Transcending offence in gift

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As Redemptorist confreres, we often talk at the table, even about what I have set out in the previous post. Especially on Sundays, when we have more time for this. Because of the coronavirus, there can only be two at each table to respect the precautionary distances. This allows us to enter into a more interpersonal dialogue. In mutual trust, even at the table, one can share the things one experiences in the real world more deeply, intercepting the lessons to be learned and the consolations to be grasped.

This helps me to leave behind thinking that is often too human and to tune in to the thought and lifestyle of the same Jesus that we try to follow together in religious life. Sometimes surprising traits emerge, perhaps slightly “obscured” too, but – when exposed to the light of mutual charity – they are transformed. In one of the interviews, a persistent lack of reconciliation on my part with my experience in Poland, fully immersed in the first wave of the still ongoing health crisis, emerged.

I am referring to the powerful experience I had with the Redemptorist community in Tuchów (seminary), where I was during those months. Covid-19 disrupted everything: we who were in good health had to move to another community. At first, I thought the brothers in the other community were terrified of infection and almost didn’t want to take us in, even though it was a separate facility close to their own community.

I must confess, I felt hurt by this unwelcoming attitude of the brothers. This unwantedness really struck me, this being unacceptable to the brothers at a time of great need. In the end, we were welcomed into the facility, but… always distanced, even emotionally, not knowing how to handle the great fear for Covid-19. With the 2019-2020 academic year over, I returned to Rome. The heart seems to have been imprisoned in the experience of fear that actually damaged my relationships with some brethren. I carried it inside. I think everything was actually stigmatising itself in the form of a wound that did not want to heal…

This is where the narrative about having time for each other comes in. When one has the time, marked by kindness and goodness that listens, reality can reveal itself for what it is without hurting… The ‘evangelical’ talks at the table about following Jesus together in practice also threw a ray of light on my own darkness, particularly on my not knowing how to forgive the past that had just ended. I understood this situation as a very personal call from Jesus addressed to me. I realised that I had to do something. But what was I to do?

In search of light, in the simple and unarmed conversations at the table, some simple reflections emerged on how God-charity overcomes offence. One brother went so far as to say that God, in practice, can never be offended because He always transcends offence into a gift (referring to Benedict XVI). This made a decisive leap in my heart. I said to myself: “You must transcend the offence (real or presumed) in the gift, and do it now!“.

Coincidence: on the same day, a news item appeared on an internal WhatsApp group about the serious health situation of two fathers from the very community I am talking about, with a request to pray for them. It became an opportunity to take a concrete step, to transform my wound into a gift. I responded personally with a greeting and a word of assurance of my fraternal prayer.

In the meantime, another worrying piece of news arrived concerning my sister and her 14-year-old son, who are also battling the coronavirus. I decided to give my loved ones a concrete sign of closeness in this painful situation by celebrating the Eucharist for them. But at that very moment, the thought came to me that I could also offer this Mass for my brothers in Lubaszowa. They, too, have been contaminated by the virus… it is precisely in the Eucharist that the decisive step of healing took place in transcending the offence into the Gift.

A happy communication from me followed this: “Father, at 12 noon, I celebrated the Eucharist here, in Rome, in front of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for your sick, for all of you”. The brother replied immediately, with penetrating words: “Father, thank you very much. I take this opportunity to ask you: if there was anything wrong on my part during your stay with us last June, please excuse me! Sometimes, when you want to do good, things go in the opposite direction. I wanted to tell you about it some time ago, but perhaps we were not given the opportunity. Thank you!”

I replied by writing: “Father, I have been thinking about my reactions. Jesus recently urged me strongly to forgive and to (re)build relationships. You know, Father, during my stay in Tuchów, when the virus hit the community, I had to go through the experience of great fear for myself, but God guided me. It was a difficult journey. I did not realise that the other brothers were also facing a similar experience. I am sorry too, for thinking and even speaking ill of you. I am sorry, Father. Please forgive me!” He replied: “Father, thank you very much. Father, I forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me”!

I want to conclude my reflection with a precious and powerful text by St Francis of Assisi. In the context of the first friars’ martyrdom, the Poor Man of Assisi offers a warning to his brothers. Herein lies the source of the title of Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti.

Admonition VI says: “Let us look with attention, all brothers, at the Good Shepherd, who to save his sheep endured the passion of the cross. The Lord’s sheep followed him in tribulation and persecution, in shame and hunger, in infirmity and temptation and other such things, and for this, they received eternal life from the Lord. Therefore, it is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that the saints have done the works […] and we want to receive glory and honour just by recounting them”[1]. The saints have ‘done works’, so this is the style of our life, our moral life, in which the word is born of deeds, and the deeds are born of the Word.

I have taken the liberty of communicating all this, with very personal touches, to highlight the fact that every context, even the darkest, is illuminated if along the way (even at the table) we meet with open and kind hearts that “have time”.

Fr. Krzysztof Bieliński, C.Ss.R.

[1] San Francesco d’Assisi, Ammonizioni VI.

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