This post began with a friend of mine who has recently cut ties with somebody who has caused her pain for her entire life. Her “VERY Christian mother” has called her “cold-hearted” and “evil” for this. She also revealed that her mother continuously helps people who have repeatedly hurt their family, knowing that this will be the result. She is “absolutely miserable” doing these things. However, her mother justifies all this by saying that doing these things and maintaining these relationships is the “Christian thing to do”.
Jesus teaches us in the Gospels that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He also teaches us that we should forgive an offense “not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). I’ll admit that this is a dilemma that I have struggled with. My first reaction to injustice, whether I have personally experienced it or a friend of family member has, is anger. We should perform works of charity and forgive those who hurt us, but the question here is when does the “Christian thing” turn into being a pushover?
“You are the light of the world…”
In Matthew’s Gospel, we are taught thusly…
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Some people are more resilient and patient than others. What is one to do when they have reached that limit? What is one to do when their trust in others becomes damaged? What happens when one’s ability to choose to be loving and just, to shine before others is diminished? Proverbs 4:23 states “…above all others, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”.
What about if you are in a position of authority, such as that of a parent, who, according to the Rite of Baptism, is to be the first and best teacher of the faith? As Christians, we know that there is suffering in the world, that it will happen to us, and that we should unite our sufferings with Christ and offer them up. It’s one thing to personally suffer an offense, but what about when that offense will harm your family as well as you? What if you know that your allowing this offense would hurt your family? What if this supposedly Christian act turns your family member against the Church because this is what being a Christian ultimately translates to them?
“…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
It is possible to still do the Christian thing for someone even if you have ended your aid to or your relationship with them. We should not slander them, neither should we seek, start, or spread gossip about them. If people know about the rocky relationship and press for details, we should simply state the facts. We should not wish them ill or hope that our absence will diminish them in any way. We should hope that our absence will eventually cause them to realize their offense, sincerely beg our forgiveness, seek reconciliation, and make the necessary change. Above all though, we should pray for them and for their conversion.
As such, before ending the aid or the relationship, you should confront the offender. The Fourth and Fifth Spiritual Works of Mercy compel us “to bear wrongs patiently” and “forgive offenses willingly”, but the First is “to instruct the ignorant”, whether in either word or deed. Luke 17:3 states “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him”. Matthew 18:15 states “’If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.’”
So, what would Jesus do anyhow?
Being a Christian does not automatically mean “always be nice” or “sit down and take it”. A prime example of this was Pope John Paul II’s dealings with the oppressive Communist regime in Poland and his endorsement of the Solidarity movement, which was ultimately sparked by his 1979 papal visit to his beloved homeland. Another example was several years later, when he publicly scolded Father Ernesto Cardenal for his involvement with the leftist Nicaraguan Sandinista regime.
We are to be as Christ to all. Yes, this does mean demonstrating the mercy and love of Christ and performing works of charity in His Name. Yes, it does mean that we should offer forgiveness to those who genuinely seek it; “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. However, doing the “Christian thing” does not, by any means, mean permitting sin or injustice. Sometimes, Christian charity requires us to get in someone’s way, to say “no”, and maybe even to be harsh and to chastise them. The key though, is that it is done out of charity and not anger, though anger may play a role.
Side note: If Christians were automatically supposed to be nice to everyone all the time regardless of the circumstances, their faith would certainly prohibit them from serving in the military or in law enforcement, as such vocations sometimes require personnel to be physically aggressive and verbally blunt (not necessarily profane).
I’ll end with this humorous note, courtesy of Catholic Memes…
Thumbnail image: Giotto di Bondone, “Casting out the money changers”, 14th Century