Moving right along in our review of the Spiritual Works of Mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we come to two very difficult works: “Bear wrongs patiently” and “Forgive offenses willingly.”
These are really tough ones. But they are absolutely essential. They are very much at the core of what following Jesus as a disciple is all about.
Our American (and probably especially TEXAN) nature is NOT to bear wrongs patiently, but rather to vociferously and strenuously protest and complain. Demanding our rights is encoded deep in our political DNA.
There are the legitimate demands of justice that we must act on, not only for ourselves but also for others. Protecting the vulnerable (in Biblical terms, the widows and orphans), is an essential part of what following Christ is all about.
But on a personal level, in relationships in family, work, neighborhood, school, and even in church, it is necessary that not infrequently we need to bear wrongs patiently, and even more importantly, to forgive offenses willingly. We need to do this because we are not saints, and the people we live with are not saints.
Now here is the tough part: even if we were saints, we would not be easy to live with. Living with saints is a real chore. Often those we care about the most are also the same people who upset us the most: a child, a parent, a spouse, a close friend.
Anyone who is familiar with the life of St. Paul knows he was a difficult person to be around. He had a very public confrontation with St. Peter (Gal 2:11), another dispute with St. Mark, (Acts 15: 37-9), and finally even his close buddy and companion St. Barnabas could not take him and left him. (Acts 15:39)
Thomas Merton, who many consider a saint, wrote:
“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even the saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or the can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion. But love, by the acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.”
These two Spiritual Works of Mercy, i.e. bearing offences patiently and forgiving offences willingly, are especially applicable not only to our enemies but especially our loved ones. It is how we heal the wounds in the Body of Christ. They are difficult but essential parts of growing into the image of Christ.