sacred Scripture I pray every Catholic thinks very deeply about -- and prays even more deeply about. They are:

James 2:15-26

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: 

Matthew 22:36-39

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 teacher of 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 argue with with the goal of "scoring points" and showing how "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 correct!) 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.

I Corinthians 13:1-8

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 have all 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, you 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 God!

"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 all his 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:

Luke 18:9-14

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:

Matthew 25:34-45:

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, soul-saving! -- 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 right things, 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, can help 

Act of Charity

O my God! I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, 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 Caritatis
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 them:

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."

Lord, [strike the breast] I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

Latin Version:
Dómine, [strike the breast] non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur ánima mea.

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 brings us to the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy and to repentance.

Living Your Conversion:
The Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy

Peter Bruegel the Younger's "Seven Acts of Mercy," after 1616
Click to englarge

In addition to praying, there are acts of charity for others that you can offer 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.

Instructing the ignorant

How often 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 sense of 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:

I Corinthians 9:16, 19-23

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.

And Christ said, as recorded in Matthew 10:14,

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet.

When teaching, use the virtue of prudence, and 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 doubtful

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 out there.

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 authority to 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.

First, you 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 than you 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 nothing 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 life.

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 two men 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, for ex., 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 with no understanding of the contexts of their lives. In this regard, the story of the Widow's Mite makes for serious contemplation:

Luke 21:1-4 

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.

What is "small" for one person could well be everything another person 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 same with other human behaviors aside from the giving of alms.

Luke 12:48

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 more.

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).

Fourth, are 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 one 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 in order, you should see that job as lovingly and prudently instructing the other, 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?

Matthew 7:1-5

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.

John 8:1-7

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 them. 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?

And 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 have no business whatsoever judging another's soul. You can only judge actions -- and you need to be very sure that you are not making assumptions, leaping to conclusions, positively delighting in being supposedly "scandalized," assuming the worst about 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.

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 job. 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 should confront 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 regard to 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 like this:

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 it all:



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 inordinately 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 rewarded with 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 all and 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 flail.

To Forgive Wrongs Willingly

What 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 pray in the Pater Noster (the "Our Father"):

Our 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!):

Luke 17:3-4

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; forgive him

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.

Matthew 5:44-48

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 contrition." While 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 about the Sacrament, how to approach it, etc., and for a checklist of things to consider 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 in the 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.

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