OPINION

"Real love is about knowing how to say sorry!"

From a CathNews Discussion Board discussion about broken family relationships and healing...

Vicki, I'm not precisely sure which quote you are referring to. The thrust of the rest of your post I think resonates with that reflection TonyC brought us last week about the hand extended in openness and friendship.

I really think this stuff is about the toughest stuff in life there is. Relationships are extremely fragile things. I don't pretend to understand it. In a sense I still grieve for my former wife who essentially walked out on me 12 years ago and hasn't been able to have any sort of meaningful conversation with me, even about matters of critical concern affecting our children, in the years since. I do think I understand what triggered such an extreme behaviour as that and it underlines the real damage caused by slander and defamation. The bastard who triggered all this walks about each day I am sure totally and blithely unaware of the damage his words and opinions caused in the lives of other people. I honestly think he really does believe he is incapable of sin because he "keeps all the commandments and rocks up to Mass and Communion every morning". A long time ago I came to a realisation that I am totally powerless to change any of the parameters in this situation.

From what you have told us about your own situation, Vicki, you have faced something similar. It was not so much the abuse inflicted on you personally that has been difficult to bear. It is what that abuse did to your relationships with other people, most particularly your parents (and, from this post you've just written, others in your family).

This is one of the places where and why I think the Church has to go back and re-examine the whole gamut of sixth commandment teaching. From the conservative sectors there is so much emphasis on the physicality of sex - what we're allowed to touch and not allowed to touch and do and not allowed to do in terms of where and how we handle our sexual organs. Just look at these people who constantly keep putting the word sodomy in subject lines concerned with homosexuality as though the people writing that word have some fetish about their own backsides and want to constantly wallow around in what comes out of it. The REAL sin in immoral sexual behaviours has virtually nothing whatsoever to do with the physicality of sex. It is to do with the way that inappropriate physical sexual behaviour harms "the spirit and soul" of other people. Physical abuse heals. The soul, the spirit and the emotions take a long time to heal and sometimes might never heal.

The abuse I suffered was not sexual abuse. It was just plain slander, calumny and defamation. In a sense the words don't matter as to how they impacted on me personally. They do matter though as to how they impacted in the lives of others who were dependent on me for various things, including my wife and children, my parents, the shareholders of my companies and even suppliers to and clients of my companies.

In a sense then, and if this is the quote, "to love another can be a great penance", love CAN hurt very, very deeply and I think both of our stories illustrate that even though the triggers were light years apart. Just recently the death of my father has brought some healing in sections of my family. But there is still an awful lot of relationships that are not healed and, I suspect, are never likely to be healed. I think this is an enormous tragedy, and more so, in that it literally required so little effort to (a) have prevented this tragedy in the first place, or (b) once the mistake had been made for it to have been acknowledged and cleaned up.

What keeps getting in the way though? I think it is simply ego. All of us have enormous egos. We crave to be loved. We crave to be respected. We crave to be thought of as "successful" or "intelligent" or "financially savvy". Or we crave even sometimes to just be thought of as loving people ourselves. So often though our ego keeps placing itself in front of our love. Our ego interposes itself between us and the relationships with others. Or the ego of the person we are seeking to communicate with interposes itself between us and them and screws up everything that we are trying to say.

The Church has long had an understanding of this and the wisdom about all this stuff can be found in the various teachings on personal pride. We tend to not hear as much about those teachings today because everywhere one "hears" the Church one could quite easily get the impression that the only sins that matter are to do with sex, abortion, euthanasia and human reproduction. When was the last time anyone heard a decent homily or teaching on pride? We honestly pick up more from television these days and that series some time ago, "The Seven Deadly Sins", than we get from the Church such is the way all the other commandments and teachings have been relegated in importance to the Sixth Commandment as though sexual sins are the only sins that human beings are capable of committing. And then "the sin" is always portrayed as being almost exclusively connected with the physical stuff. It's fundamentalist "literalism" again.

The other difficult aspect of this is the whole matter of reconciliation. Christ teaches that there are times when we do not forgive. The crime is so great that we treat that person "as a pagan or a tax collector". [Mt 18:17] This is one of the great moral dilemmas we have to face in our lives. How do we work out when the correct response is to treat a person as a pagan and a tax collector and when do we treat them in the way Christ turned on his cross and forgave the common thief crucified beside him, or he forgave the soldiers carrying out the orders of others saying "they know not what they do"?

What happened in my family was not actually intended as malicious. That does not alter the fact that it did cause grave damage in the lives of other people. A lot of it was simply "gossip around the barby" when other people were not around. It was "little egos" sounding off and trying to draw attention or kudos to themselves. Most of it was so petty that it really wants to make one weep. It's been a lot of that "lower level" petty upset that has been cured through the recent events connected with the celebration of my father's life. The great sadness though is that these almost miniscule and petty things have kept people (cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews) who previously loved each other greatly estranged for ten or twelve years. This is another of the costs paid in this whole catastrophe.

This stuff does constantly perplex me. I think there is a deep truth in that expression that runs something like "real love is about knowing how to say sorry!" It's about us knowing when to acknowledge and apologise for our own errors as well as others being able to acknowledge and apologise for their transgressions against us. We've become a Church where people rock up to confession and we are given our "three Hail Mary's" but no priest thinks to also ask "Do you think you ought do something to clean up the damage your words or action caused to others?" Confession itself has become a joke and no one rocks up to that much anymore because it has essentially become meaningless to most people.

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Written: 02Mar2005