By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). When we look at the ten commandments, we see that the first three order our relationship with God, and the last seven order our relationship with our neighbor. This lets us know two things. First, the order of the commandments let us know that our relationship with God must come first. Second, the number of commandments relating to our relationship with our neighbor lets us know that we will struggle more often in that area. This makes sense when we think of how many hours in the day we are directly talking with God vs. how many hours we are interacting with others. Those we live with often challenge us the most.
When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. (Advice from Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis)
How often do we feel annoyed by the behavior of those around us? In my younger years I used to jokingly say, “I would be a saint, if it wasn’t for the people around me.” This thought, though meant as a joke, hides a deep truth beneath. It is true, that it is in community, in relationship, that our faults and weaknesses are brought to the surface. The “other” acts as a mirror to the state of our soul. But what we do when these faults come to the surface is the difference between vice and virtue, between sin and love. Those closest to us, by the mere number of interactions, bring up things that just can’t be ignored. Conversation, charity, change, compromise…either from one or likely from both, will be required if the goal is to live in peace.
“Now I wish to tell you further, that a man proves his patience on his neighbor, when he receives injuries from him. Similarly, he proves his humility on a proud man, his faith on an infidel, his true hope on one who despairs, his justice on the unjust, his kindness on the cruel, his gentleness and benignity on the irascible.” - (From The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Sienna)
When my faults rise up in response to an offense, and I become aware of them, it is like a double-edged sword, cutting “between soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12). “My sin is before me always” (Psalm 51). This revelation is a great gift from God. It is only when I become aware of my own sinfulness that I can bring it to the foot of the Cross. If it remains hidden it festers and slowly kills my soul. It is in the reflection of the other that the soul sees its true state and can surrender to the loving hand of God. Thus, through relationship with other sinners, God works on my soul. This process can happen simultaneously in a relationship, if both are striving to grow in love. “Love is the cross, and the cross is Love” (St. Therese of Lisieux). When we feel annoyed at something or someone we have a choice. We can either choose to focus on what is annoying us, or we can recognize the opportunity in front of us, an opportunity to practice virtue, to grow in patience, to grow in love.