We human beings have a tendency to get on each others’ nerves. Living in close proximity to each other can cause conflicts. We don’t see eye-to-eye. Each of us has our ticks. Sometimes we don’t co-operate very well. We annoy each other.
We need a way to coexist peacefully. Which brings us to the virtue that reigns supreme on today’s popular airwaves. We try to live together in peace by practicing the magnificent virtue of…TOLERANCE!
My neighbor acts oddly, but I tolerate it. My sister talks too much, but I let it go. My spouse snores. I deal. My friends vote for evil political candidates and brag about it. I button my lip. I stay calm. I am a good person. I am tolerant.
Okay. Two things.
First: Certainly we want to live together here on earth in peace, as best we can. If my neighbor strains my patience, I try to learn how to tolerate the strain.
The question is: How? How do I learn to do that? The virtue of tolerance gets trumpeted from every media-market rooftop. But who really shows us how to do it? It seems to me that tolerance’s loudest champions tend to tolerate only tolerant people who happen to be like themselves.
But being virtuously tolerant does not mean only tolerating people who agree with you. The whole point is to tolerate the people who utterly mystify you. To tolerate the people who make no sense.
How? The great missing ingredient in the contemporary tolerance craze. How can I find peace and happiness while I am in the company of people who drive me crazy? They make absolutely no sense, very loudly, all the time.
The fact of the matter is: to practice tolerance—genuinely to tolerate others with equanimity, even generosity—to do this, one must practice mercy. No peace endures unless it rests on sincere forgiveness. The truly tolerant man is the merciful man.
Okay. But, again: How? How can I forgive this moron who makes no sense? How can I forgive all these jerks who are out to get me? How? How can I possibly live at peace with these people?
“The one who has been forgiven much, loves much,” saith the Lord.
Mercy flows like a flood from the wounded Heart of Christ. The Holy Spirit flows from His Heart. The Holy Spirit of Christ fills me—when I myself confess my sins, which He tolerated heroically while hanging on the Cross for them.
If I get myself right with God by confessing my own sins, then no man can really disturb my peace. God loves sinners. He loves me, the worst sinner of all. And He loves all the other sinners who drive me frickin’ insane.
Which brings us to Point #2. Yes, the famous virtue of tolerance can lead to a cessation of hostilities, a civil cordiality, a détente, a tenuous peace. But the very idea of ‘tolerance’ presumes that something unpleasant lives in my neighborhood. We do not tolerate things we love; we tolerate things we don’t like. Tolerance means calmness—in the presence of a disturbing thing. If I say I “tolerate” something, I simultaneously say that it does not please. I keep my distance from it. I would rather not have to tolerate it. The word ‘tolerance’ implies all this.
Just because no open war rages among the beautiful tolerant people—that does not mean that peace truly reigns. Peace means more than the absence of war. Peace means love. Love is to tolerance what an extra-large DQ Blizzard is to a Nilla wafer.
So: How do I learn to see the good in my annoying neighbor so that I can love him? How do I learn to love what I now can barely manage to tolerate? How can I look upon my enemy with love? Again, we need to know how.
There is only one way. I must have the eyes of Christ. I must gaze upon His children the way He gazes upon them, with unconquerable love.
And how can I do that? I cannot. I am no God. But the Holy Spirit can do it—in me. The grace of God, poured out from on high on the Apostles and on us—this heavenly fire can focus my vision on everything beautiful in even the most annoying person on earth.
I mean, I know a guy who is really, really annoying. He has issues that I can’t even begin to understand. He frustrates me at every turn. He tortures himself when he should relax. He goofs off when he should focus. He speaks formally when He should use colloquialisms. He’s friendly when he should be aloof and stiff when he should be folksy. He makes stupid jokes. What is his point? I just don’t get it. And I have to see this person every day. Every morning. In my shaving mirror.
Holy Pentecost Sunday, Batman! The spirit of Christ can teach me to see good even in that miscreant. Christ would have died on the cross just for that joker!
If I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, learn to see the good even in this most annoying person in the world, then I figure the Holy Spirit can equip my eyes to gaze with love on all the other annoying people in the world, too. I won’t just tolerate them. I will love them.