Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Naming the nails"

I didn't have to write a continuation of the meditation today, the Friars of the Eastern Province provided a much better one!

The following article by Fr. Luke Buckles, O.P., appeared in the March 17th English edition of L'Osservatore Romano. It is reprinted below with permission.

Fr. Buckles is professor of spirituality at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (The Angelicum).

Naming the Nails: The Pain of Injustice and the Gift of Compassion

When I have suffered a serious injustice there are two possible extreme reactions neither of which are helpful, whether from the psychological or spiritual point of view. The first extreme reaction is to deny the suffering and the pain. This is neither wise nor sane nor holy. The fact is; I have experienced an injustice. There is no denying it, and by denying it, I am only temporarily delaying the onset of pain. Some of the ways of denying the pain consciously and unconsciously, are: to try to convince myself that "it really doesn't hurt that much" or "I really shouldn't think of myself, others have it much worse" or make excuses, "they really didn't know how bad this would make me feel." All of these different ways are similar in that they prevent me from entering into, experiencing the human reality of suffering and pain. This can lead to the conscious or unconscious suppression of my emotional life. It is possible to build a wall so deep and high and thick to isolate myself from experiences of pain and the accompanying painful emotions. My whole experience of life will eventually be deadened. This radical denial of pain and personal suffering will require the construction of a thick cocoon protecting me from all emotional pain and unfortunately blocking out the full enjoyment of pleasant emotions as well.

Another mistaken response to the pain of suffering some kind of injustice is in the other direction. In this response I choose to focus my life on the hurt and injustice that I have received so that it often becomes a defining moment of my life. Moreover, I continue to go over the event again and again in my own mind, I discover even more objective reasons to be outraged. But even if I do not discover new reasons I am filling my memory with painful thoughts and interpreting the present from this perspective as the on-going suffering victim. This can also lead to inappropriate patterns of action and thought be it conscious or unconscious. I am now defining myself as the victim. The first negative consequence is that this attitude hinders my capacity to be loving and generous because so much time must be given to being over cautious not to be hurt again. After all, I would think "I am suffering so much because of this past injustice that I cannot risk being hurt again." Another negative consequence is that I live from my sense of entitlement . Because of this wretched suffering I feel entitled to such and such, or I should not be asked to do anything extra because I am already so fragile and suffering so deeply. There can also be an unhealthy pride and separation from others. "No one has suffered so deeply as I" can before long to a conscious or unconscious thought that since no one has suffered as much as I, then no one can understand me" This attitude combined with a sense of entitlement can cause behavior which estranges a person more and more, hence the person becomes isolated and alone.

So there are two opposite and extreme reactions, neither of which is wise or helpful. But there is another way, a path beyond the opposites: it is the way of Christ crucified. In the Gospel of Luke we read the first words that Jesus spoke from the Cross, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." In this intolerable anguish of pain and dying an excruciating death, in response to this greatest injustice, Christ offers a word of forgiveness. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. We are called to imitate Him. By making an act of forgiveness we are avoiding the trap of denial. We recognize that an injustice has taken place. I would say the greater the injustice, the more necessary and intentional be the act of forgiveness. An act of forgiveness brings us out or prevents us from falling into the darkness and emotional stunting/death of denial of pain. On the other hand joining our act of forgiveness and suffering with the human experience of Christ we are saved from falling into the cycle of burning hatred remembering the injustice and the pain we have suffered to the exclusion of all other positive things in our life even on the most fundamental human level. Insofar as our predominant feeling is unresolved anger and hatred there is no room for any other "cooling" or tranquilizing emotions, rather their first appearance if noted at all is immediately burnt up by this unquenchable fire of self-pity, rage, and seeking of revenge.

This healing act of forgiveness is not possible without the saving grace of Christ. An act of forgiveness is immediately an act of compassion for ourselves. It prevents us from falling into the chasm of the darkness of stunted emotional death, or the raging fire of unresolved anger and hatred. An act of forgiveness acknowledges my perception of an injustice suffered, and at the same time saves me from falling into the unresolved pit of self-pity and seeking of revenge. To visualize this in the words of St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ" imagine the various hurts as the nails which keep you with Christ on the Cross. By "naming the nails" we acknowledge the real pain that we are suffering in a particular way which will change from day to day and in the years of our life. But, we are acknowledging this day, our being with Christ on the Cross. By the same token we are held with Christ and our suffering is given a meaning. We are not alone in our suffering Christ has joined our suffering with his. This prevents us from going to the other extreme of putting ourselves in the middle of the suffering and even defining ourselves by this suffering. These extremes are alike in one most serious and deleterious manner: both of them view injustice, suffering from my own self-centered perspective. There is no space for Christ. An act of forgiveness expresses our need of the grace of Christ, the need of our companionship, friendship with one who truly has experienced our injustice, and sufferings. Denial builds a wall against not only painful feelings and experiences, but ultimately all authentic human experience. The other extreme of continuous remembrance of the suffering and injustice also builds a wall, in this case, not a wall against painful feelings, but a wall of pain surrounding me which I cannot see over. Forgiveness simultaneously scatters the darkness of denial and prevents the igniting of fires of hatred. My act of forgiveness liberates me from the spiritual prison of seeking revenge.

An act of forgiveness includes naming this nail of injustice that I am suffering. This act is the first step to take when I perceive injustice. An act of forgiveness is not to say everything is fine. Just the opposite, an act of forgiveness proclaims that something has happened that is wrong, very wrong, unjust, very unjust and I am suffering, I am in pain. And an act of forgiveness brings in hope, the light of mercy and compassion to myself and those who have acted unjustly. I may be asked in charity to go to the person or group that has caused this injustice to myself or others and offer correction, even to the point of enduring further injustice, but before I go to these steps, I need to pray for the grace to forgive which heals my own wounds and resentment in order to have a peaceful pure heart to speak words of correction, with love and compassion.

This act of forgiveness becomes also an act of compassion for myself as well as all those who receive my forgiveness. Forgiveness brings new hope and new light into the darkness caused by either the denial of injustice suffered, or the downward spiral of resentment and seeking of revenge leading to more violence. By naming the nails, personal suffering is brought to the Cross. Contemplating Christ on the Cross leads to the discovery which St. Paul writes about, a joy in suffering, "It makes me happy to suffer for you...and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. Col 1:24 In the light of this faith and hope, meaning is given by Christ to one's personal suffering shared intimately between oneself and Christ. The injustice suffered with Christ is answered by an expression of compassionate love: an act of forgiveness. Forgiveness brings new life, the new light of the Crucified and Risen Christ. By naming the injustice we suffer, the nails, we are brought to the Cross and then we learn a mysterious truth which St. Catherine of Siena teaches that it was not the nails that held Christ to the Cross, but His love for us. The compassionate love of Christ was expressed in the first words he spoke from the Cross, words of forgiveness.

Fr. Luke Buckles, OP

Lent, 2010

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