Be merciful with yourself and with others. Of course, we’re to be merciful to others, but we must be merciful to ourselves too. We cannot judge ourselves more harshly than God does, and the worst sin is despair. So we should be living by the mercy of God all the time—taking responsibility for our life, but not berating ourselves or beating ourselves up. God does not want that. There is no merit in that. Repentance is what God wants, not remorse or some type of self-flagellation.
St. Seraphim of Sarov said: “To have the Holy Spirit is to see your own wretchedness peacefully, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.” St. Therese of Lisieux, a Roman Catholic saint who died at 24, she wrote to a friend: “If you are willing to bear the trial of your own wretchedness, serenely, then you will surely be the sweetest dwelling place of Jesus.” We have to bear our own faults, serenely. St. Paul said: “Where sin has abounded, grace has superabounded.” And we cannot let the devil rejoice two times. Pythagoras said: “When we fall, the devils rejoice. When we stay down, the devils keep rejoicing.” And nothing puts the devils more to shame than, having fallen, we stand up again. So we must bear peacefully, calmly, our own weaknesses, our own failings. Expect them. Don’t make them happen, but expect them. We are not God. — Fr Tom Hopko
Once when I was speaking ill of someone, my spiritual director said to me (per my journal entry from later that night):
Beware of self-righteousness, which is using the gifts you have been given against others and for your own benefit. The self-righteous carefully build a fortress around themselves made out of things like knowledge, petty criticism, cynicism, a sense of superiority or biting humor either to exalt themselves by lowering others or to buffer themselves, preventing others from seeing their own many faults and weaknesses. You’ll notice as you get to know them that self-righteous people are often self-loathing people. They really despise themselves but displace the pain onto others. Maybe they had demanding or critical parents who never were encouraging or satisfied. So they’re driven to impossible standards of perfection. Or maybe they were never taught as children to put others first in life, and so they find everyone to be a threat to their ego-centric world.
Here’s your remedy against it. Always have someone like me in your life who knows the REAL you, warts and all. Pray for self-knowledge, to see yourself as God sees you; which is to see both that you are pathetic and that you are infinitely loved by God. Pray for divine charity, to allow God to love you as you are (not as you imagine yourself to be) so that you can then learn to love others as God loves you. St. Paul [Eph 5:1] says “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Only those who know they are loved like this can love like this; who know they are forgiven can forgive; who know they have freely received can freely give. You can’t give what you don’t have, and you can’t have what you won’t receive. Especially in Confession, drink deeply of God’s love for you in that exact moment: in the face of your filth, His pure love for you. Pass it on.
Encourage the good in those you dislike and pray in a 10:1 ratio for those you criticize sinfully [10 minutes of prayer for every 1 minute of criticism], begging God to give them what they are lacking. Or even if you criticism is warranted, pray for them like a Good Samaritan. As soon as you see another person has a problem — is being stupid, mean, angry, deceitful, lazy, hurtful, arrogant, whatever — you shouldn’t just walk by them murmuring about them. Get down on your knees for them and pour the oil and wine of your prayer on them while carrying them to God. Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. And take St. Ignatius’ counsel relentlessly to heart: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love.”
In a word, make certain that all you do is done out of love. Love always wishes the other well, good. Especially the other we despise or who despises us. “If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?” [Luke 6:32] Everything you say or do needs to be measured by whether or not it is done for the benefit of another and the glory of God. This phrase should serve as the backdrop to everything in your life: “For the glory of God, the salvation my soul and of this person…” If what you wish to say or do at any moment does not seem to complete that sentence worthily, don’t say or do it.
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A great new year’s resolution for me, again, in 2017.