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Love Thy Neighbor

July 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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…whoever unjustly condemns his neighbor has good reason for suspecting himself guilty of the same crime, inasmuch as vicious men are prone to think others like themselves.

When, therefore, we find ourselves inclined to condemn others, let us inwardly accuse ourselves with this just reproof: “Blind and presumptuous wretch, how dare you rashly examine your neighbors actions – you who have the same if not greater sins to answer for?” Thus in turning these weapons against ourselves, what might have been injurious to our neighbor becomes beneficial to us.

Even if a neighbor’s fault be publicly known, let charity suggest some excuse. Let us believe there are some hidden virtues, for the preservation of which God is pleased to permit the publicized deficiency; and let us hope that the fault in which God suffers him to remain for a time, may eventually bring the erring one to true self-knowledge, that being despised by others, he may learn the lesson of humility. Such a defeat is really a victory.

Where the sin, besides being commonly known, is also of the utmost gravity, and the sinner hardened in impenitence, we should raise our hearts to Heaven in deference to the inscrutable wisdom of God. For we should be mindful that many have emerged from the depths of depravity to become Saints, while others have fallen from angelic heights of perfection to satanic depths of sinfulness.

These reflections should convince every thinking person that carping criticism should begin with oneself. If one finds himself favorably disposed toward his neighbor, it is owning to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whereas his rash judgements, dislike and contempt of others, owe their rise to his own malice and the promptings of the devil.

Let us remember then that, if ever we find ourselves too attentive to the failings of others, we must not cease until we have entirely erased them from memory. Spiritual Combat, pg. 136-137 (TAN version; The corresponding quote from Sophia Press is found on pages 117-118, from When, therefore…effaced from your heart.).

When I read the above quote, I was reminded of one of my favorite role models, Servant of God Elizabeth Leseur, whose atheist husband become a Catholic priest upon her death, after her years of prayer and sacrifice for his conversion. She never once said a word questioning his views or defending the Church, and her diary is an amazing witness to the heart that we’re trying to develop as we read Spiritual Combat. Elizabeth didn’t judge others. Rather than asking “Why” others behaved a certain way, she asked “How can I be a better example?” “How can I pray more, sacrifice more, love more so that others will feel the love of Christ? And then she went about fervently doing those things. At one point, she made a vow “To try always to understand everything and everyone. Not to argue; to work instead through contact and example; to dissipate prejudice, to reveal God and make Him felt without speaking of Him; to strengthen one’s intelligence, to enlarge one’s soul more and more; to love without tiring, in spite of disappointment and indifference. Above all, to draw to oneself the humble and the little ones so as to lead them to Him who loves them so much.” Elizabeth Leseur was the embodiment of our reading this past week.

My recent behavior, on the other hand, was the antithesis of the virtues our reading advocates. Last night, two of my daughters (ages six and ten) and I stayed in a hotel for an annual event we attend. Upon entering the lobby, we were surrounded by men dressed to the hilt in feminine garb. They wore elegant costumes awash with sequins, beads and glitter. Upon their wigs, they wore large crowns, adorned with jewels. On their arms and faces, you could see evidence of their manhood – facial hair, arm hair, muscles, tattoos.

And I judged them. I judged them for exposing my daughters to a lifestyle to which I never want them exposed. I questioned them in my heart for the choices they’d made, and I was angry that my daughters had to witness those choices.

My frustration rose as we saw people dressed for this event just about everywhere we turned – the lobby, the elevator, and our room floor. As we were leaving the elevator for the pool, we came face to face with two of the most elaborately dressed male ‘women’ I have ever seen. They smiled at me. When they did, I experienced the grace of God. Even as I cringed when I saw them, out of the blue I felt the Holy Spirit move me. I know it was the Holy Spirit, because I had been like a mama bear – tense, wary and protective. But instantly, I felt a peace and love that I hadn’t known was there. And I immediately saw them as souls created by God and I was reminded that He loves them as much as He loves me. That they were each precious, and I was not to pass judgement, but only to love them.

Moments later, as I sat watching my girls bounce around in the pool, it occurred to me that my children were not nearly as scandalized by these people as they are by me on a daily basis. Yes, they witnessed things that raised questions and could have been scandalous. But how often are they scandalized by my sins? I am with them all day, every day. And what kind of example do I offer them? There are times when I get frustrated by their anger, impatient with their impatience, self-righteous about their selfishness and angered by their unkindness.

I tell myself that I must discipline them – but the word discipline is derived from the Latin word “disciplina”, which means ‘teaching, or instruction.’ What does my frustration with their behavior ‘teach’ them? What does my impatience with their repeated offenses ‘teach’ them? What do I ‘teach’ them when I lose my temper because of unkindness or thoughtlessness toward a sibling? The truth is, when they witness my anger, my impatience and my selfishness, they learn volumes more about fallen human nature than they did last night.

Discussion Questions:

1. What was your take on this passage?  Any personal experiences or revelations you'd like to share?

2. Would a vow help you to keep these resolutions in mind? If so, what would your vow look like?

3.  Please feel free to comment on any of the reading or discussion thus far.


Schedule for This Week (Keep in mind that this is approximate – if you read somewhere around that range, we’ll still be reading together):

TAN:  pg. 143–173 (to Ch. 56 Concerning Spiritual Communion)

Sophia Press: pg. 125-155 (to Make Devout Spiritual Communions)

NOTE:  The TAN version of Spiritual Combat has a second book attached (at least that's how it appears) – A Treatise on Peace of Soul; I had not intended to read that book, as I assumed other version wouldn't have it.  But I've just realized in comparing versions that the Sophia version has this portion too, only it's seamlessly part of the same book.  In that light, we'll plan to read it all, but will add an extra week to this book – which means we have three weeks left, including the above assignment.  The last week will have a little more reading, so you're welcome to read ahead a little if you'd like.  Most weeks, I've planned for about 30-35 pages – the last week will have closer to 45.

NOTE 2: I will be announcing the next book soon, so stay tuned – I may post it this Thursday, which will allow you ample time to acquire a copy.

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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