The fourth spiritual work of mercy: ‘bear wrongs patiently’

I think some of us are actually thinking about the Spiritual Works of Mercy for the first time since we learned about them in religion class years ago.

And what I’m hearing from some readers is that what they are discovering is new and unfamiliar.

Take the fourth Spiritual Work of Mercy, “Bear Wrongs Patiently,” which many of us might not even remember having heard before.

Two things strike me about this Spiritual Work of Mercy.

The first is the word patiently – a word which implies waiting for something; the question is, waiting for what?

Only a few years ago, I think most of us would have said “waiting for justice” – waiting for whatever caused the wrong to be corrected, or whoever caused the wrong to be punished, if not in this world, then in the next.

But I think Pope Francis is stretching our understanding of justice, and perhaps it would be more appropriate to say now, “waiting for mercy” – waiting for God’s lov­ing mercy to envelope both us and whatever or whoever causes the wrongs we are bearing.

This is a distinction, I think, because even though justice and mercy may be closely related, they are not exactly the same thing in popular perception and are almost opposites in our political discourse.

The second thing that strikes me is the possibility that we are now not so likely to use this spiritual goal as an excuse for unnecessary suffering and injustice.

“Bear wrongs patiently” can be taken pas­sively, as if we were saying, “accept what is happening to you and wait patiently for your reward – probably in heaven.” Sometimes, this is our only option; but I’m not sure “bear wrongs patiently” is always meant to be an excuse for docility and resignation.

Having wrongs to bear patiently might also be the result of very deliberate efforts to right what is wrong or supply what is missing – in ourselves, through healthy relationships and spiritual growth; in so­ci­ety, through our corporate witness to social justice and the common good. Both efforts take time, hence the need for patience to bear the persistence of conditions which cannot be fixed instantly.

I thought of this when I read the weekday Gospel for February 11 and watched Father Don Miller’s reflection on the U.S. bishops’ website.

In the Gospel Jesus tells the disciples that anyone who wishes to come after him must deny their selves and take up the cross. In his reflection, Father Miller reminds us that crosses are not just instruments of suffering; for Christians, they are also gifts – opportunities, in fact, to manifest God’s love – God’s mercy – in our own lives, just as Jesus did.

For me, this casts a new light on the effort to “bear wrongs patiently.” What do you think?

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Find references and resources at facebook.­com/FaithLeadersCorner/.

Pray and Reflect
Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group dis­cus­sion, or private journaling:
• On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate your ability to “bear wrongs patiently.” How would you have rated yourself five years ago?

• Questions for Children: Why do you think Jesus wants us to be patient when bad things happen? Are there some bad things we shouldn’t be patient about?

• Questions for Families/Classrooms: What are some examples of things we need to “bear patiently” in our family or classroom?

• Questions for Adults: What are some wrongs now or in the past that you are bearing patiently? When do you think “bearing wrongs patiently” is just an ex­cuse for not doing something about what’s wrong? How do you decide when to bear something patiently and when to do something about what’s wrong?

• I think it’s best to “bear wrongs patiently” when….

Join the Conversation
Add your comments to this week’s discussion at Facebook.com/FaithLeaders­Corner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterl­oo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is de­sign­ed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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