Every so often something you’ve heard a hundred times strikes you as never before. This happened to me last Sunday during a homily. The priest was naming the works of mercy. When, in listing the spiritual works, he said, “Bear wrongs patiently,” I took notice. “That’s an odd work of mercy,” I thought. On reflecting more, I realized that it was a way of being merciful. When someone hurts our feelings or acts unjustly to us, our first impulse is self-defense. We want to retaliate. It’s the old eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality. If we are not just Christian in name only, however, we respond with mercy for the person who out out hatred, jealousy or sheer stupidity has inflicted pain on us.
This is the way of Jesus, who preached, “When someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other.” He gave us an example by enduring his torture and execution silently when he could have blasted the perpetrators off the face of the earth. The saints are also models in bearing wrongs, sometimes to an extreme degree. One that stands out is St. Joseph of Calasanz, the founder of the Piarists. Wealthy people protested his free schools. Then members of his own community campaigned against him. After complaints reached the pope, Joseph was arrested at the age of 86 and tried before the Holy Office. His work and his community were stopped, but St. Joseph never stopped protecting and defending his persecutors. His order was restored twenty years after his death. More recently we have the example of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who patiently suffered being falsely accused of sexual abuse and forgave his accuser. Another example is St. Julie Billiart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, put up with untold harassment and persecution by clergy. This did not keep her from forging ahead and doing what God had called her to do.
Today Father Tom asked, “What if the man who was bothered by the guy texting during a movie had turned the other cheek instead of shooting him? What if the man offended by loud music coming from the teenagers’ car had turned the other cheek instead of killing a youth?” What if the driver cut off by another car had turned the other cheek instead of shooting a father in front of his children? The list could go on.
Bearing wrongs patiently is also a way of being merciful to ourselves: It frees us from becoming vengeful monsters.
Can you think of another outstanding model of bearing wrongs patiently?