In previous posts and comments, I have given many examples of heroic charity and forgiveness. I frankly look on these in awe. One can never know for sure (because God gives extra graces in these situations), but I can hardly imagine myself living up to this kind of ideal. I have to admit it’s possible (because it’s been done), and I see—theoretically—how and why the saints were motivated, but I don’t find those same levels present in my heart and will. So ultimately I think it becomes a question of grace and whether I would accept or reject God’s supernatural attempt to carry me over these mountains.
Be that as it may, I think we should further elaborate on and give examples of false, sham, or unprincipled kinds of “love,” which may also involve false kinds of forgiveness. I wish to share one such example that I personally witnessed and was involved in, then a second related by the Little Flower.
I got my first real full-time job was while I was writing my dissertation in the late 70’s. I was first a teacher, then the head of the Counseling Center at a boarding high school for problem teenage girls. Hardest job I ever had! My sudden transition from teacher to Director of the Counseling Center (which was really above my expertise) happened because the counselors all got fired when it was discovered they had snuck a girl out for an abortion. This was a good work of justice. The primary responsibility of the nuns running the place was to protect the girls in their care. It would have been completely false “charity” to let the counselors stay on with a slap of the wrist. The only question was whether they should have been prosecuted legally. Perhaps so.
However, in rebuilding the Counseling Center, over my objections and perhaps because I had already arranged one hire, the sisters insisted on their right to hire the next fellow and for some reason took on a dissenting ex-priest part-time as a counselor. Within a year, the same thing happened. He snuck a girl out for an abortion. This happened while I was out on my summer vacation. When I got back, it was all on my desk. The problem was that the nuns had not fired him and were avoiding taking action. The mother superior just disappeared for a couple of months, visiting other houses, hoping the whole thing would blow over.
Eventually, I pressed the point and had a showdown. Why this different reaction the second time around? The reason given was, basically, that he was an ex-priest and had been hurt by the Church before and they didn’t want to hurt him again. So they just wanted to paper it over, sweep it under the rug, act like it hadn’t happened, as a way of showing they loved him and that the Church was a church of love. I appealed to their obligation to show love and justice to the girls entrusted to their care. How could they leave them orphans in the hands of such a confused and dangerous counselor? But no amount of argument availed. In the end, I had to resign as Director in protest against having this man under my authority and responsibility. This is surely a concrete, real case of the kind of thing Katie is talking about in her cautions about “Unprincipled Forgiveness.”
Another example, from the Little Flower, of what might be called in modern parlance “tough love” is the following (from Counsels and Reminiscences):
One must not let kindness degenerate into weakness. When we have blamed justly we ought to leave it so, and not yield to feelings of distress at having given pain. To run after the aggrieved one in order to console her, is to do more harm than good. To leave her to herself is to force her to expect nothing from creatures, to have recourse to the good God, to see her failings and to humble herself. Otherwise she would grow accustomed to being consoled after a deserved rebuke and would behave as does a spoilt child, who stamps and cries, well knowing that this will make its mother return to wipe away the tears.
Excellent illustration of just the kind of thing Katie is concerned about. However, how is one to reconcile these examples with the earlier ones I have given, including from the little Flower, which seem to be opposed?
The difference, I think, lies in the situation and duties accompanying authority (an awesome status for a human being, much to be feared in some respects, and needing great trust in the graces and help of God). In a position of authority, you have direct responsibility for the order of the whole or for other souls. The nuns in my example were directly responsible for the operation of the institution and for the souls of the girls placed in their care. St. Therese spoke her words above in the context of being Director of Novices giving guidance and strength to a fellow sister who was to be her assistant in that task. Quite different from the quote from St. Therese in my earlier comment (#6 on Going Through Christ to the Other), where she says—I’ll repeat for convenience:
To want to persuade our Sisters that they are in the wrong, even when it is perfectly true, is hardly fair, as we are not responsible for their guidance. We must not be Justices of the peace but only angels of peace.
But being responsible for making such judgments is not something we should assume without being placed in such a situation--one that requires it. I have read of more than one example, in fact, (though I don’t have them at my fingertips—perhaps someone could supply for the lack here) where saintly men ran away after having been nominated as Bishop—because they didn’t want the responsibility of making such judgments! Why should we ever take it upon ourselves if we don’t have to? As sinners together at the foot of the cross, we should look to Christ for his mercy and his justice (He who knows our weakness). It is a fearful thing to be chosen as His instrument for justice, and we can scarcely assign that task to ourselves.