Responding to Insults
Consider this unexpected spiritual dynamic: As the culture sinks into wickedness, irrational sensitivity to criticism increases. The “woke snowflakes” are not alone. We too have become hypersensitive. Do you remember when grandmothers could get away with saying to their grandchildren, “You keep up that crying, and I’ll give you something to cry about?” What do grandparents know about raising children?
But sometimes run-of-the-mill bad people are more responsive to correction than the self-righteous.
The funeral home was outside the parish boundaries and needed a volunteer priest for the wake service. I was young, zealous—and naive. A woman, advanced in years, had died, a gypsy matron. When I arrived, I could not locate the funeral director, conveniently lost in the cosmos. He failed to provide the Catholic prayer booklets. I was on my own.
Loud music came from the parlor. It was a party, something like an Irish wake, I imagined. So far, so good. Food filled the table, with beer cans tossed in every direction. The picture started to change. Most of the men in the crowd were inebriated. The poor woman deserved prayers, so I borrowed the King James version of the Bible for a makeshift wake service.
The people assembled in the funeral parlor pews. The inebriated men stumbled in and sat down next to their women. As they gazed in my direction, they laughed at me with contempt. Despite my tender years, I was used to people yawning during my pulpit remarks. So, I usually took the insults in stride. But every so often, there comes a time when the insults are so grave, a man needs to punch back.
I gazed at the lady in the coffin, said a brief prayer for the happy repose of her soul, and asked the daughter in attendance if her mother received the Sacraments before she died. Yes. So, I thumbed through the King James Bible for the most disturbing Gospel passage I could find:
And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched… And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk. 9:42-48)
I delivered a classic fire and brimstone sermon. “This woman received the Sacraments before she died,” I boomed, “but will you die in the state of God’s grace and enter heavenly glory? Or will God condemn you to the fires of hell for your unrepented sins, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
I didn’t take up a collection.
The crowd went silent. Even the men sobered up. Their women had their arms folded and – to my surprise—had turned to the menfolk with stern looks, grateful for my harsh words. I departed through the crowd that separated like the waters of the Red Sea, allowing Moses to pass through.
(Adding insult to injury, the absent funeral director later falsely claimed I never showed up.)
A priest should react to violations of God’s law more than personal slights. The Good Shepherd has us to enter through the narrow gate of heaven. Consider these harsh remarks, remembering a priest should be a lion from the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional:
- Do you sometimes skip Sunday Mass without a sufficient reason? It’s called mortal sin, and you should not receive Communion until you get to Confession.
- Have you made pornography into a god for your worship, violating your life, your marriage, and your family? What would your family think if they knew about your secret life? Why do you neglect always-available forgiveness in Confession?
- Are you oblivious to the smothering evil in most of our schools? Do you care about the souls of your kids and grandkids?
- You’re not God. Test-tube baby technology sinfully manipulates life. Removing vital living organs—hearts, lungs, and livers—from so-called brain-dead people kills them – and violates the Fifth Commandment. Look into it and live.
- Are you getting tired of your spouse? Both of you are getting older, but maybe not wiser. So now you’re charming members of the opposite sex and placing yourself in the occasion of sin. Remember the love of your courtship. Renew your exchange of promises in prayer and behavior. Fight for your marriage. What God has joined, let no man put asunder.
- Are you world-weary? Do you live in a comfortable Catholic cocoon? The Devil loves paralyzing melancholy and Catholic escapism. Trust Providence. Complain with an action plan.
- Have you voted as a Catholic? Do your votes cooperate with abortion, legalized mutilation, theft, and corruption on a massive scale? Or do you vote for your special interests? Tend to your life before God and family and vote for the culture of life.
- Nervous? Good. There’s hope.
There is a holy selfishness in this screed. The Lord speaks to us through the Prophet Ezekiel: “If you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.” (Ez. 33:8-9)
As they make their Confession, penitents may unknowingly insult priests by reminding them of their own sins. Enter heaven through the narrow gate. There’s room for you – and for me.
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