By Mark Piper, Mercy Associate
From the Rite of Baptism: You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor [emphasis my own]. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking? Who is your neighbor?
First, brush up on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ explanation of who is a neighbor and what being neighborly looks like. CliffsNotes: a neighbor is any person, no matter how far removed from your “in group” they are. Being neighborly requires mercy-ing.
Second, a partial list of who your neighbors are at the Thanksgiving table: The cousin who slinks away to the basement, the relatives who speak more loudly and often than they ought, the shy guest, the drunkard, the person who wants to bait you into political screeds, and the teenager who refuses to say grace. All of your family, their friends, or significant others, whatever history or adjectives you assign to them—at this celebration, they are your neighbors, and through our baptism we have promised to love them. All of them.
Third, reread 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 for an explanation of what love is and is not. CliffsNotes: love is patient and kind; it is neither rude nor pompous. As such, our interactions with those at Thanksgiving should be the same. Converting patience and kindness into words and actions is fraught with peril, particularly when engaging with neighbors we find annoying, who may have wronged us, or who, in our own hearts of stone, we have decided are not worth our time. You must still discern how to engage in constructive, loving ways.
Fourth, ask how you can you honor your baptismal promise by loving your neighbor at Thanksgiving. How can you convert the ideals of love and the thoughts of mercy-ing into reality? God has graced us with at least seven ways to love our neighbors, according to the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
- Give counsel to the doubtful, by listening attentively and knowing you don’t have to have the answers. We are all children of God, deserving of respect. See and seek the good of the person.
- Instruct the uneducated, starting with yourself. Recognize your lack of knowledge; refrain from instruction. Being meek and humble are attributes of godliness.
- Advise wrongdoers, directly, in private, with charity and goodwill as your motivation. Use prudential judgment to know when not to offer advice, when to walk away. Don’t point out the splinters in their eyes while neglecting the rods in your own. If someone says something offensive or inappropriate, use “I-Statements,” and non-violent communication.
- Comfort the afflicted, with attentive listening—in person, in prayer or in silence. Forgive your offenders with intimacy, not dismissiveness. Your shoulder may be a good place for someone to deposit their tears.
- Bear patiently with those who are troublesome. Listen. Employ silence and avoid trite exchanges. It’s called Thanksgiving for a reason; orient your attitude and your responses toward the positive, to gratefulness.
- Forgive Offenses: Examine your conscience. Has someone been left off the invite list due to a past feud, grudge or sin? Forgiveness is very intimate, so if the holiday itself isn’t appropriate, it’s a reminder to reach out and connect one-on-one with forgiveness as the aim. Perhaps coffee and leftover pumpkin pie the next day may provide sustenance for the difficult conversation.
- Pray for the living and the dead: G.K. Chesteron quipped that, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and to love our enemies; probably because they are the same people.” All joking aside, don’t forget to pray for those whose company you keep. Holidays can be hard, whether because a family member has recently passed or because a couple planned to announce they were expecting a child but have suffered a miscarriage. It may be helpful to reminisce about a beloved relative who is no longer at the table.
You do not need to partake in every conversation. In fact, remaining silent may help you avoid the near occasions of sin. If you fail to quickly notice when your heart rate increases, your voice crescendos, or your words become coated in sarcasm, stopping, taking a breath and apologizing is always appropriate. Over the years, a morsel of wisdom that has fed me in discussions of family drama is this: First, pray. Second, listen. Third, ask, with authenticity, “Can you help me understand what you mean by that?” Fourth, listen some more.
I’ve written previously on how to employ the Spiritual Works on Social Media. In person as well as online, it is most important to avoid hate. One cannot always avoid anger, and anger can even be constructive, but hate devours love. Whenever someone says or does something that is offensive or mean-spirited and you want to respond like Samson to the Philistines, recall that the ratio provided by Jesus for choosing between forgiveness or flipping over tables is approximately infinity-to-one (unless you’re a mathematical literalist, and then it’s 77-to-1).
As we are called to community for the Thanksgiving holiday, we will put our baptism to the test. Opportunities abound to love God and neighbor as Christ taught us. The Rite of Baptism also includes this line: “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” May we love and welcome our family and friends—neighbors all—with great joy and without exception this Thanksgiving.