The Inexpressible Comfort of Feeling Safe – Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time    

It takes tremendous trust and faith to follow Jesus’ advice in today’s Gospel. If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. Should I risk having that conversation, or is this all in my mind? Will this be a helpful conversation, or will it make matters worse? Will the relationship survive? Or, will the challenging conversation do irreparable damage to it?

Jesus recognizes the difficulties. If he or she listens to you, you have regained your brother or sister. But if the person does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. And the damage control escalates from there, bringing it to the Church (or, perhaps a courtroom).

No wonder that the default route for many of us is just stewing and venting in our own resentments. I can choose to avoid direct interaction with the offending person. But is that really the healthiest path? There’s plenty out there that helps make the connection between our spiritual/emotional health and our physical health. It’s far better in the greater scheme of things to take the risk and have that conversation.

My personal experience is that the easiest conversations with someone who has hurt me or whom I have hurt are either when I do have a close relationship with the other, or when it’s pretty well a stranger where I don’t have much psychic energy invested in fostering the relationship. In that case, it’s probably just a matter of finding a way to keep the peace.

However, if I feel close to the person, I know that our friendship can survive something minor such as this. I’ve often drawn strength from the words of the English novelist George Eliot about friendship.

She speaks of the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.

A close friend first revealed that quote to me. I still have his original, hand-written version on a card written over forty years ago. It sits in my bible and I occasionally read it and his accompanying note, as a reminder that such trusting relationships are possible.

I find that the most stressful situation is with someone with whom I have a casual working relationship, for instance a work colleague or community member with whom I don’t have a close relationship.

Our ability to keep working together with some semblance of peace may depend upon that conversation to clear the air, and, at least, come to an agree-to-disagree resolution. I can just hope that the boss doesn’t ask me to be on a working committee with the person.

Let’s pray for that gift of a loving friend who can separate the chaff and grain!

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • John Montague
    Posted at 08:59h, 06 September Reply

    Thanks Philip. Your ideas are spot on. Your examples are very similar to my own experience.

  • Peter Monty, SJ
    Posted at 09:32h, 06 September Reply

    Thanks, Phil, for your deep and perceptive reflection.

  • Gabrielle Feuvrier
    Posted at 09:44h, 06 September Reply

    thanks so much Philip. I am glad to discover that quote by George Eliot.

  • Mike Hyland
    Posted at 10:42h, 06 September Reply

    Excellent advice Fr Philip. Thanks for sharing.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 11:53h, 06 September Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • EstherGrace Gilbert
    Posted at 13:03h, 06 September Reply

    I always read what you post. In this case, it is exactly the conversation following Worship today. It makes me think … along with a lot of stewing: How do we make amends, what amends when we participate in a social system of oppression? How is it possible on a personal level; what is possible on a group level?

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