Last week, I offered readers one of my Trademark-Busting Cosmo-Style Quizzes™, so they could test themselves for Gluttonous thoughts. Amid the mounting frustrations of Christmas shopping, crowds and traffic, and the thin yellow malaise that for so many of us hangs over the holidays, this week seems a good time to turn to the case of Wrath.
As is clear from the crimes I’ve recounted elsewhere of Stalin against humanity and Zmirak against civility, Patience is the virtue most conducive to social peace. However, Patience can be abused and exaggerated until it turns into its caricature, Servility — a quality that “enables” the tyrants and sociopaths of this world. (As Rev. Benedict Groeschel likes to say, “The Gospel doesn’t read, ‘Blessed are the doormats.’”) Holy Patience resides at the Golden Mean somewhere between the two. The following hypothetical should help you place yourself on the continuum.
Imagine you’re the owner of two delightful, spirited hunting dogs. (As I said, this is purely hypothetical.) And, in search of cheaper rent and better architecture, you’ve moved from the Lego-Land suburbs into an old city neighborhood. One house on the corner of your block is a precious, frou-frou Victorian, done up like a birthday party cake with plaster cherubs and twee little fairies. Its garden spills out and merges with the sidewalk, so you practically trip over the topiary.
Its owners, under the mistaken impression that they have, by restoring a house, become feudal lords whose domain extends to four horizons, get angry that you walk your delightful, spirited hunting dogs past their property. It seems that sometimes the hounds sniff the topiary. Now, your pockets are always stuffed with biodegradeable doggie bags, and you’re conscientious about picking up after your critters — who have anyway never “gone” on the Baron’s lawn. But the very fact that you walk the dogs past their garlanded angel sculptures three times a day — on the way to your own apartment, three doors down — outrages the owners of the Crystal Palace. They shout at you from the window, sometimes come out and get in your face, demanding that you avoid their corner. They follow you to your apartment and write down the number, eyeing your car and muttering threats.
In response, you:
a) Create a list of all the harm these people could conceivably do to you — from vandalizing your car to hurting your dogs — and develop a contingency list of escalated acts of retribution. For instance: If they slash your tires, you’ll spray Round-Up on their rosebushes. Should they actually harm your dogs . . . remember one key fact about Molotov cocktails: Flames don’t necessarily wipe out fingerprints.
b) Make a point of walking your dogs past their house more often than necessary. Also, investigate whether their expansionist gardening practices violate zoning laws.
c) Walk your dogs wherever you normally would, but don’t go out of your way to pass the Crystal Palace. The next time they accost you, greet its owners with a confident smile. Force yourself to pray for these people’s eternal salvation, but take no guff from them. Go about your business, with a spring in your step.
d) Avoid trouble at all costs. Leave an apologetic note under their door and walk blocks out of your way to avoid bothering these people — who are clearly high-strung and overly materialistic. Under the guise of “praying for them,” think about their problems, focusing on their weaknesses and vices, and quietly congratulate yourself on how much more Christ-like you’re being.
If you picked:
a) You are one of those few people in America who should not be allowed to own a handgun. You might want to consider keeping duller kitchen knives. You’ve got a lot more Stalin in you than you really need, and it’s time to consider Anger Management counseling. Really, no kidding. Hey, don’t kill the messenger, buddy.
b) You’re clearly from New York City, so you probably can’t help it. But you really must do better than this. You can turn the other cheek here and avoid wasting time courting needless trouble. No, the neighbors don’t need to be “taught a lesson,” and it’s really not worth the agita. Besides, all this confrontation is probably upsetting your dogs.
c) You’ve attained the proper balance of confrontation and compliance. But don’t wear out your back from patting yourself on it, and keep those “Virtue End-Zone Dances” you do in the mirror to a minimum, ok?
d) Well aren’t we the sweetest widdle Chwistians in the neighborhood? Not wike those meanies down the stweet. Every one of our everyday fwustatwations we offer up for the Suffawing Souls in Purgatowy. Keep living along these lines, and you will lose your dogs’ respect. It’s not like one day they’re going to eat you. They’ll just start condescending to you.
The Solution: If you have an ongoing problem with Wrath, there’s probably already some evidence of it. The many short-term gigs that clog your resume, that growing list of restraining orders, your thinning Rolodex (writing those “Bleep-You” letters is fun, isn’t it?). If your Facebook page has more “enemies” than “friends,” that’s another dead giveaway.
If you aren’t involved in some serious, regular exercise, it’s time to take that up — something high-impact, like jai-alai or rugby. The experience of people stronger than you regularly knocking you on your butt should prove . . . instructive.
You’d also benefit from more time spent with the Scriptures — only this time, leave off the Old Testament battle narratives you’ve always used for lectio divina. Concentrate on the Beatitudes and the narrative of the Passion. Pick up the profound, and profoundly practical, spiritual book by Rev. Lawrence Lovasik: The Hidden Power of Kindness. Once you’ve read a few chapters, you’ll realize why its real (secret) title is How Not to be Such a Jackass.
Also, get hold of Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s classic Complete Abandonment to Divine Providence — which puts forth an interesting notion: that every piece of abuse God allows us to suffer at the hands of others is punishment for some sin we’ve committed but gotten away with. Now this isn’t true for everyone (think of kids in abusive households). But it is in your case. Isn’t it?