Tuesday July 23, 2019
7:14 am
Bishop Hying

Resting in the Lord’s love through prayer, sacrament can exorcise the angry demon within

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on April 23, 2017 

 

       The liturgy for this Second Sunday of Easter always proclaims the encounter between the risen Christ and Thomas the Apostle, who comes to faith by touching Jesus’ wounds and proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” 

       One senses in all the Easter narratives the deep peace, transformative healing and radiant joy that the presence of the resurrected Christ brings to the disciples who have been shattered by the crucifixion of their Master and Teacher. The fear, sadness, shame, guilt, division and doubt they all feel melt away in the glow of their astonishing experience of Easter. This encounter of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness changes everything for those first followers of the Gospel.

       Shouldn’t the yearly celebration of Lent, Holy Week and Easter change us just as dramatically? We do not simply recall past events with some sort of spiritual nostalgia, but rather enter into these saving experiences ourselves, coming to truly know the reality, presence and power of the risen Christ in all dimensions of our human existence. 

       I would like to think that every year, we are converted a little more deeply into the love that defines us and makes us whole. If God is real, Easter is true and the Gospel saves, then joy, peace, love and generosity should be increasing in our daily activities, conversations and relationships. Conversely, anger, sadness, selfishness and pessimism should be diminishing. 

       Is this truly happening, in me and in you?

       We live in a very angry societal moment. Political discourse, Facebook chatter, news reports, drivers on the freeway and general conversation, to varying degrees, all express unsettling levels of rage and discontent. Verbal, physical and sexual violence have become the new normal in many situations. I have no trouble with people expressing critical opinions, or complaining about decisions made, but often the angry overtones, or the accusatory assumptions made, drown out the actual truth of what is being said. 

       Intelligent debate, respect for differing opinions and giving the benefit of the doubt to the other seem more and more rare. The name-calling has reached new levels of absurdity. If I disagree with someone’s ideas, it seems today that I also need to destroy their integrity, question their intentions and degrade them as persons at the same time. 

       When this dynamic occurs in the Church, it is all the more disturbing.

       Left to our own devices, most of us would be some of the happiest, peaceful and content people on earth, but love calls us to enter into the thick of the fray, serving, loving, listening, forgiving and healing others in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s a messy business often, so it is no wonder that we sometimes lose our peace and joy in the middle of it. 

       With social media omnipresent, anybody anywhere on the planet can take a shot across the bow at us; those that should be our greatest allies and support can hurt us the most and we can feel like the whipping post for a lot of misplaced, free-floating anger that seemingly needs to land somewhere.

       As disciples of Jesus who have touched his wounds, experienced the glory of his risen presence and are called to be prophets of joy, how do we navigate this angry world without being sucked into the toxic waste of rage and despair? Prayer is the key for me. 

       When I root my day in time spent with the Lord in Scripture and in silence, in the Eucharist and in the Liturgy of the Hours, I encounter the divine love that heals my own hurt, shame and anger. Praying calms and orients me towards the eternal joy that is perpetually exploding in the Kingdom of Heaven. When I pray, I hear laughing echoes of the Marriage Feast that is always unfolding upstairs. 

       I need those prayerful moments. Otherwise, I will want to put my own negativity onto somebody else who doesn’t deserve it.

       When someone is exploding in anger or disrespect, even if it’s a driver on the road, I try to pray for that person, asking the Lord to heal whatever is raging in their heart. One time, I stood and listened to a woman unload on me for an hour about everything that is wrong with the Church. Instead of trying to defend and parry her attacks, I was given the presence of mind to simply listen with love. When her storm was spent, she thanked me and found the experience deeply healing. 

       I am not suggesting that we should simply accept verbal abuse from others as passive doormats, but it is important to try to help others find healing for their anger. Usually, they are mad about something far deeper than what they are presently yelling about. In certain situations, I sometimes suggest that the level of rage expressed is far greater than the importance of the complaint. What are we really angry about?

       Talking through an issue, actively seeking to forgive past hurts, maybe getting therapy, finding the joy and humor in life and, above all, resting in the Lord’s love for us through prayer and sacrament can exorcise the angry demon within us. 

       As Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, “If you are angry, let it be without sin. The sun must not go down on your wrath; do not give the devil a chance to work on you.” (4:26-27.) 

       Perhaps, one of the greatest ways we can witness to the Gospel today is to be a genuine person of joy, peace and forgiveness, not controlled by rage or shame, a peacemaker who builds bridges instead of hurling stones.

       By living the mystery of Easter, we can help the Lord heal the world of its hatred, violence and rage.  People may still yell at us, but we have the gentle armor of the Spirit to courageously love them back in an unconditional stance of mercy, the way Jesus stood before Thomas in that Upper Room and showed his wounds in all their vulnerability and power.

 

       + Bishop Donald J. Hying

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