Saturday, September 06, 2008

Friday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time
Calming the Anger Within

Readings: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Psalm 37:3-4, 5-6, 27-28, 39-40; Luke 5:33-39
Picture: CC EddieB55

I’m told that victims of abuse or trauma often bear scars that cut much deeper than the physical. It’s sort of like the dog that has often been beaten. Every time it sees someone with a stick in hand, it may react either by putting it’s tail between its legs and running away, or by baring its teeth and going on the attack. Never mind if the stick is actually only an umbrella, or a blind person’s cane. It’s always perceived as a threat. It always evokes a similar reaction each time. And things are not much different with humans too. A child that has often been beaten will instinctively wince and dodge when a hand is raised. Even if the intention is to stroke instead of slap, to hug instead of hit.

Although such reactions are understandable, they will often adversely affect one’s relationships. Consciously or not, one’s initial – and perhaps habitual – reaction to others will always be characterized by caution, since everyone is always perceived as a threat. Needless to say, misunderstandings are bound to occur. And piecemeal attempts at patching ruptured relationships will only go so far. What’s needed is a radical change in how one perceives reality as a whole – to realize that, as dangerous as this world is, not everyone is out to get us, not every would-be friend is a fiend in disguise; to learn to relax when appropriate, to let down one’s guard enough to allow healthy relationships to develop.

Perhaps something like is what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel. New wine must be poured into fresh wineskins… For some reason, whether or not it is through abuse or trauma, some people have a warped image of God. Jesus understands that his presence and action must be a scandal – a stumbling block – to those whose view of God is that of a judgmental police officer – ever ready to spot and to punish the slightest deviation from the norm. The disciples of John the Baptist fast often… but yours eat and drink… He knows that no piecemeal explanation of his actions will be sufficient to convince them. No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. What is needed is nothing less than a revolution in their perspective on God – that God is more like a loving Father than a finger-pointing judge. And this is a revolution that, through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus aims to bring about. Rather than merely patching tears and refilling tired wineskins, Jesus offers them, and us, a whole new garment and fresh skins overflowing with the Spirit.

For, as Paul tells the Corinthians in the first reading, this God of ours is the only One capable of judging rightly. It is only God who can truly search the obscure depths of the human heart. It is only God who can uncover the good that often seems so well hidden, even to ourselves. And isn’t it such a consolation that, no matter what others or we ourselves might think, when God does this, when God does finally manifest the motives of our hearts… everyone will receive praise?

But first we must be willing to allow our perceptions to change. We need to allow God to calm our fearful and all too judgmental hearts. On an ongoing basis, we need to experience the height and depth of God’s love, in the person of the crucified and risen Christ, as he comes to meet us in each passing moment of every passing day.

How might the Lord be offering us new cloaks and new wineskins today?


  1. Conditioning as a given in life defnines the way we view reality. Nurture in the right circumstance act as a wondrous teacher but in less desirable environment a destructive force when shaping a character.
    My journey has been one of trying to understand some of these events, recognizing them for what they are, that govern our behavior. Unloading unwanted baggage and letting go of sacred cows require my constant awareness in my daily practices.
    It is no longer who is right and who is wrong but rather how I evolve in a balanced relationship with self and with others.
    Mindful that God is ever present and all things will past, life is a wondrous experience of knowing that the Spirit is in me and in others as well. Now I must entry the narrow gate .....

  2. Fr Chris, I have mixed feelings and thoughts upon reading what you have written here.

    At first, there's a mix of relief and horror. Relief that now I can blame my deep-seated anger, occasional lashing out at others, etc. on some trauma that happened long ago. Horror that it seems like something that's beyond my control. I spent some time wondering whether I perceive everyone I meet as a threat, etc. I think not. Yes, there's a certain guardedness (which I used to think of as shyness). But my closest friend has once described me as being gullible or too trusting of others. I also searched for some information on the effects of abuse. Thank God perhaps that my past trauma wasn't that great and I exhibit only a few of the listed behavioral symptoms. I truly wonder about that radical change. If only life is that easy: that a desire for change is at once followed by that desired change!

    Next, the way you link the line "everyone will receive praise" from Corinthians to the Gospel passage struck me as probably one of the kindest ways of looking at the Pharisees who kept finding fault with Jesus (the sinless one!) and his disciples. That perhaps they once suffered some trauma or abuse. That perhaps they have good intentions basically, they merely perceive reality wrong or had chosen the wrong methods.

    "Everyone will receive praise"! This has set me thinking about someone whom I've gotten very upset with recently for not keeping her promises. Should I give her the benefit of doubt that she had good intentions too? What about others? I wonder about the recent violence in Orissa: Would God praise the men who gang-raped the poor nun? Would God praise Hitler or Osama? The truth is often complex, isn't it? Perhaps in His mercy, love and omniscience, He would always be able to find something worthy of praise in everyone. But God is also just, isn't He? In the same Corinthians passage, St Paul also wrote, "I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted..."

  3. My mother was a strict disciplinarian. Everytime I got home from school with less than admirable grades, I'd squirm about when or how to ask her for her signature on my report card. You are right: dad pretty much delegated this task to her. You see, mother had only one way to discipline - the cane. Gulp

    As a result of this upbringing, sub-consciously I became afraid of authority. I didn't realise this until much later in life, and though I have shaken this off by-and-large, I figuratively cower when someone in authority screams.

    Yes, what we say and what we do leave an indelible mark on young persons. That is why as a teacher now, I'm very careful about how I relate to my charges.

    For all the dysfunctional relationships in our lives (whether wrought by ourselves or others), we beg the Lord's forgiveness.

  4. A friend of mine developed a stutter at age 16 after her father vented his frustration (at work or elsewhere) on her, repeatedly calling her "a frog in the well". Her stutter was cured only seven years later at a charismatic prayer session.

    I developed a hatred for my father at age 7 (or thereabouts) after my mother repeatedly told us (her children) of my father's sins: gambling, prostitutes, not taking care of the family, etc. His frequent absence and quarrels with my mother further intensified this hatred. I think as a result, I grew up, defiant of and conflicting with many people in authority, especially those to whom I'm supposed to report at work.

    What we say and do out of frustration can indeed leave indelible marks on the young.

    For all the dysfunctional relationships in our lives (whether wrought by ourselves or others), we beg the Lord's forgiveness.

  5. H Hendrix in "Giving the Love That Heals" shares that when a grown-up who has been hurt in his/her earlier years is able to GIVE love to another (child/pet/person), the giving heals the hurt child and painful memories in amazing ways.
    Should we be surprised? St John reminds us that"No one has ever seen God, but if we love (one) another, God lives in us....."
    This is the love that heals traumatic memories and helps one to forgive the aggressor. This is the love that not only calms the fearful, hurt and angry heart but further transforms it to greater creative possibilities, not by brutal analysis and exposure of painful memories in harsh daylight but by compassionate holding of the hidden and protected hurt in God's presence.
    It is in risking to love another with the meagre resources we have that God comes to dwell more fully in the receptive space between persons and works His miracle of healing.
    May God continue to bless the broken roads of our lives and create something unimaginably good when we trust him to walk with us through the hurt, pain and anger..

  6. I'm not sure what exactly Hendrix has written. But I'm quite puzzled by this claim that "when a grown-up who has been hurt in his/her earlier years is able to GIVE love to another (child/pet/person), the giving heals the hurt child and painful memories in amazing ways."

    If this claim is true, does this suggest that those who are still not yet healed in amazing ways has not yet given love to another (child/pet/person)? What an indictment on those who are still reeling from past hurts!

    On the other hand, I do think that the buck has to stop somewhere. The parents/adults who hurt the children were probably also abused at some point in their lives. At some point, we do need to stop blaming and start taking responsibilities for ourselves, turn to God for His graces and start on the road to wholeness. This can only happen in His time.

  7. Two questions:

    1. I find it hard to believe that those who have been hurt deeply (and not healed yet) have NEVER given love to another (child/pet/person)... NOT even one child/pet/person?

    2. Could we reasonably expect the wounded to GIVE love first? Wouldn't we need GIVE them love first and help them at least experience the love of God? ("We love, because He first loved us." - 1 John 4:19)

  8. Fr Chris, this is turning out to be a wonderful forum on a very important area of life. This is my 2-cents worth.
    Often, one who has been hurt deeply CAN still give love. Ask many parents holding their newborn is not just about the STORE of love we have in supply (usually running out fast with the next relationship conflict or challenge) but WHO IS LOVE for us when we open ourselves to a genuine human relationship where God is the 3rd party in the love triangle. It's a 24/7 exchange all seasons.....
    As children, we had little choice in standing up against parental lack of love or abuse of authority. As grown ups trying to love differently, we are often handicapped by the hurtful memories of childhood and find to our horror that we can behave like the aggressive grown up we vowed not to be like and pass the "sins of the father" to the next generation!
    How can we escape such an awful predicament and break the cycle of hurt?
    I believe that it is only in fully receiving God our Father as the TRUE PARENT of all failed fathers and mothers (including ourselves) that we can then radiate His goodness not only to our younger charges but also to the parent(s) who failed us.
    When our parents become old and frail, they in reality become the "children" needing our provision and protection. Will we find in our hearts the compassion to love them or feel justified to keep a safe and hard distance from the "one who wronged me"?
    We all know the answer but fight hard not to face the "F" word. It is ultimately forgiveness that breaks the cycle of hate and hardness (yes, we all have hate for the ones who wronged us) and forgiveness is the hardest thing to do.
    When struggling to live our faith authentically and finding ourselves suspended on the cross between the heavenly promise of freedom from unforgiveness and the grave of earthly resentment, can we join Jesus in saying what one Christian writer deems the most powerful prayer in the world in Luke 23:34??
    WE CAN'T. Not unless God works a miracle of love in us, and that may be a lifetime work ahead beginning with the DESIRE today.

    Blessings to all who have not given up the struggle...


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