17 May 2013

On Shortcomings and Strengths

There is a priest I know who has lots of shortcomings.  Most people will roll their eyes or share an understood smirk when his name is mentioned.  He is an extremely intelligent and learned man. This intelligence and knowledge can make him hard to relate to personally and it definite makes it hard for kids to relate to him.  He can be a little condescending and snotty because of it as well BUT... 

After he finished his homily last Sunday, I turned to Mark and said- "He sure is good at giving homilies."    He educates, provoke more thought and applies the Gospel to everyday life- all in an appropriate time frame! 

Now for the light bulb moment.

I would be a lot happier and kinder person if I let go of what people AREN'T and focus on what they ARE.

Honestly, this thought struck me like a lightning bolt.  Think of all the people in your life and how often you dwell and harp on who they aren't, their weaknesses rather than their strengths.  Think about all the disappointment, stress, anger and sadness that has resulted- ON BOTH SIDES!  Husbands, wives, kids, friends.  The list goes on and on.  Even co-workers, bosses and anyone you interact with.  Why couldn't they just...?  Doesn't she know that...?  If only they would...!

Everyone has a good side, has assets and strengths.  These are the flip side of the coin to their weaknesses.  Often it is their strengths that dictate their weakness and the very thing you love about them begets the very thing that makes you crazy.

I'll share one more priest story because I think we expect SO much more of them.  They are men of God but they are MEN, after all- flesh and bones, different personalities, shortcomings and all.

Years ago I went to Mass with my grandmother.  I was very pregnant with Anne and had a three-year-old and 18-month-old in tow.  Child A bumped into Child B who then let out a cry.  Pause here for quick aside:

I always take small children out of Mass when they make noise.  Always.  I do think you need to give them a chance and as they get older the time IN church will finally begin to eclipse the time spent OUT of church. 

Back to the story.  Before I could even scoop Child B up and whisk them out, I was blocked by an usher waving a note in my face.  I was surprised and embarrassed so I took the note and quickly exited.  When I composed myself I looked at the small square of paper which read:  The 4 pm Mass is a non-disturbance Mass.  It went on for a few lines but after the first line, my heart started racing and I swear I saw stars!  I was furious!  Non-disturbance Mass?  All Masses should be non-disturbance!  A man was standing near me and could tell how upset I was so he asked if I was okay.  Of course, hormones were not on my side being seven months pregnant.  I can remember having a hard time even catching my breath.  I showed him the note.  He kind of shrugged and said- Yeah, well that was the alternative to what Father Brown used to do.  He would stop the Mass and stare down any offending family until they slunk out of the church in shame.  Long story short, I ended up confronting Father Brown after Mass, in my hormonal state.  The exchange amounted to him saying that he believed that children shouldn't come to Mass until they could sit still and be quiet while I shrieked back that I had a different opinion and I believed Jesus did as well.  I wish I could accurately describe the iciness of his manner, his steel blue eyes which showed not an ounce of warmth.  I thought it was not possible for this man to have any compassion in his heart and I hated him.  Honestly, I hated him and knew it was a sin to feel this way.  I halfheartedly prayed about it occasionally.

Fast forward a few years.  I was at Mass at another church and ran into a friend.  Somehow, Father Brown's name came up and I relayed the story to her.  She was on an email list that received a daily scriptural message from him.  Did I want to sign up?  Hmmmm?  Just retelling the story made me angry again.  On the other hand I had prayed that I wouldn't feel so awful towards him.  Maybe this was what I needed.  For the next few years, until just recently actually,  I read his message daily and encountered a different side of Father Brown.  Not only was I able to forgive his shortcomings, I was witness to his strengths.  There was not a ministry for Father Brown in dealing with young children but his reflections about the Saint of the day and the daily readings of Mass were inspired.  Now I can focus on what he IS rather than what he ISN'T and it has given me peace.

I have started trying to consciously work on this each day with the people I encounter.  It is not easy but it is a worthwhile practice because...

“When we seek to discover the best in others, 
we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.” 
- William Arthur Ward


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