Bearing wrongs patiently does not come easily to most of us. However, ‘joining the human race’ often means accepting that the price of love is frequently allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and at risk of being hurt by others.
Bitterness is an understandable temptation in such circumstances. Because of things that have gone wrong, often beyond our control, all of us have some deferred hopes about an important dream for our lives, our families and our Church that remain unfulfilled. We can feel aggrieved and wronged and sigh, ‘what might have been?’
The Lord calls us nevertheless to patient trust. We are called to ‘trust’ that something will eventuate as we muddle our way through! Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson spoke of how each of us has to negotiate, as children, a conflict between ‘basic trust and mistrust’. I do not think it ever gets fully resolved for many of us. For no one gets through life without having their trust disappointed or broken at some point.
Like it or not, the reality is that all of us are called to live patiently with some harsh realities that are far from perfect, or even right. If we are not careful, a reactive mistrust can become like a law of being; a rule of how to view the world and the Church. Some get eaten away with the desire for revenge because of what they, unfairly, have had to deal with.
If, for instance, we believe that everything out there is hostile and working against us – and we become perpetual victims – then most of what we do will finally be dominated by fear and resentment. And if we are fearful, we will be unable to achieve the inner peace to ‘bear wrongs patiently’.
Our life will become a constant effort to counter this fear by looking for ways to control it or insure our life against it. Mistrust and anxiety will be our daily bread.
If, however, we trust, accepting in the words of John O’Donohue, “that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway”, life and Church become spaces where we can explore and taste hope and love, beauty and trust every day. Trials then become an opportunity to continually open our lives to God’s grace and blessings and when necessary ‘bear wrongs patiently’ as a path to new life.
For bearing wrongs patiently is truly a ‘sign of transcendence’. To make sense of our world, we need to hold on to a basic trust in life and God’s providence itself, despite all the bad things and the terrible tragedies that can happen to very good people.
We do not need to become Jansenists, wallowing in our struggles. Masochism is not a healthy recipe for the spiritual life! But we do need to let go of our pain and our ego – which so often prevents us from accepting suffering as a moment of grace. Such surrender allows us to dare to believe that he whom Jesus called ‘Abba’ is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
May Teilhard de Chardin SJ’s prayer be ours as we practise this work of mercy: “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We would like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet, it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time,
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Teilhard de Chardin SJ
This article is part of a series of Lenten reflections entitled A Spirit of Mercy: Reflections on the Works of Mercy by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.