How to Save Your Loved Ones (Or Not)
The Confessions of St. Augustine (Week 3 of 15)
There may be someone who has been called by you, and has heeded your voice, and has shunned those deeds which he now hears me recalling and confessing of myself. Let him not laugh to scorn a sick man who has been healed by that same physician who gave him such aid that he did not fall ill, or rather that he had only a lesser ill. Let him therefore love you just as much, nay even more. – The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book 2: Chapter 7
Recently, one of my teens made a poor choice – not the worst choice in the world, but a mistake, nonetheless. When I confronted him about it, he pulled from his back pocket the time-honored, one-size-fits-all rallying cry of teenagers everywhere – Everybody does it. But rather than address his cliché with the old standby, “If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” retort, I just flew right to the heart of his argument by trying to prove him wrong. Without batting an eye, I raised my chin and defiantly quipped, “I don’t.”
In the moment, my words seemed reasonable. I mean, weren’t they straight from Logic 101? Disprove the premise, and the argument falls apart. But when the discussion was over, I walked away feeling like I’d handled the situation all wrong. That I’d sent the wrong message. Left the wrong impression. In fact, I could almost smell poisonous fumes of self-righteousness wafting through the air in my wake.
Sometimes, as Christians, we become frustrated with others – particularly loved ones – because we can’t understand why they make the choices they make. And we even accuse them of compounding our aggravation if they make the same destructive choices over and over again. We tell ourselves that our irritation with them stems from love. But the truth is that while there may be love swimming around somewhere in all the frustration, that pool of virtue is infested with a dangerously prideful heart.
You see, many of us who practice our Faith are pretty good with rules. We may not be experts at applying them to ourselves, but we get the standards. Unfortunately, sometimes we are guilty of being long on knowledge, but short on heart.
From this mindset, when we encounter wrongdoing we think to ourselves – or worse gossip with another person – “What was he thinking?!” “ When’s she going to get a clue?!” We give them the proverbial eye roll. Or we respond like I did, raising my chin and declaring that, ‘I would never do such a thing.’ We justify ourselves by claiming a great concern for the soul of our loved one. After all, we only want what’s best for this person, if only we could reach her.
When it comes to reflecting the love and mercy of Christ, it may be in those brief, spur-of-the-moment encounters that our reactions matter most. Sadly, in those ever-important moments our behavior too often belies shortcomings in our own character, causing us to miss profound opportunities to share the gospel without speaking a word.
Those encounters may be more productive if we keep in mind three important truths:
1. God is the Source of all Good. Often when confronted with the wrongdoing of others, we expose a serious shortcoming on our own part. Without even realizing it, we give ourselves credit for our own good decisions, rather than attribute those choices to God, who alone is the source of ALL good. Saint Augustine makes it clear that the same God who saved him from his sins after they were committed, saves some even before they take that dreadful step. It might be helpful to remind ourselves in those situations, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
2. Admonishing the Sinner is a Spiritual work of MERCY. We have a spiritual obligation to admonish the sinner. But we must be very careful. Body language and unspoken signs may betray our hearts and render us unfit to admonish anybody. This important spiritual work of mercy is quite delicate, as each soul is ever so fragile in the face of condemnation. In order to affect change, our hearts must be emptied of pride and filled with the humility of Christ, that love may be poured out in full, untainted by even a drop of self-righteousness or judgment so as not to risk damaging a precious soul.
3. Only God can Save. Saint Augustine mentions that God listened to the prayers of his mother, whom He loved. He does not attribute his conversion to his mother, but to God, who heard her prayers. Elisabeth Leseur, in her diary, puts it beautifully:
I know that only God performs the intimate transformation of the human soul and that we can but point out to Him those we love, saying, “Lord, make them live.” (p. 14)
Book 4 (The Teacher as Seducer – False Conceptions of God)
1. Please share a story about someone you know who experienced God’s grace and converted (or reverted) to the Catholic Faith. Who or what was the conduit of grace in that experience? And how did that grace manifest itself?
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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