- Matthew 7:1-5
Anthony DeMello, the Jesuit who was also a psychoanalyst, used to say that whenever we’re really mad at someone else, there’s something wrong with us, something we don’t want to face. We’re projecting.
Put this program into action, a thousand times: (a) identify the negative feelings in you; (b) understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality; (c) do not see them as an essential part of “I”; these things come and go; (d) understand that when you change, everything changes.
This is what therapy is all about, and this is also what the gospel is all about. Jesus is telling us the same thing. He’s the great psychoanalyst. Don’t judge others, he’s saying, but turn inward. Don’t worry about the splinter in the eye of your friend. Worry about the log in your own.
And yet on many feast days we honor the martyrs. We honor St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, for example, who responded heroically to something that was in the world, that was outside of them, the injustice and the sinfulness of King Henry the VIII. The King didn’t accept the Pope’s decision about the annulment of his first marriage, and these two men knew that was wrong and they stood up to him. The King’s behavior wasn’t a subjective thing. They weren’t projecting their own issues onto him. They had to judge him, and they did, and it cost them their lives.
So that’s the challenge, as in the serenity prayer adopted by AA. It’s a prayer often attributed to St. Francis but written really by the twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. But it doesn’t matter who wrote it, because its’ a wonderful prayer, however clichéd:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
That’s the challenge for all of us. That’s our prayer, every day.
2. Jeremiah 20:10-13 and Psalm 18
In his book on the psalms C.S. Lewis says that whenever we encounter language about enemies in a psalm or the conquering of our enemies, we should internalize it. The enemies are our sins and our doubts, and conquering them means overcoming our inner struggles, and I think that’s really true. We don’t want to demonize other people. We don’t want to blame other people.
But sometimes things happen to us, from the outside. Sometimes we really are surrounded.
The enemies are our sins and our doubts, and conquering them means overcoming our inner struggles, and I think that’s really true.
A young man I know was recently fired from his job, unfairly, and he’s devastated. This was his career. He poured himself into it, gave himself to it, and now everything has changed. He’s angry, ashamed, afraid. It feels exactly like the situation in Jeremiah: “I hear the whisperings of many, terror on every side! Denounce!” It feels exactly like the situation in Psalm 18: “the destroying floods” seem to be “overwhelming” him.
I wish I could help this young man believe that God can be his “rock and refuge,” that God can be his “shield,” that whatever happens he will be “safe from his enemies.”
It’s not that we really want our enemies to be crushed and put to shame. That’s wrong. But it’s not wrong to believe that nothing can ever hurt us, not really, if only we believe in God, and that in fact moments like this are sacred moments, moments like this can be moments of grace, because they break us down and open us up, because they bring us closer to what really matters, not how we appear to others, not what we do for a living, but our souls, our inner selves.
It would sound pious to say, as another psalm puts it, that God is close to “the brokenhearted.” It would sound pious to quote from the Beatitudes, “blessed are you when you are persecuted.”
But that’s what I believe, what we believe, and we can believe it for this young man until he gets through this terrible moment in his life. Like Jesus, and through his grace and love, he will escape from the power of the people who are trying to stone him, whatever happens.
If the Passion of Christ means anything it means that our suffering has a purpose, it leads somewhere, it leads to the cross but then to Easter, to the Resurrection.
This isn’t just an abstract idea. It’s the fundamental pattern of our lives, and the grace of the suffering this young man is going through is that it is revealing this truth to him, directly. He is carrying a cross. He can feel the weight of it on his shoulders.
But he’s not carrying it alone—it’s not his cross, really—he has been taken from the crowd and he has been made to help carry the cross of Christ—and Jesus is there with him, they are carrying it together—if he is helping the Lord the Lord is also helping him—they are shouldering this awful weight together—and if he turns, if he pays attention, he will feel the Lord beside him, he will feel a slight lightening of the load.
This is a moment of great meaning. This is a moment of great grace. He is on the way, and the way is the way of the cross, a way that ends in joy, a way that ends in freedom, a way that ends in love.