Being a victim has become fashionable. Most of us can probably claim that the world is against us in some way at some times. Even being white, male and middle-class does not exempt anyone any more because, as a friend recently commented, men like him are regularly perceived as the source of all that is wrong with society, etc, etc. It is part of our Western cultural preoccupation with blame. Someone must be responsible, and someone must be made to pay. We call it justice but, most of the time, what we are after is vengeance.
I was musing on this as I pondered today’s chapter of the Rule, RB 50, On Brethren Working Away from the Monastery or On a Journey. It is a short chapter exhorting us to say the Divine Office as best we can and not to omit it just because circumstances make the saying of it difficult. After a few years in the monastery, most of us know the psalter and much of the Bible by heart, so even if we lack books or iPad, the office can still be prayed. That can be especially important if one encounters the kind of prejudice that is becoming more common: unlooked-for hostility or aggression towards Christianity.
Many people report that Christianity is less tolerated in the workplace than other religions. There is less respect for Christian sensitivities. Occasionally, I encounter it myself, probably because I am readily identifiable as a nun. Part of the problem may be that a lot of people think that they know what Christians believe even when they don’t — and usually it is negative. The one thing they are absolutely sure of is that Christians should always forgive, no matter how badly they are treated. They are right, of course, but what they forget is that forgiveness does not mean that one should meekly accept whatever rudeness or unfairness is meted out. That can startle some people because Christianity is considered to be a religion with no intellectual or moral fibre to it. The problem, however, is not really the riposte one makes (or does not make) but the uncomfortable feeling one is left with that one may have sunk to the level of one’s adversary. One has failed and feels guilty. How does one deal with that?
For me, that is when the words of the Divine Office, of scripture and the Rule are most helpful. They have sometimes stopped me saying what I wanted to because it would be too cutting or unkind. More often they have reminded me that God has his own way of dealing with things, and the silence of Jesus before his accusers is more eloquent than any words of mine could be. But most of all, I think, they have helped when I feel I have failed either to defend something that ought to be defended or have done so in a way that is intrinsically wrong. It is good to have a ready store of ‘holy words’ to draw on at such times. They do not absolve one of responsibility; they do not take away the feelings of guilt and failure. Instead, they show one something better: that for which we strive, the goal for which we are making in Christ.
None of us knows what the day may hold. Confrontations tend to occur when we least expect them. But if we have cultivated the habit of lectio divina and praying some part of the Church’s daily prayer, if every day we take from our reading a word or phrase we can chew over, we shall be better placed to deal with them than if we hadn’t.