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Ink Slingers

I Pick Me: Responding with Love

Have you ever had a disagreement with someone that ended with you feeling like less? 

I recall a situation not too long ago between me and a colleague. This person became extremely upset, and began to speak down to me. Instead of responding by speaking up, I let him continue to berate me. I drove home that night questioning what was wrong with me, and why I felt incapable, stupid, and used.

I used to struggle with the idea that as a Christian, we must be overflowing in mercy in all interactions with others. Submission, humility, meekness – these are all words that cross my mind when I am thinking of how to love best in a conflict situation.

What Does Meekness Look Like?

Meekness attempts to leave room for others and learn from them. To be meek is to be patient with others, practicing restraint and selflessness. What meekness is not is allowing others to hurt us, or choosing to stay in a harmful situation.

And as much as others may say hurtful things to us, I’m willing to bet that we say more hurtful things to ourselves. In fact, it’s easier for us to be compassionate towards others than towards ourselves. 

We Have Dignity

We are all dignified and constituted with value by virtue of Christ’s incarnation. All of us carry the responsibility to honour human dignity – including our own. Reverend John J. Coughlin outlines this in his article “Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being”:

God’s forgiveness of humanity, which is expressed in the Son’s perfect self-sacrificial love, serves as a testament to the highest degree of human dignity both by revealing the love of God for humanity and by demonstrating the fullest possibility for the human person. (2003)

God’s sacrifice demonstrates the fullest potential for the human person, which means that the only appropriate response to one another is love. Unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Now we know that we cannot love perfectly, but we have a calling to participate in that love to the degree that is possible for us. If we don’t, we risk undermining the dignity of all human beings. 

John Paul II writes that the human person cannot live without this love. In the absence of the “revelation” of love, the human person remains “incomprehensible” to self” (Coughlin, 2003).

Understanding that preserving human dignity requires love, how do we train ourselves to respond with love?

Some important things I learned in therapy:

  1. Managing your thoughts can be a way of protecting yourself. We can begin to change the negative thoughts and emotions we have about ourselves during times of conflict and stress. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) was, and continues to be useful in mind management.
  2. Setting boundaries is a way of honouring human dignity. It is, in fact, necessary that we do so to protect and uphold our own dignity. This can look like learning to say “no”.
  3. Like most important life skills, setting boundaries must be practiced. As any healthy relationship takes time/effort, so does our relationship with ourselves. We must love our neighbours as ourselves after all.

Responding to yourself with love is not allowing others to use or demean us in any way. It means not allowing others to walk all over us, or take their anger out on us. As women on the receiving end, this behaviour may even become normalized, which tends to result in lower self-esteem and higher negative self-talk. We need to have a loving relationship with ourselves in order to extend our hearts genuinely to others. In the context of a conflict or confrontation, it is okay to pick yourself.

Picking yourself can look like: 

  • Suggesting you have the conversation at another time, when you will be in a better headspace.
  • Walking away if you don’t like the way you’re being spoken to. 
  • Telling them that you will not continue the conversation if they continue to disrespect or call you names.
  • Choosing to stay silent, and listen rather than speak.

Although this may not be new information for us, a reminder never hurts. Sometimes it takes more than once to draw your boundary. If we do not show up for ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually, we will struggle to show up for the people in our lives – this we know! Be patient with yourself, and above all remember that we love because He first loved us.

Reference

John J. Coughlin, Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being, 27 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 65 (2003-2004). Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/law_faculty_scholarship/494

Categories
Abortion Current Events Ink Slingers Mary P. Pro-Life Issues Respect Life

Love Your Enemies

On Monday, late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of First Degree Murder for killing babies born alive when they were supposed to have been killed in utero (isn’t it absurd that the physical location of the victim makes the difference between a capital offense and a legally-protected “choice”?). On Tuesday, he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole. After following the case and reading all the disturbing details of the trial it’s easy to be very, very angry at a man like Gosnell. It’s also easy to wish for terrible things to happen to him. It’s easy to see him as nothing but a monster. But, the perhaps-difficult truth is that Gosnell, like all others who commit grave evil, is still loved by God, and that he still retains his dignity as a human being. This doesn’t mean we can’t be angry; but our anger must be tempered by charity, and respect for that dignity.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our human dignity comes from God’s love for us and his invitation to us to share in that love. We are the only creatures that he made in his image, for our own sake, to know him, love him, and share in his life. Even the worst criminal still bears that image of God in his being, though he may be cut off from God’s grace through his choices. And he still retains the invitation extended by God to love him and serve him, until he takes his last breath. It is because of these truths that the Catechism says that, while the State does have the right to execute some criminals, the Death Penalty should be used only as a last resort.

Most Catholics today enthusiastically support the position that the Death Penalty should be abolished in this country. However, many of us fail to carry this concern for the dignity of criminals beyond the question of whether they should live or die. While we want them to have their lives spared, some of us desire that prisoners be treated poorly or even inhumanely while they live out their sentences. We say we are glad that they are not getting the “easy way out” by being put to death, and hope that they live many agonizing years behind bars. We make jokes about prisoners being violated or otherwise harmed by the other prisoners. We celebrate when we hear of a prison where inmates are humiliated purposefully, just for the sake of humiliation. We spew hatred and vitriol against them in internet comboxes. We complain that they have any access to television or that our precious tax dollars are paying to feed them anything more appetizing (or healthy) than bologna sandwiches.

I’m not suggesting that prisoners need to be given access to cable TV or certain kinds of food in order to be treated in accord with their dignity. Rather, it is our annoyance with any comfort they may have in prison coupled with our glee at any discomfort they may have—in short, our desire to see them suffer— that is an offense against their dignity. We have to ask ourselves what our reasons are for wanting prisoners to be humiliated and treated as harshly as possible, and then compare those reasons to what the Church says about the purpose of punishment.

The Church holds that punishment has a basically fourfold purpose – rehabilitation, defense of society against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution. (Take note that retribution is not the same as vengeance). We may legitimately believe it wrong for prisoners to be treated to overly comfortable conditions in prison, because we do not think that justice is satisfied or rehabilitation is facilitated by such a scenario. We may even legitimately support the death penalty in limited cases. But a virtuous and detached concern for justice is a far cry from the vengefulness that often is the real cause of us wanting prisoners to be as miserable in prison as possible, or to be put to death.

Church teaching indicates that when the aim of punishment (especially protection of society) can be fulfilled in ways more in keeping with human dignity, the Death Penalty should not be used. The logical extension of that is that we should always be trying to balance the aims of punishment with the protection of the dignity of the human person – not just when it comes to the question of the Death Penalty. We must always balance our concern for justice with our duty to love. My husband is a law enforcement officer and I see him trying to do just that. He has to fight against the strong temptation in his career to see criminals as less-than-human, as irredeemable. But he also has to keep the common good – the safety of society – at the forefront of his mind. He supports longer sentences for criminals than what they typically receive through our local court system, but he does so because society is not being protected adequately through the “slaps on the wrists” that are handed out far too often for serious crimes. It is acceptable and even laudable to support tough penalties for those who commit serious crimes, as long as we do not do so out of malice toward them.

As the wife of a police officer, I have to fight against the same temptations as my husband. I truly understand and sympathize with people who have a difficult time extending mercy toward those who harm others with their evil choices. I understand wanting them to know nothing but pure misery while they serve their sentences. My emotions don’t always align with what I know intellectually to be the truth. The truth is that criminals are people too. And it’s not enough simply to support their right to life; we have to love them, too. It’s possible to satisfy all the aims of punishment, including retribution and protection of society, without trying to strip them of their dignity. In fact, I think the aim of rehabilitation is more likely to be achieved when prisoners are shown basic human decency and treated like they still have worth even though they have done great evil.

We have great examples of how we should treat prisoners in recent popes. Several have visited the imprisoned, as Jesus told us we should. But some have gone even further in their extension of charity to prisoners. Pope Francis gave a strong witness to the dignity of the imprisoned when he washed the feet of juvenile prisoners on Holy Thursday.  Pope John Paul II forgave his own would-be assassin, in addition to visiting with him in prison. Most Catholics celebrate these examples, but many of us do not ask ourselves enough whether we are living in light of them.

I said above that it might be a difficult truth that Gosnell is loved by God. But at the same time, it is a very comforting truth. If someone like him—who mercilessly killed thousands of innocent babies and showed great indifference to the lives and health of the women who were his patients – is still loved by God and still has a chance at salvation, that means that there is always hope for me, too, no matter what sins I may commit. It is only by God’s grace that I or any one of you reading this is not in Gosnell’s place. None of us is above grave sin. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that I could someday find myself with a large chasm between God’s grace and me. It is comforting to know that even then, God’s image would still be imprinted on my being and he would thus still be reaching out to me across the chasm.