Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Patiently Bear Weaknesses

Do you feel stressed over the Christmas season? Do you feel guilty about feeling stressed? Do you dread encountering some relatives you see only once a year and breathe a sigh of relief that it will be 11 more months before you have to be with them again? Do you feel guilty about that?

We want to get together and enjoy one another, but in the pit of our stomachs we may experience a grinding anxiety over what could happen when Uncle Off I. Cious, Aunt Whine. E. Pants, Sister Daffy, Brother Crit I. Cal, In-law Hair Trigg R. Temper and the rest all come together under the same roof. And let's not forget about me: diagnosed with a severe case of Foot-in-Mouth disease that seems incurable even after years of treatment.

We want peace and joy. We are supposed to be celebrating Jesus' birthday, aren't we? But many families have a certain amount of disfunctionality that belies all those happy faces in the ads and on cards. It can really drain away our peace of mind. The family get-together becomes something to be endured and gotten through rather than a fun occasion full of love and laughter and something we look forward to.

So what's the answer? St. Benedict, the practical and wise tells us in chapter 72 of his rule. It's not just for monks. We average Joes can live it, too. When I read it this morning I immediately thought of everyone going through family difficulties during the holidays.

Let them bear most patiently one another's infirmities, whether of body or of character.
This eagerness to live for others leads us to help another bear his burden. It is not only to put up with another's weaknesses, but also to carry, bear, shoulder lovingly the infirmities of others. "Bear ye one another's burdens," says St. Paul to the Galatians (6:2).

Father Gerard Ellspermann, O.S.B. commenting on this phrase of the rule writes:

"Bear them most patiently" means, too, that we suffer with the other one -- and that most patiently. The Latin word, patior, means in its reflexive sense, "I suffer, I myself suffer, I suffer myself." It is only when we can't stand ourselves that we begin to take it out on others and become impatient with others. "Most patiently" is one of those phrases we can stop on, think about, and pray about.

The highlighted sentence really brought me up short. What is it about the relatives that they can't stand about themselves? What is it about me that I can't stand? Whoa.

Father Gerard goes on:

This work of accommodating ourselves to one another in the community is a continual struggle. Not only is tolerance necessary, but it is also one of the bet ways to make our following of Christ practical. Perhaps what is even more necessary than tolerance is a sense of compassion after the mind of Christ.

Actually, we are back again to charity that is manifested in mutual regard and mutual kindness. While we share many advantages with each other, we also have to endure with tireless patience the differences among ourselves. The nationalities represented in one community, the differences in temperament, the superiority of some and the rivalry of others are all embraced under bearing the infirmities of others, be they of body or character.

St. Benedict, patient with the weakness of monks, pray for us.
And pray for us as we gather to celebrate the birth of Christ in our families so that we may experience peace and joy in each other's company and cut one another some slack.


  1. Lol! Barb, I loved this humorous take on charity and Christmas. The names you used are hilarious! Sadly, I suffer from Foot-in-Mouth disease despite years of treatment, too. Thank you for this timely reminder to be patient and kind to others this Christmas.

  2. Great post - very timely and a good reminder! I loved the names too!

  3. Glad you enjoyed it, Mary and Colleen. Family will be gathering in a little over a week and I really want to behave kindly and caringly.

  4. "It is only when we can't stand ourselves that we begin to take it out on others"

    Eventually, this becomes true. There's a tipping point. To some extent, not being able to stand myself means I'm sympathetic to others who also cannot. But pushed too far, when things aren't going my way, again and again, I begin to take things out on others.

    So, I think things have to be pretty bad before we start lashing out. All the more reason to be sympathetic towards others. But not easy.