Thursday, October 28, 2010

Forbearance, Patience, and Forgiveness (Reflections by the Fathers of the Church on the Daily Gospel, Luke 6:12-16)

From Saint Ambrose of Milan's "Exposition on the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke":

Notice that in choosing his disciples, Judas too was chosen, not through inadvertence but through Providence. How great is the truth that not even a hostile minister weakens! How great is the integrity of the Lord, who preferred to endanger his judgment among us, rather than his compassion! For he had assumed the frailty of human beings, and therefore did not refuse those aspects of human weakness. He was willing to be forsaken, he was willing even to be betrayed, he was willing to be surrendered by his own apostles, his own friends, so that you too, when you experience being abandoned by an ally, or betrayed by a friend--and this will happen many times in your lifetime--may learn to bear the pain and difficulty in good order".

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The other name for forbearance or restraint is "mercy", and mercy is rooted in compassion--compassion for the one who offends, and who often does so without being fully aware of the magnitude of the hurt he has caused to both the one he has offended, but especially to himself. Compassion is an invitation, not only to be the "bigger person", but to realize that the one who has offended us, has in fact hurt himself more.

In one of his Dialogues, Plato puts these words in the mouth of Socrates who himself experienced injustice and betrayal by the very people and the city that he loved:
"My dear Callicles, to receive a box on the ears wrongfully is not the greatest of outrages, nor even to fall into the hands of a murderer or pickpocket…To do such an injustice to another is a far greater evil for the doer of the injustice than it is for the victim".

One who does us wrong is one who often fails to fully and totally comprehend not only the gravity of his wrongdoing, but also - and this is the real tragedy of the offense - that in hurting us, he has really first and foremost, hurt his very own self, his very being, and his very humanity which, like our own humanity, is duty-bound to treat all persons with equal dignity and respect.

When we harm another human being, we always do harm first to ourselves. This, the offender often fails to fully understand. Hence, the words of Jesus at the crucifixion: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do".

Forbearance asks of us - the pain the offense has caused us notwithstanding - that we regard the brother or sister who has offended us, still as a brother, still as a sister, still as a human person worthy of our respect.

It isn't always easy to be
the "bigger person", and our first impulse will usually be to strike back, especially when we're hurt, and especially when the cause of hurt is significant. And to feel this way is normal. But the fact remains that our call, our challenge, not only as followers of Christ - who accepted even Judas - but as men and women, human beings, is to always see in one another the image of the Creator himself.

Forbearance leads to patience. And patience is the school of forgiveness.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)