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Catholic Activity: How to Deal with People

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Mary Reed Newland discusses ways of developing a spirit of detachment and love within your children, especially as they learn to see Christ in the particularly difficult people around them.

DIRECTIONS

This detachment in respect to nature offers no very big problem. It is in the complicated relations with humans that problems arise. And if we teach the way to detachment in relation to nature by helping them see all things against a background of God, we teach them detachment in relation to people by helping them see all men as other Christs.

It need not, indeed should not, be a matter of preaching a sermon every hour on the hour, but it is good to remember that these problems have to be treated some way, and if not this way, some way that is less good. The alternative is a far vaguer conception of goodness for the sake of being nice. And don't anyone tell me this formless niceness people hold up to one another as the measure for behavior is more convincing than Christ. At times it may be easier to live with, but the easier it is to live with the less effect it usually has, and it is apt to end up being mightily confusing, and meaning nothing. Some people think that birth control is nice. And some think euthanasia is nice.

We can start children off on the lifelong struggle to live reverently with their fellow man by teaching them how to see Christ in one another. This is not hard, because Our Lord explained it so simply Himself: "Whatsoever you do to these, the least of my brethren, you do unto Me."

It is also very evident in the story of St. Paul thrown from his horse on the way to Damascus. Our Lord had ascended into Heaven. Paul had never known Him. And yet when he lay there whimpering in the dust, blind and frightened, the Voice he heard said to him: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" What else can it mean than that we are to see Christ in all men? He wasn't personally hiding in Damascus. Paul had no confusion in his mind about whom he was after.

We can explain this to our children and they are delighted to discover it. But the process of getting it straight in their heads leads into some strange and winding ways. For instance, there was the time John was helping Peter get into his sneakers. As it happened, Peter was fresh from a long talk with his mother about seeing Christ in his brothers. What with the fat feet, and the limp sneakers, the red hair and the bad temper, they were getting nowhere fast. Finally John yelled: "Get your feet in!"

And Peter said, smiling smugly: "Remember, I'm Baby Jesus."

Providentially his mother was within earshot, or I shudder to think of Peter growing up identifying himself so intimately with deity. So we had to get it explained again; and after a deep breath and a good try, John helped Peter into his sneakers as though he were helping Baby Jesus, and Peter co-operated the way Baby Jesus would co-operate.

But these things are really ironed out very easily, and they do get it straight. Although, like everything else, they need constant reminding, it is a far more direct way to go after kind, patient, loving ministrations between brother and brother, brother and sister, our children and the neighbors', than the old worn-out, "Now be nice."

Then there are hurt feelings, which can be much more effectively handled through Christ than with mere purring sympathy. For instance, one day Monica was getting off the bus with a group of children when one of them kicked her scuffed shoes and sneered: "Ugh! What shoes!"

To be publicly scorned by the neighborhood fashion plate was a bitter blow. She came home close to tears and poured out her woe over the bread and butter. So we got to talking about Our Lord, and how He had walked many miles either barefoot or in dusty, and probably badly scuffed, sandals. One has that to share with Him when she has to wear beat-up shoes until it is time for her to have new ones, and it will help her understand a bit how things were with Him. Because, of course, people made fun of Him, too. There was the time the soldiers scourged Him, and then put the crown of thorns on His head and the purple robe over His shoulders, handed Him a reed for a scepter, and then mocked Him, bowing and scraping and saluting Him as king. It was all a joke; they never realized that all the time He was their King, silent and loving them, and offering His suffering for them in the hope that one day grace would help them understand, and be sorry.

"Instead of hating someone who makes fun of you, you can remember what you learned: 'Whatsoever you do to these, the least of my brethren, you do unto Me.' And then you see that they hurt Our Lord even more than you by their unkindness. And here is a thought. Perhaps God permitted it to happen because this child does not know how to love, and it will remind you to pray for her and ask Him to teach her how to love Him too."

Sooner or later it occurs to them to ask: "But how can you see Christ in really bad people?" And this, it is true, is very hard. But we can see the price Christ puts on bad people — right there on the Crucifix hanging on the kitchen wall. So we cannot hate them, even when we fear them and hate the things they do. Our Lord took particular pains to teach from the Cross how we are to feel about the "bad people." "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Now and then children will bring this up when some news broadcast or headline proposes a discussion of the bad Russians (as distinct from the good Russians), or the bad Chinese (as distinct from the good Chinese). Because they have no firsthand knowledge of these bad ones, they accept quite easily the explanation that they must pray for them with love because they are precious to God and, as long as they are alive, might still one day be saints. It has happened to men just as bad.

But when it is someone real, someone who, perhaps, has humiliated them in front of the schoolroom, or has bullied them cruelly in neighborhood play, there is the challenge. With such a one, they cannot drum up any emotion of loving, any very real pity, or even much understanding, and the only wholesome way to go about healing a fear or a hurt of that sort is by remembering the price Christ paid for these "bad ones." He loves them, so He can help us to learn to love them too, and if we can help our children forgive them by even the driest act of the will, and pray for the grace to love, it will come — even though it will be long and hard and seem to be impossible.

The end of all this, one day, is that death to self which Our Lord said must take place if we are to live in Him, and He in us. In the meantime, it is the preparation of a soul that can look about itself at the world and the people in it and evaluate it all with God as the measure. It is the key to all the tense relationships within households where too many live in too small a space, where older people must bear the difficult noise and distraction of youngsters, and where youngsters must bear the carping and irritation of the much older. It can be a life line for a child suffering at the hands of a sarcastic teacher, a persecuting neighbor, a difficult bus driver.

A little boy we know learned to conquer his fear of teasing by each day accepting it silently as Christ did His tormentors', praying for those who teased him. To help him endure he marked each day's victory over fear and self-pity with a counter in a jar. One day he put no counter in the jar. When his mother asked him why, he said, somewhat surprised, "But they don't tease me any more." Working at his problem spiritually, he had leveled the valley of his fear and, ceasing to react to the teasing, he had removed the motive for it. When the others found they could no longer irritate him, it was no fun to try.

This is the most practical approach to all sorts of trying problems in human relations. It is the beginning of the end of self-pity, frustration, pessimism, all the things we must rid ourselves of if we are going to try to be saints.

Once there was a little girl who stood up in front of a group of schoolmates and said: "You shouldn't call people with dark skin niggers. It's wrong, and unkind, because God made their skin dark and it's beautiful and I like it better than white skin."

Under the circumstances, with a mob of children lined up against her, one would say she had great courage. But courage didn't even enter into it. She is so passionately convinced that everything God does is perfect that she never stopped to think her defense of his dark-skinned children might make her the butt of her playmates' brutality. She has much to learn of detachment in other ways, but there are many far older than she who do not see their fellow men as creatures who reflect God's glory.

There are heavy burdens for children to bear if they are to take part in restoring the world to Christ, burdens that demand great faith and charity. They will have to practice fortitude, patience, chastity, kindness, justice, mercy — all the virtues carried to a heroic degree. Only if they lose themselves in God will they ever be able to do it, and losing oneself in God is detachment.

Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961

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