A mother I know had two young sons who were often arguing with one another. One afternoon, much to her exasperation, their fighting escalated, and both boys broke house rules with their offenses against each other.
As a consequence for breaking the rules, some of the children’s privileges were revoked. One boy lost the chance to join in a family movie night; the other lost access to a favorite toy. The brothers bitterly blamed each other, and their relationship only grew more fractured as each child saw the other as the root cause of his problems.
Their mother prayed for wisdom. She wanted her boys to heed the house rules, but even more importantly, she wanted them to love and appreciate each other.
Then she had an inspiration.
She first called the younger boy over and talked to him quietly in private.
“There is one way your brother can get his privileges back,” she told him. “When someone offends us, God wants us to have mercy on that person by praying for him. That’s called interceding for someone—when we ask God to do good things for him. If you would like to, you can ask permission for your brother to watch the movie with us, and I will grant it, because that’s what God does for us, and I want to imitate Him. God’s Heart is moved when we pray for mercy for people who have offended us, and He gives special graces to them through our prayers. Do you want to do that?”
The child nodded, and then asked his mother if his brother could watch the movie with the family.
“Yes,” his mother answered. “Because you, as the one who was offended, interceded for your brother, he can have his privileges restored. I want you to know, and to always remember, that when someone offends you, you can help that person receive extra graces if you ask God to do good things for him.”
Then she called her older son into the room and explained that, because his younger brother had requested it, he could watch the movie with them after all.
“Thank you,” he said, beaming at his younger brother. His whole countenance had changed. Where a few minutes earlier, he had scowled at his brother with anger and resentment, now he smiled at him with gratitude and joy.
After that, his mother gave the older child the same choice she had given his younger brother. She asked him if he would like to request permission for his younger brother to be able to play with his favorite toy again. Happily, he did, and his brother’s privileges were restored.
The two boys went off and played together in peace. No longer were they adversaries. They had helped each other find remission for their offenses, and now they were a team.
Later that afternoon, the younger brother accidentally tipped over a glass of water onto the kitchen table. Before his mother had a chance to respond, his older brother got a towel and began patiently wiping up the spill. There was no trace of the bitterness of the earlier fight. Instead, the older brother seemed like a different child—helpful, responsible, and mature as he took care of his younger brother, who watched and learned from his example.
Healing Hardened Hearts
How beautifully this story mirrors the way our Heavenly Father deals with us! For He, too, wants us to heed the rules—but even more importantly, He wants all of His children to love and appreciate each other.
When we offend one another, how often do we bitterly blame the other person as the root cause of our problems? But God wants us to learn that it is mercy and intercessory prayer, not anger and resentment, that will heal our fractured relationships.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus says in Luke 6:36. “Pray for those who persecute you,” He tells us in Matthew 5:44. By showing mercy and interceding for one another, these young brothers discovered the healing power of Jesus’ words.
And just as each boy asked his mother to be indulgent with his brother, so we, too, can obtain special graces for our brothers and sisters who offend us. Our Mother, the Church, is waiting to lavish indulgences from Her rich treasury upon all who sincerely ask.
“Love of neighbor…is the means I have given you to practice and prove your virtue,” God tells St. Catherine of Siena in her Dialogue. “The service you cannot render me you must do for your neighbors. Thus it will be evident that you have me within your soul by grace, when with tender loving desire you are looking out for my honor and the salvation of your neighbors by bearing fruit for them in many holy prayers. …I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me.”
Our Heavenly Father could have chosen to supply our needs in another way. But loving our neighbor is the avenue He gives us. For in the end, when we learn to show mercy, and to pray for those who offend us, God will take what we have given to others and use it heal our hardened hearts.
In His infinite grace, may His precious children lead the way.