We all have a favorite enemy. In your memory, you have someone or something that is like a security blanket that you love, and it’s evil. It’s bad news! In your memory there are shelves, just like a storehouse. And you have little jars that go back to when you were three years old, including a favorite jar. You take that jar out, and you open it, and it’s just an awful memory. And yet, you’re secure when you’re thinking about this terrible thing. It gives you a lot of self-pity and makes you feel that you have a right to revenge, a right to hate.
You see, when we are asked by God to be holy, part of what He’s saying is, “Clean up your memory. Take away those resentments. Throw them out. Clean house.” You have to clean house. You have to ask yourself a question: “Is this how I’m going to gain eternal life?”
The Rich, Young Man & Salvation
This brings to mind the Gospel story of the wealthy young man who said to the Lord, “Lord, tell me. How can I enter the Kingdom?” (see Matt. 19:16). And the disciples are looking at this man who has everything and were wondering, “What’s he talking about? What else does he want?” And the Lord said, “If you wish to enter the Kingdom, keep the Commandments.” But the man responded, “I’ve done all of this.” So Jesus goes on: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (19:21). And of course, we know that this man, being very wealthy, couldn’t do that. And so he walked away sad.
Now, we only think about giving away our possessions. But what about that old nasty memory that gives you security? You’re afraid to free yourself. You’re afraid because you think this favorite enemy, this terrible thing that possesses your life, gives you something that you need. You know, some people are more comfortable in fear because they’ve lived in it so long, they have forgotten that perfect love casts out all our fear. Some people would rather stay the way they are — miserable, hateful, obnoxious — than ever give that up.
Gerasenes & the Demoniac
Do you remember the day Our Dear Lord went to the Gerasenes, and there was a demented demoniac? The man was so crazed that the people would hide and bolt their doors and windows, and the kids couldn’t go outside. The whole village was scared to death. And Jesus comes and looks at this demoniac from a distance. He begins to say, “Come out of him,” and the demoniac rushes to the Lord, and the demon in him says, “Let me alone! What do You want from me?” The Lord looked at him and said, “Get out of him. What is your name?” And they said, “Legion.” A legion of demons in one man! Jesus commanded them again to leave, and they said, “Please, send us into these pigs. Do not send us down into the lower regions.” And He says, “Go” (see Mark 5:1–13).
There were about two thousand pigs there being kept by swine herdsmen for perhaps two or three hundred families, and when the demons entered them, they ran into the lake and drowned. And so the people ran to Jesus and “implored Him to leave” (see 5:17). Can you imagine telling the Son of God to leave over a few pigs? They didn’t realize that now they could go out at night; now their children were safe; now they could leave their doors open. And all it cost was some pigs.
Are you sure that the pet gripe you have — the pet reason you have for not being compassionate and forgiving — is not similar to pigs? Are we not preferring hatred and resentment and regrets? Are we not saying, “Lord, leave me. I want to nourish this anger. I have a right.” We’re not talking about our rights. We’re not saying that we have not been offended over and over, and unjustly. That is not the question. He knows that we’ve been treated unfairly. The question is: “How can I forgive?” He doesn’t ask us to forget it, although that would be sublime. Sometimes it burns in your memory. Sometimes people ask me, “What do I do? I want to forgive, but it keeps coming back.” Don’t worry about it. If you want to forgive, you have forgiven. Just say, “Jesus, I give this whole thing to You. I don’t understand.”
The Demands of Compassion
One of the greatest evils in our life is that as soon as someone offends us or commits a fault, especially if the person is a Christian, we immediately begin to dislike the person. We cannot distinguish between the sin and the sinner. This is what Jesus was referring to when He told us not to judge. When you hate the sinner, you are judging that his actions were deliberate and malicious. But, really, most people don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not that they don’t sin. People make very, very strong choices. They prefer God sometimes, but most of the time, they prefer themselves and evil to God. But even then, I have no right to judge. I cannot judge their grace; I cannot judge their light; I cannot judge their weaknesses.
Compassion is a transforming virtue. It makes you like God. What did Jesus say? “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Compassion and mercy are why Jesus chose you and me to be. Sometimes we are almost jealous of God’s compassion. We want our enemies to suffer. Remember the conversion of St. Matthew, the tax collector despised by the people. You’ve got some favorite person or people you despise. Think of them now. Now think about the Lord God coming down and being very nice to them. What happens inside of you at the very thought?
We hold on to resentments because truth sometimes will trip you up. Not the truth of Jesus; not the revelations of God: They will never trip you up. But the fact that you were really and unjustly offended by someone — that’s a truth, isn’t it? Someone cheats you out of money, out of your business. And it’s a truth. Then that truth gives you, in your mind, the right to hate and to judge. We are very ready to condemn. I’ll bet if you were asked at this moment to make up a list of your neighbors’ sins, weaknesses, and faults, without blinking an eyelash you’d have a long list. But if I were to have you tell me something beautiful about your neighbor, even your family, you have to admit that the list of faults comes much more quickly. We need to focus on the beautiful qualities that the Father and the Son have planted in their souls. Compassion heals. Compassion makes things grow. It makes a flower grow out of a garbage heap. It makes things that are desolate bloom.
What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of the demands of compassion. To be compassionate is to forget yourself. To be compassionate is to think more of your neighbor. It is to say to your neighbor, “Look, I know you have weaknesses; I know you have faults. I know you did me in, but I, too, am a sinner. I have done other things that nobody has ever seen or knows about.” We all have skeletons in our closets. And when you condemn your neighbor, you better open up that closet and look at that skeleton; because if you don’t, you’re going to develop a spiritual superiority complex.
Spiritual pride is worse than any other kind of pride. Jesus was particularly upset about it. The Pharisees said that Jesus broke the Sabbath by healing a man with a withered hand (see Mark 3:1–6). That’s spiritual pride. They missed the whole point of God’s compassion. And we miss the point of God permitting an unjust situation in our lives. Nothing God permits is useless. He brings good out of every evil thing in our lives. We don’t have to explain to God. We don’t have to say, “Now, Lord, You don’t understand. You see, So-and-so offended me, and it was very unjust. And because of this, I really cannot — You understand, Lord — I cannot have compassion. Compassion would be unjust.” No: Justice is done in compassion. Without compassion, you cannot have justice, because compassion transforms. Compassion frees you. Compassion transforms you into the image of the Father.
And people will look at you and say, “Can you imagine? This man was treated so unjustly, and he forgives.” How divine it is to forgive. How divine not to judge. How divine to rejoice, like the father at the prodigal son. How divine to say, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re back. I’m so glad you’re repentant.” Look through the eyes of the Father. Look with the heart of Jesus. Look with the power of the Spirit. The Spirit in you can purify you. The Spirit in you can make you love your brother, though you hate his sin. That is compassionate.
Lord, make us all compassionate as the Father is compassionate.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in the book Mother Angelica’s Guide to the Spiritual Life. It is available from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.
We also recommend the following articles by Mother Angelica:
- “Mother Angelica’s Basic Guide to Holiness”
- “Holiness Is To Struggle Day After Day”
- “Our Holy Work Will Continue in Heaven”