Deepening Formation

Bearing Wrongs Patiently and the Sacrament of Charity

The fourth spiritual work of mercy is one that is simple in theory but difficult in practice: “to bear wrongs patiently.” We all know how to be charitable and patient to those who are pleasant, kind, and humble. However, our initial reaction is not “patience” when someone cuts in line in front of us after waiting for an hour at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).

What Our Lord Says about Mercy

Jesus had much to say in regard to this spiritual work of mercy: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Matthew 5:38–41).

Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” is radically different than what the world (and our own sinful hearts) want to do. We feel that, when someone hurts us in some way, we must “return the favor.” In our own minds, we believe we are “justified” in slapping someone back or regaining our spot in line. We say to ourselves, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!”

Black and white photo of people waiting in line in a crowded hallway

What is even more controversial is what Jesus said following this passage. He goes even deeper:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. —Matthew 5:43–48

While, in a certain sense, “justice” appears to say that we should return evil for evil, God does not want us to base our actions on what the world says. He desires that we be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This means that we need to battle our inner tendencies and not “fight fire with fire” but seek the “high road” that leads to salvation.

Little girl with arm affectionately around her younger brother

The Need for Divine Grace

This spiritual work of mercy received its purest expression in the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While reading the Passion narrative during Holy Week, our hearts cry out, and we want to say to Jesus, “You can stop all of this! You are God! Throw down fire and smite these evil Romans!” That is exactly what the Apostles would have said, as revealed in this episode in the Gospels:

And he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. —Luke 9:52-56 (emphasis added)

“Bearing wrongs patiently” is not easy. You could say that it is not even “human” to do so. It goes against every fiber of our fallen nature. That is why when someone hurts us, we must not act as a “human” but follow the example of God incarnate.

This work of mercy is “spiritual” for a reason; it requires divine grace to be successful.

Close-up of one hand reaching out to another

From a “human” point of view, we often think that “revenge” will solve our problems. If a friend of ours steals something precious to us, we think that the only logical response is to steal something from them; in that way, we will be “even.” Or if someone slanders us on social media, we believe that the proper response is to slander him or her even more. We somehow think that doing an evil deed will overcome an evil deed done to us and bring satisfaction.

What we fail to realize is that, in the spiritual world, we cannot “fight fire with fire” or try to defeat “darkness with darkness.” In the same way that water extinguishes a raging fire, only humility, patience, and mercy can destroy the effects of sin.

Source of Mercy

One of the primary sources of this spiritual gift is the Eucharist. If we want to be more merciful, “bearing wrongs patiently,” we need to receive and adore Jesus in the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis that, “The sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes manifest that ‘greater’ love which led him to ‘lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13)” (SC, no. 1).

Two young women praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance on the altar during Eucharistic adoration

He further explains, “the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived ‘according to the Spirit’ (Rom 8:4ff.; cf. Gal 5:16, 25)” (SC, no. 77).

The Eucharist can propel us forward so that our life is lived “according to the Spirit,” fueled by God’s love.

The spiritual works of mercy are not easy, and we cannot do them alone, without God’s grace. We need his love to be pulsing through our spiritual veins. Receiving the Eucharist at Mass is one way to unleash the gates of God’s love into our hearts.

Going forward, let us step back and rely on God’s grace to perform the spiritual works of mercy. We might want to strike back at someone, even for such a small thing as being annoying in the adoration chapel, but we must not let our fallen nature overtake us. We must allow God to penetrate our heart and transform it into something new. Let us recite often the refrain (especially during temptation):

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like unto thine!”

The original version of this article was published in the National Catholic Register.