Millstones and Innocents

Saint Agnes of Rome

Agnes, Martyr of Rome, 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.”  What were you doing when you were 12 years old?  I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were.  I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band.  I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission.  My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304.  This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith.

Known as one of the most heinous periods of Christian persecution and lasting for 10 years, this attempted purge of all Christians out of the life of Rome affected our little Agnes.  She was caught up in this tumultuous time.  She was imprisoned for her faith and tortured as she would not renounce her faith and turn to Rome’s pagan pantheon of gods.  Ultimately, our Agnes was killed for her faith to Christ:  some say she was burned alive and some say she was beheaded.  In the end, she chose her faith and peace in Christ despite all worldly pain and suffering it caused.  Our little Agnes was only 12.

I am struck by this child in that here I stand, caught up in my own stresses and worries and frustrations.  I am easily irritated by those situations I cannot control.  I am easily disheartened when events do not turn out as I anticipated, when people do not behave how I expected, and I am disappointed.  I then think to my life as a 12 year old and how different I was compared to Agnes!

Jesus said in our gospel that each of us should be humble like the children who were surrounding Him.  He said that we should welcome the children into our house and into our hearts.  We should welcome those innocent people who desire to be like Him, who love Him with their hearts and their smiles and their lives.  Jesus went on to warn us that if anyone acts as a stumbling block to those little innocents that we should have a stone tethered to our necks and tossed into the sea and drowned.  That is a gruesome image coming from our peaceful Christ.  But I believe those are powerful words striking to the core of how we should respond as believers in Him to those who are seeking salvation.

Those innocents could come in the form of children, much like those children who are in St. Luke’s right now.  They run and play and cry and whine.  But they are Christ’s, and I have been reminded of that fact each time I am with them and teach them.  And yet, those innocents could also be those guests and visitors who are seeking and searching for something they cannot yet name.  We must also be to them as Christ commands us to be, loving and accepting and welcoming them into our home, the church, as He welcomes us into His Kingdom.

I pray that I never forget the life of little Agnes, caught in a brutal and troubled world when she was but a child.  I pray that when I am overwhelmed by my life, that I remember hers and thank her for her sacrifice.  And, finally, I pray that I am humble as Christ has taught me and welcome all innocents into His house and allow His grace and peace to shine through me to them.

“And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”

Pain

My Systematic Theology class had an online discussion thread going last week regarding the reading for Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology.  The thread began with a question of natural catastrophes on the planet and where God is (if anywhere) in that event.  McGrath speaks of “influence and persuasion” regarding God’s nudging man to righteousness.  Numerous examples were posited in the thread:  Moses, Noah, Lot, Job, etc.  We also discussed “natural evil” and what that term means:  can a volcano BE “evil”?   Evil implies a motive to perform an action contrary to good.  But the aftermath of a tsunami or Hurricane Katrina or massive tornadoes certainly aren’t a good thing, right?

On the heels of that discussion for my class, I came across this post from “Christianity Today”.  The article discusses the concept of pain and a theory of why God allows it to happen.  Of course C.S. Lewis discussed pain and its purpose in his The Problem of Pain.  In that work, Lewis writes, “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do what he wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either the goodness, or power, or both.”  As shocking as this brief passage is if we take it at face value, Lewis continues in support of God’s plan, that He isn’t a masochistic puppet master.

I find the article comforting and encouraging.  I also, selfishly, appreciate the author’s view of pain when I reflect on my classwork because I find I’m not so far from the mark.  It’s a good gauge to reinforce that I’m on the right track.

That’s a “Win!” in my book!!

(title comes from Job 42:17)

Is it really so difficult?

I am sorry“I know I got really, really angry.  And I kinda feel bad about that.  But they really, really pissed me off!  And I was justified to get angry — I really was justified!  *hands on hips for emphasis*  I don’t think I should have to apologize.  Well, I’ll just get them a small gift instead.  I don’t feel like saying ‘I’m sorry’ so I’ll buy them some little trinket instead.  There!  I won’t have to say the words but the gift will speak for me.”

I call HORSEHOCKEY on that one!

It takes a great deal of humility to face someone that you’ve hurt.  Or disrespected.  Or maligned.  Or gossiped about.  It takes thinking of  yourself as someone who has done wrong.  *YES! You do make mistakes!*

You! Are! Not! Perfect!

And even if you feel justified in your wrath, you can still err.

So get off your high horse, realize you’re a stupid git and you could be (and probably are) wrong in your reactions, go find that person, and apologize for your response!  To their face!

And don’t explain it away.  Own it!  Don’t rationalize your apology.  Don’t be passive aggressive.  Don’t accept half blame while transferring the other half to the other person.

Otherwise, your apology is worthless.  A waste of air.  A waste of time.  Because your ego is getting in the way!

“I was wrong, and I am truly sorry.  Will you forgive me?”

The Bulkhead Did It!

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I’m in the airport looking forward to my return flight home to Montana.  I’ve got all my security items with me:  cell phone, books, planner, laptop, lip balm, cinnamon gum, small Americano.  I have had a wonderful Thanksgiving visit at my parents’ with Dad’s family visiting.  Too much food.  Lots of peace and quiet.  A smidge of shopping.  Excellent trip.  Dad’s OCD about time has gotten me to the airport exactly 2 hours before my flight.  I have a chance to sip my coffee and read my book while I wait at the gate for the first leg of my trip.  Ahhh, all is bliss….

Fast forward a bit…  I am luckily on row 4 of the plane but an aisle seat.  I’m the last group to board, and the plane is full.  However, I pause before getting settled in as my seat mate is not on board yet.  She arrives and says she needs to go to the restroom before she sits down.  (Really??  Didn’t she just come from the waiting area where restrooms were abundant?!)  So she reaches across my face and tosses her bag and coat in the seat and just stands next to me.  (I guess she’s waiting for permission or something.)

When she arrives from the restroom, I stand up to let her in and hit my head on the bulkhead. (Dangit!)  Then she says she’s not ready to get in yet.  (What?!)  I sit back down.  (What is she DOING?!)  Finally, she wants to sit down.  She apologizes for having me wait.  I stand.  Hit my head again.  (I should’ve known that bulkhead was so low.  Dangit!)  She gets in jabbing me in my side while she gets settled and buckles her seatbelt.  She apologizes again.  I get settled now, pull out my laptop, plug in my David Gray, and try to regain the bliss I was basking in earlier.

(Ugh!)  Because her entire arm is smothering the arm rest, I cannot type properly.  Now she wants to get up (again!) and use the restroom.  (You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!)  I stand…yes, hitting my head again!  (This person is completely pissing me off!)  I sit back down and wait for an eternity.  It’s no use getting settled because as sure as I do she’ll be back.  Finally, she comes back.  I stand sans hitting my head this time.  I’ve put away my laptop as that is a fruitless pursuit.  I’m armed with my book and my David Gray again.  As she steps in front of me to get in, she apologizes again.  I stand in the aisle to allow her to get settled (See how generous I am??).  I get in again, sit down again, buckle my seatbelt again, plug in my earphones again, a pull out my book again.  She says she’s really, really sorry.  I say it’s ok and bury my face in the book…again.

Fast forward a bit…  How did my bliss turn to bust?  How did my peace turn to pissed off?

Lesson to Learn:  Life is not always about me.

Did I notice how uncomfortable she was?  Did I notice how she crossed herself twice before we took off and again when we landed?  Did I notice how sad she seemed when she kept inconveniencing me?  Didn’t I see how she continued to wring her hands throughout the flight?

Yes, I did notice all these…and more.  Sadly, I was so self-consumed about my own agenda and desires that I didn’t even give a second glance to her needs or fears or sadness or discomfort.  All I could think of was how gracious I was being by smiling, getting up when she needed me to, nodding to her pleas of apology, scooting over and leaning into the aisle so her flopping elbow would stop punching me in the side.

Me.  Me.  Me.

Now that we are separated and have gone our own ways on the planet, I am so very sorry for my behavior.  I could have pulled myself out of my own pious self-righteousness and talked to her.  At least initiated a conversation… if this was her first time to fly.  If she is feeling okay.  What is her reason for traveling.  Anything.  In my efforts to be so outwardly accommodating and genteel, I was inwardly rude, arrogant, and prideful.

It is not all about me.  My interactions in this world, this life, are not all about me.  What I do should be for the benefit of others.  Josemaria Escriva said:  “If thou aim at and seek after nothing else but the will of God and thy neighbor’s benefit, then shall thou enjoy interior liberty.”  While my actions may at times be for me, I need to be mindful of, no absorbed in the fact of, the results of my actions.  My words.  The tone in my voice.  My facial expressions.  These behaviors that I exude reflect my heart.  And my heart during the last 2 hours were most certainly not how I would wish to treat this stranger.

‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  (very loose quotation)  The abundance of my heart was for me.  In spite of my smiles and nods and responses of “It’s okay”, she knew I was irritated.  I should have stepped out of my own selfishness and irritation, noticed her discomfort, and been attentive (if even for a brief moment) to her.  A kind, sincere word might have meant the world to her.

And I blew it.

Wherever you are, I am sorry.

May I remember that I am not the center.  I am merely another orb in the universe.  And may I remember to lay myself aside and seek after my neighbor’s benefit.