Feeling free & happy comes after honesty with ourselves, so we can be honest with our neighbour – in a nice way!
There are many challenges in our readings today. Not all of them can be answered or explained in a short homily. Sometimes, like listening to mum and dad, we just have to accept and do it: albeit with resentment and frustration!!! I’m sure we can all remember days like that; and, hopefully, becoming older and wiser, we see that they were right: annoying as that is! ha, ha.
From the readings this week, I thought the best instruction to focus on is: “You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence.” I hope it will help our families and communities to grow stronger, and for ourselves to find a greater peace in our lives.
Too many families are breaking apart, and our children are being abused in various ways: because the protective environment of mum, dad and the children no longer exists.
During 13 years in Kenya, I’ve observed that people are reluctant to speak truthfully to others in their own communities or families: especially in group sharing times. We are, usually, either silent, or we speak in roundabout ways that do not address the issues: so, the tension and unhappiness continues in our relationships; and our pain continues to hurt others through gossip and our actions at home, at work or down the street.
However, telling our neighbour openly, is the only way to be really free: it’s the best way to stop gossiping, which can destroy a community, a family or a friendship.
But how? I suggest, first of all, that we prepare ourselves psychologically. And that means being honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, that can be really difficult. It’s much easier to imagine that our neighbour is the problem, rather than myself! In psychology, we call this projecting: it’s much easier to see negative things in our neighbour than in myself.
“According to Karen Koenig (MEd. LCSW) projection refers to unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else. A common example is a cheating spouse who suspects their partner is being unfaithful. Instead of acknowledging their own infidelity, they transfer, or project, this behaviour onto their partner.” https://www.healthline.com/health/projection-psychology#defense-mechanism
It also happens in Religious Communities where we absolve our own lack of fidelity to community life/ programme by blaming it on the lack of fidelity by other members!
There is another invitation of God, today, that will help us fulfil the instruction to be open to our neighbour. 1st Reading: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In other words, from the Gospel: “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Fr Richard Rohr OFM, recalls how an American Indian Elder taught him the meaning of the words of Jesus: it’s not about never making mistakes yourself, but being able to accept (and still love), the imperfect people around us.
Learning to accept others begins by being honest about our own imperfections, weaknesses and addictions. As mentioned above it requires some work, perhaps with a trusted other.
The second step might be: honest sharing of our struggles with others, especially our family members: eg. ‘I’m sorry I got angry with you today, I was stressed up by my work.’
The third step might be: regularly giving words of appreciation, praise and encouragement to those around us: celebrating the strengths and goodness in those around us, builds a relationship of trust: which leads to happiness and transformation.
Regular words of appreciation, etc. are some of the experiences of love that people need in order to change for the better: the love helps them trust that they will not be rejected.
Acceptance of those around us is not some punishment or ongoing torture, but a dynamic relationship where God asks us to be transformers, like Mary our mother, who was able to take in the negativity and fear around her, and continue giving out love.
I still recall a courageous mother whose daughter was taking drugs and started stealing from the family. The first two times the mother accepted the apology of the daughter and her promise to stop. But she continued – the power of addiction – and the mother called the Police. As the daughter was being taken away, she screamed: “I hate you, I’ll never talk to you again!” It was very painful for the mother. After her prison sentence, the daughter knocked on the front door and apologised, saying: “thank you for loving me enough to bear me hating you.”
True love will always involve a bit of crucifixion before the transforming Resurrection.
If we want lasting peace and happiness, we must learn to:
- Speak humbly about our own weaknesses;
- Speak well to our neighbour for what is done well; and
- Speak the truth in love.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI