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Bear Wrongs Patiently – A Meditation on the 5th Spiritual Work of Mercy

June 1, 2015

060115Here is  perhaps the most revolutionary of the Spiritual works of mercy. It is the one tied most directly to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. To decide to bear wrongs patiently is nothing less than to declare a revolution and to wage a very paradoxical counteroffensive against this world and its economy of anger.

There is a cycle of violence and retribution in which the devil seeks to engage us. The cycle begins with one person harming or slighting another, perhaps tempted to do so by the devil or by the world or flesh, manipulated by him. And then, the harm having been worked, the victim retaliates and escalates. The salvos go back and forth with increasing fervor, often including others as well. Meanwhile, Satan observes from the wings with delight as he reaps a bountiful harvest of anger, fear, bitterness, violence, and poisonous personal and social venom. Through such cycles, he is able to bring down friendships, families, cultures, and nations. Indeed, world wars can set much of the planet ablaze.

This is Satan’s economy. Its currency is hatred and its coinage is revenge. He would have us develop diverse portfolios of grievances and fears, and fill our coffers with memories of past wrongs stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years. So clever are Satan’s marketers that those who are consumers and suppliers think their vengeance is righteous—even holy. And so the economy of Satan grows and grows, fueled by vengeance, bankrolled by grievances.

Into this economy, this cycle of violence and retribution, the Christian who bears wrongs patiently engages in the revolutionary act of saying, even if on a small scale, “the cycle of violence, anger, and retribution ends with me.” It is like throwing a wrench into the gears of Satan’s economy. Even if it is just the bearing of very small wrongs, it slows the machine of hatred and retribution, and causes the economy of Satan to grind more slowly. The person who does this engages in a revolutionary act, a paradoxical act of sabotage.

It is the same paradox we see on the Cross, where Christ won by bearing patiently and bravely the venom, hatred, and violence of this world to the end. He bore it, not opening His mouth, not retaliating, not hating, but loving and enduring unto the end.  The Cross is a huge wrench cast into the gears of Satan’s economy. Every Christian who bears wrongs patiently increases the size of that Cross by the fact that Christ unites our sufferings to His.

Note the logic of this revolution: darkness cannot drive our darkness, only light can do that; hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that; pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that. And thus Jesus, and every Christian who bears wrongs patiently, drives out darkness by light, hatred by love, and pride by humility. It is nothing short of a revolution, a cry of civil disobedience in a regime that demands escalation and further retribution.

Is such a stance to be absolute? Must we bear every wrong patiently? No. There are times when we must defend ourselves and others, when the only way to repel the grave harm caused by a serious injustice is to disable it and remove it. There are times when we must refuse to cooperate in evil, even if it means suffering arrest or even the loss of life. There are also times when we must actively resist evil and stand in its way. But in all this, retaliation must not be our goal. Rather our goal must be justice, established in love and respect, with a desire to end the cycle, not merely to continue it as the victor. Evil is to be resisted and robbed of further prey.  If I seek to conquer and destroy evil, too easily I can become the very evil I seek to destroy. Even as I declare my victory, the evil still lives to strike again, but now it lives in my own heart.

The cycle must end. The Christian who bears wrongs patiently says, in effect, “It ends with me.” I will take the blow (like my savior on the Cross) but I will not return it. This does not make me spineless, but rather courageous and crafty. Jesus once said, To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also (Mat 5:39).

Many interpret this passage as weakness. It is not. It is revolutionary and strong. In effect, the one who turns the other cheek looks the perpetrator in the eye. He does not flee in fear. Rather, he refuses to enter into the world of the perpetrator, into the economy of hatred, by escalating the hatred. No, he stands his ground, neither fleeing in fear nor losing by becoming like his enemy and retaliating. He remains himself, drawing his dignity not from the praise of men, but from the Lord. Is he weak? Was Jesus weak on the Cross or strong?

Yes, bearing wrongs patiently can seem irksome to us. Perhaps we think we are compromising with evil. This is only true if we compromise by doing evil. That must be resisted and to those who would seek to force us to comply we can only respectfully respond, “I cannot comply.” But in the end, to bear wrongs patiently is to declare a revolution against Satan’s regime, to break the cycle of his economy and say, “The cycle of violence and revenge ends with me.” It robs Satan of prey, of dividends.

Throw a little revolution. Never cooperate with evil, but where possible, bear wrongs patiently. It is like putting sand in the gears; Satan loses a little something every time.

Here is the death scene from The Passion of the Christ. Note that at the end, Satan seems to know he has lost, that he has been denied his true desire. He seems to realize that the Cross, like a wrench, has been thrown into the gears of his hateful economy.

Comments (21)

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  1. Daniel says:

    When I saw the title, I thought of a grizzley who takes his time breaking in for food.

  2. a catholic psychologist says:

    The world’s “economy of anger.” Absolutely inspired phrase.

    Of course, the call to counteroffensive was embedded withing the Our Father…. “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

  3. Mary Ellen Stroud says:

    This talk is a blessing to me. Thank you.

  4. Anne says:

    Your reasoning is so counter culture. No one should ever get in our way and deprive us of a moment’s happiness. I have seen people throw a fit over someone cutting in line, taking a parking spot we thought we were going to take, or having the wrong order brought to their table at a restaurant. We are empowered and demanding. This attitude has cosmic consequences. We now see the needy elderly, the “undeserving poor” and the unborn as menaces to our pursuit of the good life which tolerates no hindrances.

  5. Elena says:

    Bearing wrongs patiently is so very difficult, almost impossible for those in marriages. How does one vent one’s hurt and pain without sinning? In communication, most often known as confrontation, one spouse is consumed with hurt pride and the other with defensive denial. Confession removes the sin of desiring vengeance, but it does not remove the hurt inflicted by others.

    • Anne says:

      Elena, have you ever thought of writing your hurt and disappointment down on paper and letting your husband read it while you take a walk or go out for awhile? You will have the satisfaction of having expressed yourself, can walk away for a cooling off period, and be in a much calmer frame of mind. Sometimes people hate to be accused to their face even if they know they are wrong. If you start out by saying “I know you care about my happiness and I would ask you to read this when you have some time” you may be surprised by some good results. Even sending a text message if you have an I phone and communicating that way can sometimes work.

      • C Beltz says:

        Elena, you describe a marriage in need of communication counseling. Disagreements do not have to mean war or hurt feelings. That is a hard thing to know and even harder to practice, but it is achievable. I have seen it happen many times over.

        I would suggest that in such a marriage, the couple seek out a competent counselor or perhaps a Marriage encounter weekend like Retrouvaille.

        Bottom line, no marriage will fail if God is put and kept in front of it. Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will help you through the storm, just like he did the Apostles.

    • Bee bee says:

      Elena, for me, many times “venting one’s hurt and pain” actually seems to make it worse. It’s been my experience venting only reinforces the sense of being wronged, and seems to engrave the whole experience deeper into my spirit, and often makes me feel worse about whatever happened than before I “vented”.

      In my experience, someone may do or say something that hurts me, and I can choose to let it go. For instance, say someone injures themselves, and I come to offer assistance, and they snap at me to leave them alone. I can forgive them, and rise above it and not take offense, realizing they spoke out of their pain. I can choose not to be hurt by what they say.

      In marriage, when something is so serious that it needs to be resolved, venting is probably the wrong way to go. Explaining, telling clearly, saying the problem without anger or wrath is more helpful. Taking a page from friendliness and kindness probably works better. Remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

      Our society doesn’t support this virtue of bearing wrongs patiently anymore. It used to. People understood they were to be patient in injustice, to turn the other cheek. You often saw people, both men and women, insulted, slighted, humiliated who smiled sweetly and responded in a kind way. Back then, no one liked or approved of the wrathful person (what we now call “venting.”) But in our society, wrath is encouraged. And so interpersonal relationships become more difficult, because hardly anyone is willing to just “let it go.”

      So many people think the changes made to our culture by secularism are good and things are better than the past, yet you in your own experience can see the consequences of the loss of virtue, and you can see it is not good. If both husband and wife practiced bearing wrongs patiently, the marriage would be much better.

    • Richard Connell says:

      As bystander to marriage, this marital advise makes sense to me: arguing in the nude. When Penny Lord died, Raymond Arroyo was eulogizing her on tv. I recall he said that she had told him that whenever she and her husband, Bob Lord, would get into a fight, they would take off all of their clothes and continue the argument, you could even call it a fight, in the nude. Usually, he said that she said that once they were naked they would realize how trivial what it was they were fighting about.

      As bystander to marriage, this is one piece of marital advise that made me think: “Oh, maybe I should have gotten married. That sounds like fun.”

  6. TONY CAMILLO says:

    Bearing wrongs patiently especially in marriage is a choice not dependent on moods. If it were then my marriage vow should have been to love my wife “for better or worse or depending on my mood” that would invalidate the word COMMITMENT….which my marriage is. Thank you for your insight Monsignor!

  7. Lee says:

    In his Catholicism series, Fr. Robert Barron says the same things about turning the other cheek, but adds an important thought that most non-Jews (myself included) would never consider. When a Jew in the 1st century slapped you with the back of his right hand and you “turned the other cheek,” you are inviting him to do the same act again, only this time with the back of his left hand. In Jewish tradition, using your left hand in such a way would render it unclean. So what Jesus is saying is: don’t run away and don’t fight back, but stand your ground peacefully and almost dare the person to do it again in such a way as to render himself unclean. An interesting perspective for most of us who are ignorant of the Jewish laws.

    I also love the example he cites from the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She takes a starving child into a bakery and asks the owner for some bread for the poor child. The baker replies by spitting in her face. She isn’t fazed and says to him, “Thank you for that gift for me. Now how about something for the child.” Instead of leaving in disgust (fleeing) or muttering an insult back at him (retaliating), she stood her ground peacefully and spiritually challenged the baker to do the right thing.

  8. Matt Dobson says:

    Msgr Pope;

    I did not agree with you on you post on single vocations. But, here, you are spot on.

    This could not be more important today. I hope this message gets wide circulation.

    Thank you.

  9. Richard Connell says:

    Yes, that is a difficult one.

  10. beej says:

    good stuff. A lot of food for thought

  11. R Miller says:

    Let the raging sea spend itself upon the rock that is Christ. Christ was able to heal the breach between man and our Father who art in Heaven. No human could have done this. There were two others there with Him who probably suffered many of the same wounds. But that ain’t it, the difference is that Jesus took the blows in perfect love, knowing that with each blow he would be free to heal us, the ones landing the blows. We mocked Him and spat upon Him and He turned it to good, our good. This was the only breach that ever mattered, and now it has been rectified through the blood that He shed at Calvary. The least that man should do now is to try and heal these petty (that seem like mountains to us) breaches that still exist between us humans. What the Host of Heaven must think when they look upon earth and still see us fighting one another and yet, at the same time seeing the Son of God sitting at God’s right hand in total victory must be a head scratcher. Jesus won us back through sacrifice, not the force of arms, that’s not what His Kingdom is about. If you hate violence mockery and lies, you’re going to love His Kingdom.

  12. Hurting says:

    I have a couple of friends that are very hurtful in their actions. I forgive but the actions continue. I’m often crying because of this. Can I be forgiving but distance myself or must I continue the friendship even though my heart feels like a punching bag? Is distancing myself retaliation for their acts? I love these friends and because of that their actions hurt more than if I didn’t care about them.

    • Frank says:

      These “friends” may not be friends. Everyone hurts another at one time or another, but if this is done on a regular basis, then you have to determine whether their actions are done out of ignorance or intentional unkindness. If their actions done to intentionally hurt you, then you are better off without them. You can forgive them and just move on.

    • Bee bee says:

      You don’t have to continue relationships with friends who are hurtful. You also don’t have to stay silent about it. You can tell them that what they are doing hurts you. If they don’t apologize or let you know they didn’t know it was hurting you and stop doing it, then they are the sort that doesn’t care if they hurt you. If that’s the case, then you can distance yourself from them, because their “friendship” is not real friendship. If you do distance yourself, you can tell them why (kindly), and you should forgive them, but don’t let them hurt you anymore. Distancing in this case, (if they deny the actions hurt you, or if they don’t care) is not retaliation. Don’t be surprised if you distance yourself and find they don’t even care.

      You may love them, and you can continue to love them, but you don’t have to let them damage your heart. You can expect people to treat you with love and respect without being a tyrant yourself.

      In other words, you don’t have to tolerate their sin against you, and you don’t have to retaliate.

  13. mary travis says:

    Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

    G.K. Chesterton

  14. Reconverted Idiot says:

    Interesting how you (correctly, I think) interpret ‘turning the other cheek.’ There is another detail to this that I have encountered which is also enlightening if true, and concerns the actual form or practice of giving/receiving a slap. Typically the slap is given on the cheek not only to induce pain, but to denigrate and humiliate the person receiving the slap. It is given in whatever manner the person giving the slap considers the most ‘symbolically effective’ e.g. they may give a back-handed slap for the extra sense of superiority it carries with it – both for themselves and in the eyes of their audience.

    Hence, by offering the other cheek one is forcing the aggressor to use a secondary method, i.e. a more ‘mundane’ or ‘functional’ slap, a forehand say, thereby giving them a kind of demotion in the process by depriving them of the symbolic co-ordinates of the act itself. (And if they do take you up on the offer and follow up with another slap it will likely be one of rage – especially since the arrogant bully does not like to be defied – at which point they’ve already lost. In any event the place that the original slap held as a kind of move within the logic of the game has been undermined).

    It plays to the same aim, refusal of the game through refusal of the logic according to which the game is played or acted out.