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The grittiness of Christian faith

Jesus never used victim language,
but promised
strength and help

placeholder November 23, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
The passion of Jesus is seen in this painting in a chapel at the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs in Rome.
Paul Haring/CNS

Jesus never used victim language,
but promised strength and help

Rev. John Roche, SDB

We all go through rough patches in life. Sometimes these experiences are directly related to persons and events along the path over which we have no control.

Other bumpy paths are of our own making and choosing. Usually we get up from these scuffles a little wiser, perhaps a bit more cautious, and very often we have learned a lesson or two.

However, there are some hurts that go very deep. It is hard to spring back from such experiences and these episodes can cause us to carry those pains, those grudges, those regrets for a very long time. Our medicine cabinets are full of remedies for headaches and upset stomachs, but quick fixes are not readily available for some of these deeper kinds of wounds.

In fact, the prescription list can grow dramatically with aids for depression, anxiety and tension as we all attempt to sort out the effects of heavy burdens. Psycho-therapies, in and out patient group sharing sessions, hospitalizations for immobilizing reactions to our growing problems are not uncommon.

And seeking help is a healthy sign of trying to regain our control in life. Balance is always a good thing.

I rose out of an anger that held me some years ago because of a few timely words from a good friend and confidant. I was feeling trapped inside of what I considered to be an unfair attack on my character that had gone public.

I became exhausted dealing with the fallout from this event with all the people and expectations I perceived to be tied to this attack. I never hated anyone throughout the series of exchanges which occurred, but I certainly harbored much resentment and a house-load of anger.

Those closest to me empathized and sympathized — even to the point of sharing frustration and pain at heroic and selfless levels — demonstrating their true love and respect for me.

I wanted to set the record straight. I wanted to repair damages perceived and real. And I wanted to sit all the appropriate parties down around the intricate weavings that led to the breakdowns in trust and communications.

But with the passage of time, it seemed more and more impossible. What an image we have from St. Paul with feathers scattered to the wind making repair and re-gathering nearly impossible.

One afternoon I was walking across a basketball court with a good and long time friend. He happened to be the coordinator of youth ministries at a school beside the property of the retreat house where I worked. He had lovingly listened to the sordid details regarding my hurts and experiences of distrust.

In fact, he had probably heard me repeat these details again and again as I felt helpless in coming to any resolution or find any peace. He never tried to give me quick solutions nor did he ever minimize the pain that was very real for me.

But he did surprise me on that day because he stopped abruptly in our stroll, put a gentle hand on my arm, turned me to look him in the eye and said in the kindest most sincere voice, "John, lose the victim language."

For the first time in our many meetings and conversations, I could not speak. I continued to look him in the eyes and was not sure how to react.

Continuing a warm and beautiful gaze into my own heart, he said it again and explained. "John, lose the victim language. Yes, you have been hurt. Yes, the circumstances are complicated and you are justified in your feelings, but you are NOT a victim. You can choose how you will deal with these situations and these people. You have control over your own response."

This good and holy man did not barrage me with lectures or pretend to be a professional counselor. He simply reached into my heart and stepped into its downward spiral to help me realize that I had more control than I had believed before.

That time-out from my running game made all the difference in the world. I caught my breath and felt again that I could rise above the mess.

Many years have gone by since those experiences. Some of the players are no longer in the picture, others have moved on and I also realized that most of my impression that this would hover over my life forever was an illusion.

People have enough of their own worries and concerns to carry without keeping track of the score in the ongoing struggles we all face. To be honest, I still have a lot of maturing to do. Are we ever through with those lessons? And I still have some distance built into my heart regarding some parties.

But the lesson on that day on that basketball court is seared into my mind and heart. I have control over how I react, what burdens I carry, and what grudges I allow to hold me hostage. I can choose to let them all go.

I want to be very clear that not every battle or dispute can be whisked away by letting go of the anger or by merely changing your attitude. Yet, we are called to believe in a deeper reality than what seems obvious on the surface of things.

Jesus often spoke about the heart — his own and ours. Jesus located adultery in the heart, not the eyes.

Jesus indicated that our hearts are where our treasures lie. And Jesus invited us to come to His own heart with our many burdens promising that His heart was meek and humble and capable of shouldering those burdens with us.

We know that Jesus' heart ached whenever He saw people lost like sheep without a shepherd. We know He was urgent about reaching out to heal others, to set them free from their burdens, wishing to restore them to their lives.

Before His own passion, on the night before He died for us, Jesus told his own closest friends they would suffer much because the world would hate them the same way it had and would hate Him. He told them not to worry because He had already overcome those burdens and He promised that His own Spirit would even give them the words to speak when faced with persecution and judgment.

What is very evident is that Jesus never used victim language. He did not carry a bag full of hurts around with Him wherever He went. Instead, He invited us to live within a union He shared with his own Father promising us strength and assistance in all the crosses of our lives.

If you feel like a victim in this life, take your burdens to the heart of Christ and surround yourself with friends who will not allow you to wallow. Find those who will goad you on to your better self and rediscover the gift of your own life, your own mind, and your own heart. You will rediscover control and discover again that Jesus will never abandon you.

(Father John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall, an affiliate of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley.)

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