By Melanie Rigney
I recently had dinner with a friend who hasn’t been to Mass in months, even though 15 parishes are within three miles of her home. Why? Because she and her pastor had a big, public disagreement about the way a social justice project should be executed. It’s a project near and dear to her heart, something she’s been doing professionally for close to twenty years.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:3, NAB)
For many of us, that second greatest commandment is even more difficult to obey than the first. God may confound us with illness, natural disasters, and the like, but I’ll wager that most of us have far more problems loving our neighbors as ourselves because, frankly, people often are not very neighborly. They don’t understand that our intentions are good or that our way is the right way. They don’t listen to us, they mock us, they disrespect us… or, perhaps most offensive of all, they ignore us.
I understand where my friend’s coming from. My day job is in marketing, and because everyone sees advertising and therefore thinks they’re experts, what I do doesn’t always get the same respect as the work of others in more technical professions. When it comes to parish life, it wasn’t that long ago that a priest told me it was all right to call it Donut Sunday rather than Doughnut Sunday “because it’s more informal.” It was difficult for me to hold my tongue and let it go, even knowing the term “Donut Sunday” was not going to endanger anyone’s life or salvation.
And that’s what it comes down to, right? Do we set up disharmony as some sort of idol? Do we nurture injuries, perceived or real, more than we nurture obedience and surrender to the Lord’s desires for us? It’s difficult to love God with our whole being if we’re at odds with His people. Meeting our neighbors’ disrespect with disrespect separates us from Him, even when the world says we’re justified in our indignation and negative emotions. Meeting our neighbors’ disrespect with love brings us closer to Him.
I shared with my friend what I use as a reflection or informal examen in such situations: Does what happened keep me from the Eucharist? Am I breaking the second commandment with the anger or resentment I feel about the other person, or the self-loathing, regret, arrogance, or self-righteousness I feel about my part in the situation? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, it’s something to bring to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. And, often, it means swallowing my pride and attempting to restart the conversation, this time with more listening on my part.
Will my friend reconcile the dispute with her pastor? Will she try another parish? I don’t know. I’m not sure she knows right now. I do know that my prayer is that she realizes that allowing the hurt to fest keeps her from the Eucharist. For without the Eucharist, we eventually starve to die.
Identify a grudge or hurt you are nursing. How can you open up that space in your soul to love instead?
About the Author:
Melanie Rigney prays daily for “those people” in her life, including herself. She is the author of a forthcoming book on Proverbs 31, tentatively titled Finding Your Woman of Women. She lives in Arlington, VA. Check her out at www.melanierigney.com.