Christian Conflict Resolution

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

September 10, 2017; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”

Meditation Reflection:

Incorporation into the Christian community means being adopted into a family.  This in turn means we have a greater responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus knows families can struggle with dysfunctional ways of dealing with things – from gossip, to triangulating, to manipulation or passive aggressive tactics, and more.  As the head of the Christian family however, He provides us with clear instructions about the best way to love our brother or sister in difficult situations.

First, Jesus tells us to confront our loved one directly if they have hurt us in some way.  This means we cannot play the martyr, hope they read our mind, let it build up, or sweep it under the rug.  Jesus knows healthy relationships require honest communication and ongoing reconciliation.  We all sin and we all inevitably treat our loved ones unfairly or unkindly.  To move forward reconciliation is essential.  In our pride however, we sometimes don’t even realize we are hurting the one we love unless they tell us.  Jesus instructs, therefore, that Christian love should make the person aware of their sin.  The Church actually lists this as a Spiritual Work of Mercy called “admonish the sinner.”  It’s not meant to be mean or judgmental, but to help a person grow into Christian maturity.

If the person won’t listen, likely claiming that you are being unfair, then Jesus proposes you bring another witness or two.  The goal would be to open the person’s eyes to their sin so they can be healed and reconciliation can be restored.  Sometimes the perspective of a couple of people can help to establish with objectivity the truth of the situation.

It’s amazing how blind we are to our sinful attitudes and habits, especially toward our family!  Even when confronted, we hold on so tightly, and refuse to change.  We often rationalize, “This is how I am. My family should just love me unconditionally.”  However, because our family loves us unconditionally, we should try even harder to change because we want to give them the best version of ourselves not the worst.

In general, Jesus wants us to avoid the tornadic plague of gossip or the festering sore of passive aggressive retaliation.  He wants His family to be happy, healthy, and loving.  Direct communication and the ally of one or two close friends is usually enough for most problems.  However, there are some injustices which require wider assistance and, if not changed, are too destructive to let go on.  For instance, if a family member refuses to change his or her abusive behavior or treat an addiction, it needs to be brought to light for the whole community.  If the person still refuses to change, family members are sometimes forced to separate themselves from the person in order to protect themselves and others, and to, in love, withdraw from enabling the abuser or addict. It may seem extreme and even un-Christian, however Jesus came to conquer sin not to support it.  Paradoxically, separating from addicts or abusers can motivate change.  At the very least, it is a way of evangelizing.  It shows by your actions that the behavior is wrong.  Lastly, Jesus is teaching us that although we have a serious responsibility toward the souls of our Christian brothers and sisters, after we have gone through the process He laid out, we may feel sorrow for their situation but we are not responsible for their behavior.  At that point, we can have peace that we have done everything we could.  We must work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, but we must also know the limits placed on us by free will.

Thankfully, we can always be a blessing to others through prayer and sacrifice.  Even if we must separate from someone physically, financially, or even in communication, we can still pray for them.   Moreover, just as Jesus exhorted us to confront a person together, He also exhorts us to pray for others together.  As children of God, and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), our prayers come before Him with all the force and influence a son or daughter can have on their father, especially when they plead with him as a family.

In conclusion, the vocation of marriage plays an important role in the formation of this mindset and the practice of applying Christian love to all different kinds of situations.  In his encyclical Familaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paull II called the family the first “school” of Christian love, from which persons develop the Christian self-giving necessary for mature interaction with the world as adults.  He writes:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

Familiaris Consortio par. 37

True love is more than an emotion.  It’s a decision to choose the good for one’s beloved.  The best course of action isn’t always easy and it isn’t always clear.  Thankfully, we are not alone in this.  We can look to Jesus and to our Christian family to show us the way.

Consider:

  •  Consider the gift of being God’s daughter or son.  Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as your Brother.
  • Consider how you handle conflict. What do you do well? What could you improve?
  • How might you apply Jesus’ instructions for resolving problems to a situation in your life?
  • When has someone shown “tough love” toward you? How did their loving honesty help you grow?
  • St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.”   Consider the power of prayer.  Reflect on the gift of being able to actively fight for our brothers and sisters by praying for them to a God who loves us and will listen to us.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Apply Jesus’ process to a conflict in your life this week.
  • Resolve not to gossip this week.
  • Say a prayer every day for someone who bothers you.

Related Posts:

Finding Peace Amidst Division

Authentic Love

Getting the Last Word…But Making it a Blessing

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Finding Peace Amidst Division…Reaching out to Christ

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

August 19th, 2017; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28 NAB

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

Meditation Reflection:

The evil of division, prejudice, and animosity between peoples entered the world with original sin.  When Adam and Eve introduced a rift between themselves and God, a rift began between the two of them as well.  It soon spread to their children Cain and Abel.  At the Tower of Babel the rift became complete with the separation of languages.

Some rifts begin with legitimate reasons.  A person, family, or community, treats another unjustly and fails to make amends.  The victim(s) retaliate to achieve justice for themselves or they separate themselves from the dangerous, unrepentant threat.

Other rifts arise from illegitimate reasons.  Prejudice based on sex, race, nationality, disability, religion, or even political positions can cause rifts and violence such as we have seen in the recent news.  Whether motivated by envy, greed, or lust for power, the perpetrators have two things in common – they blame someone or some group for their problems and do not value the dignity of every human life.

ISIS’ lust for power at the cost of genocidal murder, human trafficking, abuse of women, and indiscriminate terrorist attacks illustrates the evil of this sin at its worst.  They de-humanize groups of people in order to assert their own greedy, and lustful agenda.

In our own country, the bastion for human rights and equality, we too have struggled to maintain our value for all human life.  Abortion has been legal for over forty years, marginalizing all persons in the womb.  The child will be protected if he or she is wanted, but eliminated if blame can put on the child for any reason, even simple inconvenience.  Moreover, the pressure to abort children who may have disabilities dangerously erodes the protection of any person with a disability.  The definition of “life support” has become a topic of debate, not just about breathing tubes but even food and water.  In the last election, the problem of violent and visceral division between people of differing political views, as well as the ongoing division caused by sexism, surfaced for the world to see.  Lastly, the evil of racism reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Virginia with messages of white supremacy and even deadly violence.

In today’s Gospel Jesus ignored the Canaanite woman in a seemingly cold manner.  On the surface it seems prejudiced or at the least nationalistic.  The Jews and Canaanites had been at odds for centuries.  She cries to him for help and He says nothing!  He only speaks to her when the apostles beg Him to quiet her down, not for any reason of compassion, but because her persistence had grown annoying.  Why would Jesus, who should be above such ethnic and religious animosity, have done this?

Jesus reveals that peace and reconciliation requires repentance and mercy by contrasting the hypocritical faith of some Pharisees, with the repentant faith of the Canaanite woman. The Jews had been entrusted with the supreme gift of God’s divine Revelation.  They had the burden and privilege of protecting this gift that they might be a light to rest of the world.  In consequence, they had the privilege of receiving the Messiah as children of God, but they also had greater fault whenever they rejected God.  In the passage just prior to this one, Jesus rebukes some Pharisees for their hypocritical practice of denying support for their parents by donating the money to the Temple.  Their false charity was exposed as actual injustice and a failure to follow the fourth commandment.  Jesus goes on to explain that what makes a person defiled is what comes from their heart, not what goes in to their mouth.  Thus, religious practices without heartfelt faith do not aid a person.

In contrast, Jesus’ very next encounter is with the Canaanite woman.  Whereas she does not belong to the heritage of the Jews, she demonstrates the heartfelt faith that Jesus describes.  God had instructed the Jews to remain separate from the Canaanites so as to protect them from being influenced by their evil practices.  In Deuteronomy 20:15-18 God warns them to destroy the Canaanites “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God.”  The Canaanite woman in this passage, acknowledged the pitifulness of her dignity which had been degraded by the immoral acts of her people and likely herself.  Nevertheless, her good heart recognized the Savior and pleaded in faith for His mercy.  In humility, and absolute trust in Him, she laid before Him her need.  She persisted despite being ignored, confident His compassion would win out.  When He compared her people to dogs she agreed with Him.  She acknowledged the truth of their sins. Sin not only offends God, but it degrades the sinner.    Nevertheless, she persisted that His mercy had the power to conquer the evil which plagued her daughter and the suffering that plagued her.

Jesus responds to the authenticity of her heart, exclaiming “O woman, great is your faith!”  Her honesty, repentance, and humility opened the door for Christ to shower His mercy upon her and usher in peace and reconciliation.

Sins of division and prejudice need healing.  God’s divine laws provide the structure for justice needed for peace.  Because of sin however, we can twist those laws to rationalize our sin.  Thus, conversion of heart is needed in addition to the conversion of actions.  This requires the saving grace of Christ.

“Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him” Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 1949

Christ came to restore the unity of the human family, making us sons and daughters of God by adoption through grace.  The Pharisees and the Canaanite woman illustrate our part in His work.  We must acknowledge our sin (MUCH easier said than done!), realize our need for Christ, and ask for His mercy.  Thankfully, He assures us His answer will always be yes.

Our country and our world need prayer more than ever.  This week, let us pray for reconciliation within broken relationships in our own lives and work toward peace within our families and communities, that God might bring reconciliation between peoples opposed to one another throughout the world.   May we all recognize the inherent dignity of every human person, called by God to live eternally as His son or daughter.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to value?  Who is it easy to love and why?
  • Who do you struggle to appreciate?  Who is most difficult to see as a child of God? Have you experienced or seen prejudice firsthand?
  • Consider how sin degrades a person, similar to the way sickness deteriorates a body.
  • How does healing and grace resemble medicinal healing?  Does it sometimes require distasteful medicine, or even amputation?
  • Consider why we must acknowledge sin and the need for help to begin healing.  Have you ever known someone who refused to acknowledge they were sick, even though it was apparent to their loved ones?  Or, knowing they were sick, refused to see a doctor?
  • Imagine yourself as the woman crying out to Jesus.  You know you have no right for Him to listen to you because you have rejected God for so many years.  Would you be tempted to say nothing out of fear of rejection?  Consider the courage it takes for you beg Him for mercy.  Imagine His eyes and His voice as He says to you with undeserved graciousness: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for, and work toward, peace with someone.  It could be by cultivating more peace in your encounters with your spouse and kids, apologizing and making amends with someone you have hurt or been unjust toward, removing slander or critical personal attacks from your social media and replacing them with positive acknowledgments, removing yourself from contentious and prejudiced conversations among coworkers or neighbors, or making peace with God by going to the Sacrament of Confession.

Related Posts:

Finding Fulfillment in Self-Gift

Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

How Can God be Both Justice and Mercy?

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.