Monday, April 4, 2011

Turning the Other Cheek or Aiding and Abetting Sin?

My mother, God bless her, has become so accustomed to the behavior of a particular family member that she is now oblivious to it.  She looks forward to our Sunday get-togethers with  family and she cooks until the cows come home.  Yesterday she wanted to make a special dinner for her youngest grandchild, and when we arrived her table was decorated with a beautiful vase of pink carnations and baby's breath.  Rebecca was thrilled, especially when she saw the cake her grandmother baked for her, a chocolate confection covered in a cream-cheese icing.  Mom tried to replicate the cake that Rebecca had asked for every year until the bakery that made it suddenly closed.

Also "decorating" the table was a sibling who barely acknowledged our presence when we arrived.  As she usually is when she comes to dinner at Mom's, she remained glued to her cell phone.  I have no idea if she was on Facebook or some other website, but she would occasionally squeal about some news she just read and then go back to exercising her thumbs.  When the meal was served and we paused to say grace, she did not look up from her phone.  I noticed she did not even bother making the sign of the cross.  Her only words to me during the entire meal were words of admonition when I raised my voice so my father could hear what I was saying as well as a few insulting remarks about my parenting skills.  Apparently, the sight of me and the sound of my voice were more than she could bear yesterday, for reasons known only to her, and I couldn't wait to be out of her presence.  I helped my mother clear the table and then I sat inside, stewing, until it was time for dessert.  God forgive me for saying this, but I felt like I was sitting across from a demon who was trying to scratch his way into my soul.

It always seems to happen that after a very holy and solemn event, in this case the opening of Forty Hours after the TLM yesterday, I'm blindsided by someone intent on disrupting my inner peace.  More often than not, it's my sister.  I thought of the Lord's words, that we should not offer Him a gift if we have a dispute with our brother or sister but rather wait until we have made amends and then offer the gift.  It also got me to wondering this:  When does turning the other cheek cease to be an admirable thing and become enabling of bad behavior?

In the old days, I would take so much of my sister's jabs and then let her have it.  I've even reverted to the old behavior on occasion when sorely provoked, which is just what she wants.  That gives her the opportunity to remind me of how "Christian" my behavior is.  I have thought of avoiding these dinners so long as she insists on joining us, but I would be punishing my parents, so I continue to be subjected to this.  It is so difficult to pray for a person like this, even though we are related by flesh and blood.  Afterward, it's even harder to let go of what happened.  I figure that when I no longer feel any insult or injury by her behavior, I will have gotten over myself.  As you know, this is my prayer for myself for Lent - Lord, please help me get over myself.

I'm always saddened to hear of relatives who do not speak to each other, especially siblings.  I do not condone this behavior but I have to say that after yesterday, I understand the temptation to go this route.  I won't, but it takes all I have to continue to pray for her conversion.  On the other hand, when my husband and I were talking about her blatant disgust with me, it occurred  to me that I have what Mary Gordon might refer to as "an unfair advantage".  Many is the time I wish there was a way of allowing my sister to see for herself how objectionable her behavior is.  Sometimes, as angry as she makes me, it is nothing compared to my sadness that she can be so pathetic in her dislike of me.  I get no pleasure in the stark reality that she is not on a path to Heaven right now, not because of her treatment of me but because of her complete disregard for her faith.

In my post about overcoming our blindness to sin, Maria asked me about praying for people who insist on remaining in darkness.  That is most important thing I can do, and yet it is so hard.  There may not be anything harder than to pray for a person who loathes you and insists on ridiculing you.  I lack the strength to do this on my own, so I have to ask God to lend me some of His.

What good is it if I light my own path and leave those behind me in darkness?

Kneeling before the Monstrance this evening before the service began, I realized that no matter how much progress I think I have made, it takes an unpleasant event like yesterday to help me see how very far I have to go yet.  God's way perhaps of cutting me down to size?

Perhaps  you have had a similar experience with someone in your family or circle of friends and you have some counsel you can offer.  I think I should definitely seek some spiritual direction from a priest about this as well.

Thanks and God Bless you.


  1. No, I don't really have this particular problem but that's where your friends can help carry the load. I'll keep your sister in my prayers. If she is truly on the wrong path hopefully it will help. Have you ever done a family tree healing mass? It provides graces for those both living and dead, less time in purgatory, and can change the path of the living by fixing the past.

  2. I can only meet certain family members
    in prayer. Considering how they abused
    me I am justified, even though I cannot
    fully obey the 4th commandment.

    Shared genetics does not make friend-
    ship automatic as you know.

    Thank God for the Rosary, as it has
    helped me to offer resentments up to
    the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

    She is a tough lady and can take all
    that we dish out. I think that is the
    hidden facet of the Virgin Mary, that
    she is not some dainty maiden, but a
    strong woman who knows our hearts well
    and can handle our nasty bits.



  3. God give you strength Joyce. And may He guide your sister to a better approach to life.

  4. I have twin daughters who sound very much like you and your sister. It is so painful for me to watch them, because I love both of them.

  5. PART 1

    The Cross

    The cross, we said, is in one sense already a sacrifice and every sacrifice includes the cross. But properly speaking the cross is something different. When God's love sends us the cross He enters our lives, as it were, unbidden. He does something to us-what a blessed preposition-He does something to us that we do not naturally like. He causes us some pain and as you know pain is anything we do not like. The most philosophical definition of pain is: what the human will does not like. And then God watches how we accept the suffering that this brings. The pain may be physical, like some infirmity or ravaging disease: it may be social, like the estrangement from someone we really love; it may be emotional, like an unjust accusation never rectified or undeserved criticism for something someone else had done; it may he psychological pain, like dryness of spirit, confusion of mind or a despondency that we seem unable to shake off; it may be spiritual pain, like darkness in prayer or a siege of scrupulosity or loss of that clarity of faith that we used to have. No matter. God who is master of His gifts has the right to take them away. He can take away the precious things; He can also impose the painful things. And let's never, unlike Job, fail to bless the same God.

    John Hardon SJ

  6. PART II

    Some implications:

    As we look over what we have said about sacrifice and the cross we may be frightened, and little wonder! None of us naturally likes to surrender what we like: it's almost too obvious for words. And none of us is naturally drawn to pain. But just here is the difference between nature and grace. What nature fears grace can actually learn to desire; and what nature runs away from, grace-would you believe it-can make us seek. This is where we need the wisdom of the saints.

    St. Ignatius did not write much on the spiritual life. His vocabulary was very limited but what he said is worth quoting. I quote from my father in God: "If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of the great holiness to which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of divine love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the cross which the infinite charity of the Savior uses to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ, that is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ. Suffering endured for the love of Jesus Christ should be reckoned among God's greatest benefits."

    John Hardon SJ


    The trouble with quotations like this from the mystics is that we are liable to think they were unlike ourselves. Not so. They shrank from sacrifice and the cross as much as we do. But here precisely is the secret of sanctity. It is possible, through divine grace, for the love of God to reach a degree in our hearts where we experience joy in suffering. Honest, really and it is a taste of this joy which the Savior promised to all who sincerely strive to become like Him by embracing what He embraced-the cross-He, out of love for His Father; we, out of love for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The cost of loving God is high but God comes through. He rewards the price we pay with an experience of His presence, a sense of His intimacy, and a joy, that the saints tell us, is so sweet they would not exchange their sufferings for all the pleasures in the world. Let's ask our Savior to not just listen or hear what those who have learned to love God tell us but to teach us from experience that this great wisdom is true.

  8. Dear Joyce:

    All three parts are taken from a talk Fr. Hardon gave called: The Cost of Loving God.

    I come from a large famiy. Three brothers, one sister. I have not been invited to their homes in thirty years. I have a story that I sometimes wish to tell but have refrained from doing so--it scares people. lol. Terry at Abbey Roads, in writing about Haiti after the earthquake, wrote a prayer. I have always remembered part of the prayer: "Everyhere we meet the Cross". Isn't it true? No surprise we meet it in our family. In fact, I never thought about this till now--thank you God--I think He intended for us to find it there.In a strange way when I stopped seeking a remedy for the pain and entered into it, that was when I found Him. All love is sacrificial love. How could it be otherwise? The pain does not go away. I think often, lately, after having lost yet another job, that perhaps this pain is the gift that somehow gets me to Heaven. Believe me, I know this family pain. I cry sometimes and ask Our Lady, who knew such suffering, to helo me. He love us, Joyce. He has His reasons...

    One last thing from Hardon SJ:

    "Between these two, surrender and suffering, or as I prefer, sacrifice and the cross, lies the whole price range of divine love. Go where you will, seek where you will, consult whom you will. Pray, read, speculate and meditate as much as you will, you will always come back to this fact of the spiritual life and there are no exceptions. The love of God is paid for as Christ paid for the love of His Father with the hard currency of willing sacrifice and the holy cross.

    When I was younger, and I thought, smarter, I didn't talk quite this way. But experience is a good, though costly, teacher".

  9. Joyce, I think you wrote this for me. : ) Just yesterday after a prayerful and beautiful time at the monastery, I had dinner with some out of town visiting relatives when one pulled a dagger out of no where and aimed it at some very old wounds of mine. It seemed calculated and everyone looked at him like "are you crazy?" I thought the same thing about a demon across the table. He loves to push buttons that might cause me to respond so as to destroy my Christian witness. Not sure what the Lord is showing me yet, but I'm glad I didn't stay off the computer or I have missed your post. I didn't get upset and let him have it like in the old says, but I know there's something else I'm supposed to learn...and I'm sure it's a heart thing.
    I'll be praying for you, your sister and your mother.

  10. "As you know, this is my prayer for myself for Lent - Lord, please help me get over myself'"
    I had to lol, but also acknowledge what a good prayer this is for any of us! I have to wonder if God is using the situation with your sister to answer! Kind of like praying for patience, a dangerous thing to do! :)
    On a human level, I sympathize. Growing up, I had a turbulent immediate family life, but this was fueled by alcoholism. Does your sister have problems like that? Do you know where her hostility comes from?
    Also, speaking as a mom, I know how difficult it is to come down on the behavior of the kid that is acting badly, and here is the crucial part--if we know it is because they themselves are hurting or otherwise impaired and it coming through in their behavior. I have no idea about your sister. My own experiences are with various forms of emotional and even mental illness.
    All that being said, I so dislike family conflict that I get stomach upsets and headaches from it. I am very sorry you are going through it!
    I think we kind of have to pray, but I also think it is fully okay to talk to God about your honest feelings on the matter. I often find that "venting" with Jesus bring some clarification in my thinking. There are certain people with whom I actually do keep contact to a bare minimum, my ex husband being one. I do pray for him, but as far as I know, he is still in major denial about the havoc he wrought in the lives of his children, or that his actions were abusive. He still tries to manipulate me at times.
    Without knowing too much, I will give you my take-- I think that if your sister saw that she ceased to have a negative effect on you, this would remove whatever power she has over you. If you were able to stay at peace in her presence or offer a kind or even neutral comment from time to time-this may surprise her and get her to considering what power the God you know has. I guess detachment is the idea I am thinking of. If she were not the sister that had wounded you over the years, you may be able to see past the obnoxious behavior to the core, and have pity.
    I am not saying this because I do it well. I have my own inner struggles with certain people. But I keep at it. My goal in these areas is that the person I have the struggle with would not know I am having it. I think Francis De Sales said something about it--somewhere! lol Father Check and I used to talk about this--sigh, my memory fails--again.
    Joyce--sorry I am not too much help. I will pray.

  11. Thank you all for the beautiful and heartfelt comments. I have to admit I thought I should take this post down, but then I decided otherwise, and I'm glad I did. Kathy, I had not heard of that kind of Mass, thank you for the suggestion. Pete, thank you for sharing. I love your thoughts about the Blessed Mother. Maria, thank you taking the time to post that Fr. Hardon sermon. I hadn't seen it before, but I know he is exactly right.I'm also sorry to hear about your siblings. Caroline, I feel better knowing I'm not the only one who encounters this agitation, if you will. Manny, thank you for the prayers. MC, I remember when you wrote about your daughters' birthdays and to be honest, it reminded me a bit of my sister and me. Thank you. Kelly, I think you made some very poignant observations. Without going into too much detail, my sister is a narcissist who craves an unnatural amount of attention. Some of the things she has done to me throughout our lives I can laugh at now, but I wanted to throttle her when they happened. I must admit there are times when I am encouraged and inspired by St. Therese and think to myself "Now, what would be her reaction if I walked in made a raving fuss over her?" Perhaps I should try it and see what happens, rather than recoil.


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