Sunday, June 24, 2012
I Hate My Brother
Sometimes you can know too much about someone or something, or just focus too long on it, and then something which should be relatively unimportant becomes too important; it irritates you. And Prudence, that critical virtue which guides right and reasoned actions, goes out the window. We stop reasoning with a mind formed in Christ, and act on emotion only. And then the other three Cardinal Virtues also leave us. Alone.
Justice is giving others what they are due, what is right for them as children of God. Like Prudence, Justice is about how we treat others, but when our emotions become over-involved, it is not about others, but all about us: what we want, and what will make us feel better. It is not about what is right or just in God’s eyes, it’s about what we want. And Fortitude, doing the right thing for others, no matter how contrary to our emotions, Fortitude also goes out the window when we let our emotions lead our actions. We don’t consider what’s right for others.
And lastly, when we let our emotions rule our actions, it is the virtue of Temperance which, sadly, is most abused. Of the four Cardinal Virtues, those good habits that our Catholic faith teaches us, Temperance is the only one not focused on our actions toward others, but on ourselves. Temperance is meant to regulate our desires; it is about moderation. Temperance enables us to be all that we can be, when we are in control of ourselves. Work, self-discipline and humility are fruits of Temperance, and Jesus is its model. Jesus had all the emotions which we have, but he was in control of them. He even had anger in him, but it didn’t rage at everything which offended Him; it was controlled.
Sadly intemperance is the norm in society today. Excess, not moderation, is everywhere, in every good thing, and in every bad thing. We can’t get enough of anything we want. Nonstop celebration of narcissism and hedonism threatens to undermine our society. And if we are to change this rot in our society, it must start with us. We must change ourselves, and the virtue of Temperance is where we must begin.
I began this post writing about knowing too much. I know that the most popular pages of this blog are the ones titled “I Hate My Father” and “My Father Hates Me.” Thousands of people have Googled those words, and looked at my pages. From most every country in the world, people give sway to their hate of their father, and to some degree my knowledge of that fact makes me, the author of this blog on reducing anxiety, it makes me anxious, and to some degree it makes me angry, that others can’t control their anger. It bothers me because I’ve been there.
Today this knowledge causes me to think on the broader, more general topic: these people hate a brother in Christ. Love and love of neighbor, commandments of God, are tossed aside for an emotion that is not for our neighbor --- or for God --- but only for us. Hate, like all sin, is totally about us. To our God who gave His life, in love, for His brother, we would say: “You were wrong to die. He doesn’t deserve Your love or forgiveness. I know!!!!” And we’d say it even to God, with great vehemence, with great emotion, and our uncontrolled rage. We’d tell God what to do, but really we would be telling Him what WE would do --- if we were God. If we were God, we’d dispense quick and vengeful judgment on our brother.
But we are not God. And wouldn’t our world be an awful place if everyone who hated someone else could act as God? We might think: “But wait a minute. If all the bad or evil people were punished, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?” But don’t you see the corner we just let ourselves be led into? We would have ourselves define good and evil. But in the Garden of Eden God said man CANNOT eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the reason is that Good and Evil are defined by God, and He alone. Good pleases God, and Evil displeases Him. And He is God. We cannot fully know of what pleases or displeases God in this life, or why. We cannot know God fully in this life, for we are not God. Somehow in our emotional concerns about what WE want, we forget that. We want to act like God.
“But everyone gets mad at someone, sometime,” you might say. “That’s natural.” No, that is emotions, uncontrolled by right reason, by Temperance, and for man that is NOT natural. Man, of all the animals, can reason. Right reason separates a person from his actions, and looks at each separately. Love your brother; hate his bad actions. Your brother doesn’t offend God, his actions do. Now he may face eventual judgment before God for the actions he chooses, but it is not for us to judge him. Hatred is a perversion of love. We are commanded to love our neighbor. Period.
So how, then, do we deal with the jerks --- or even evil people --- (or their actions) who enter our lives, and who sometimes so enrage us? Well, certainly we can reasonably tell them that their actions offend us, but we can also often be reasonably sure that they won’t understand or care. So what then? I don’t know, but I can tell you what I did when faced with my rage at someone.
I am a divorced person. I didn’t want to be, but a person I wanted to love instead became a “near occasion of sin,” and was often a temptation to hate. It was difficult to control my emotions, when someone I wanted so close seemed so far away. After trying to fix the rift and emotions it caused, divorce became, for me, a means of avoiding a near occasion of sin. I have avoided seeing or thinking about my ex-wife. Not being able to change the past, I do not dwell on it, but try to make a better future of my life.
I have had other people or other things in my life which seemed to be natural triggers of anger --- oil and water --- it seemed we could never work well together. In some cases, especially when I HAD to work well with them I taught myself to ignore the things about them which irritated me; prayer really helped. In other cases, I avoided the “near occasion of sin” which evoked in me some emotions I fought to control. I practiced self-control by becoming more temperate. To the degree that these people were sinning, I did not judge them, only their actions, as sinful. And I avoided letting their sinful actions trigger my sin.
I do now know how God will judge my past choices, sins and failings. But I do know that I reached a point where I could see myself clearly, and my weaknesses. I could worry about those weaknesses and past sins (mine and others) all the rest of my life and seek to correct them or make up for them, or act as best I could, seeking forgiveness for my past failings and seeking to be a better person with the rest of my life. We are to grow in holiness and wisdom all our life; knowing we can’t change the past, but only grow through it, that is wisdom. Not raging and worrying on past sins and hurts by others or ourselves, is wisdom. Trusting in God’s forgiveness, is wisdom. At some point he will judge my life; I can’t change my past sins, which he will see, but I can please Him, I pray, with my future doing of his will. And so I resolve to do.
Each day at mass I see the Host raised in prayer to Our Father, thanking Him for His Son’s great sacrifice. But I remember that it was Our Father’s great sacrifice also --- He willed the death of His only Son, for the love of me. I see the just vengeance of God in the Old Testament, yet at the death of his only Son --- caused by my sins --- He did not hate me. If He could ignore such a great evil for the love of us, surely we can ignore evils done to us or our loved ones for our love of Him. He showed us how to love our brother, no matter how great the evils he has done.
Uncontrolled anger can lead us to hate our brother, the one we are commanded to love. In the Bible Jesus tells us if we hate our brother to not even come to worship Him, but go first and be reconciled with our brother. And if our brother will not be reconciled with us, we are to avoid him.
As much as I would like to be in control of my life and never sin, I know that I cannot totally avoid doing so. But I CAN avoid the people or situations that I know lead me to sin. And I can and must avoid hate, because in my heart I know that when hate of my brother controls my actions, it separates me from God.
And when that happens, I only hate myself. I think I shall have to work at avoiding those people or things which I know irritate me all my life. But I WILL work at it. Like my words in Confession, I RESOLVE to sin no more.
And what about you? Still can’t see in these words a way to control your hate? Perhaps reading my prior blog post from yesterday might help. In it Boris Badenov looked at our U.S. Congress --- boy, if they aren’t people who can stir my anger and hatred, then no one can --- and Boris watched their actions, and he laughed. He saw what might be their sins ---- sins which would make me angry ---- and he just laughed at their actions. “They’re goofy,” he said.
And then he went away.
We need to be able to do the same. We need to learn Temperance from Boris Badenov. (Whoo boy! Who woulda thunk it, Natasha?)
We can stop hating our brother if our desire to love God is stronger. Pray to Him for strength, the strength to control ourselves and change our future, to one focused on Him, and not ourselves.
- - - - - - -
Thoughts on Virtues in this post were lifted from Bill Donohue's book: Why Catholicism Matters