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Your Patient Has Become Humble

10/18/2011 Comments (57)

What’s the oppposite of Schadenfreude? Isn’t there a word for that feeling of disappointment when people behave better than you expect? (A word other than “being a jerk?”)

Someone asked a question of Fr. Z:

During the Agnus Dei at Mass this morning, two unfamiliar teenage
girls and a man, who I suspect to be their father, entered our rather
small church and made their way to a pew.
I was saddened to see as I returned to my seat after receiving Holy
Communion that the aforesaid trio were presenting themselves to
receive, and that even though our priest knew they’d arrived late, he
went ahead and distributed the Eucharist to them.

So my question is this: Should the priest have quietly explained to
them that they couldn’t receive as they reached the front of the
“queue,” or should he have distributed HC, and sought them out
immediately after Mass with a view to correcting them in private?

How do you see the laity’s role in all this?

HA, I thought to myself. This is so typical. What if the latecomers already fulfilled their Sunday obligation at the vigil Mass, and are just stopping in for an extra chance to receive our Lord? What if they were late because their car broke down, and they intend to go to Mass later, but are trying to make the best of things now? What if they have no car, and are forced to depend on an unreliable neighbor for a ride? “The laity’s role?” How about tending to our own souls? WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE?

I was, I wince to report, all juiced up to feel a warm and rousing distaste for the inevitable harumphing responses from a bunch of narrow, legalistic, holier-than-thou readers with no imagination, no compassion, no concept of the reality of everyday life. Ugh, they were going to pounce on the poor late dad, wring their hands and lament over the slackening of standards, and call for a revival of the Knights Templar to stand guard by the priest, ready to slap the unworthy with a metal gauntlet if they dare to show up wearing, you know, the wrong color of mantilla. How petty.

Well, to my shame, approximately 99% of the commenters said exactly what I had just said to myself before reading—that there were many legitimate, non-sinful, possibly even laudable reasons why the dad in the question might have shown up late and received Communion anyway. Only they managed to explain it gently, without any discernible foaming at the mouth.

To my deeper shame, I felt a little bit disappointed.

When I was newly married, I was Catholic with a very Dr. Laura-ish approach to evangelization: Smite first, ask questions later. God doesn’t want to hear about your pathetic little extenuating circumstances; God wants you to DO RIGHT.

After a few years, I realized this version of piety had very little in common with actual Faith, not to mention love. So I’ve been working on growing past that, on becoming the kind of Catholic who knows and embraces the rubrics, but who has enough humility to remember that only God can see souls, only God can judge hearts.

I can tell I have a long way to go because, even as I write, I’m getting annoyed ahead of time at the reader who’s surely going to say, “Please. You think you’re so humble-humble-humble with this unseemly public confession of your stupid little sins. What is this but more vanity and pride, wrapped up in a sophistic mantle of candor and false humility?”

Happily, a passage from C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters popped into my head:

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride — pride at his own humility — will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt — and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed. (Letter 14)

This, my friends, is why it’s helpful to be extremely busy. I can’t quite laugh and go to bed, but I sure do have to make supper, do laundry, change some diapers, and try to remember why it seemed like a good idea to schedule four pediatric dentist appointments back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Humility and judgmentalism and frustrated schadenfreude will have to duke it out on their own—I gotta go pre-treat some ketchup stains before it’s too late. Deo gratias for that.

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About Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher
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Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and nine children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.