Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses. ~Alphonse Karr
We all know that person. That person that never has a smile or a kind word for anyone. The kind of person we try to avoid at all costs. That person that can turn a perfectly sunny day into mine that feels like it should have a hurricane warning attached to it. Hopefully…we are not that person.
I encountered such a person recently while serving as greeter at church one Sunday. Greeting consists of opening the door and welcoming those who are coming in. Most people, when asked, ‘how are you this morning’, respond with ‘I’m just fine thank you’ or ‘isn’t it a pretty day’. But this particular person had something on their mind, before my greeting ever left my lips. The agenda was already set… it was only waiting for an audience. And as I asked, ‘how are you this morning?’, I could see the cogs start turning and the words forming, before I finished my greeting. This person went on to tell me about something that it happened the prior evening, at an event that was a celebration. It wasn’t a big thing in the whole scope of the evening, something that lasted no longer than a moment or two, but it was enough to stick in this person’s craw, fester and was now being regurgitated for my benefit.
It was something that occurs during Mass. It is something that most of us are so used to, that we would miss it if it wasn’t there. But for this particular person, it must have been like nails on a chalkboard. When he aired his views, you could nearly see the venom drip from the words. I certainly couldn’t understand what about it upset him so much. In fact, in reply, I said that I enjoyed what it was very much.
Today is the second weekend of the month. Those of you who know Jim and me well, know that we are in Belleville Illinois this weekend. If you do not know, Jim is in the diaconate program through the Belleville diocese, and the second weekend of the month, from Friday evening to Sunday at noon, are set aside for the diaconate classes.
As a group, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as Divine Office or Breviary, for morning and evening prayers. Each month, a different candidate leads the group for the weekend. This morning, Tony, was leading prayer. The reading was from Philippians 2:14-15, In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation – among whom you shine like the stars in the sky.
After the reading, Tony reminded us that these words speak to us in our generation the same as when Paul wrote them to the people of Philippi. He reminded us not to walk around with our heads down, but to look up at the stars in the sky…to look up toward heaven…to look up toward him who leads us.
I have to admit, that after listening to this scripture, and Tony’s words, I was feeling pretty good about myself. The last few months have been rough, with my health issues and surgery, but I feel like overall I’ve handled myself pretty well. I try to stay positive and upbeat as much as possible and so I was pretty well patting myself on my back, thinking of this fellow parishioner and being glad that “I wasn’t acting like that fellow!”
I came back to the hotel room, that Jim and I are staying at, to rest up, and to blog. I was ready to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard, to jot down my notes of feeling superior in character to someone else. And so that is how I began. Of course, as I was writing down my thoughts and feelings, I began to feel extremely unsettled. I closed out of the program, deciding to take a break from it. As I did, I remembered that I had failed to read my daily reading from the Rule of Saint Benedict.
Today’s reading is on Humility…The eleventh degree of humility is that when a monk speaks, he do so gently and without laughter, humbly and seriously, in few and sensible words, and that he be not noisy in his speech. It is written, “A wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”
They say pride goes before the fall…well, while I’m down on my knees, I may as well continue. Where was my compassion? Where was my empathy? I was so quick to be sunny and upbeat that I failed to look beyond his words to see the hurt that lay beneath them. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand his position or agree with it. What was needed was not a retort… but a word of compassion.
I then turned to the first words of the Rule and reread them several times. They are as follows… Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
Tony’s words rang true. I did need to look up, but not from my lofty position…but from my knees.