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How to resolve conflict: With words, face to face

Published: September 15, 2017   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 10.

Love is easy when everything is going well, but not so easy when someone hurts us or someone we love.

Sometimes it’s just a simple misunderstanding that has taken on a life of its own. But other times you get the feeling that the hurt was intentional. Jesus teaches us to love always, to love even our enemies, but in real life this isn’t so easy, even within the Church.

In our Gospel today Jesus says, in effect, that if anyone offends us, we should spare no effort to clear matters up and set things right. In this particular passage we have Jesus’ teaching applied by Matthew to the life of the Church — obviously the Church didn’t exist yet during the time of Jesus’ public ministry. So the references to “telling the Church” and what to do if a sinner refuses to “listen to the Church” are a later application of Jesus’ teaching to the concrete circumstances at the time Matthew was writing. But what we do have is a plan of action for mending broken relationships.

• The first step if we feel someone has sinned against us is to put that complaint into words. I find it very helpful to actually put it into writing, stepping back from my feelings and asking just what really is it that I found so offensive?

The worst thing we can do with a wrong is to brood over it because obsessing over our feelings of hurt and the possible motives of the other person can easily cause our feeling of grievance to grow way out of proportion to the actual seriousness of the deed. Sometimes the very effort to put the hurt into words opens my eyes to just how unimportant and trivial the whole thing really is.

• The next step in the case of something that isn’t so trivial is to go and talk with the offender personally, just the two of us. Not send a text or an email. These can easily be misread and misunderstood. We have to have the courage to speak face to face. This way the other party will see our emotions and we will see theirs, and that can soften their heart — and ours as well.

• If private meetings fail and the matter really is important, we should then take a wise person with us, someone who will have credibility also in the eyes of the other person. Here the purpose is not so much to convince the other person that what he did was wrong as it is to create a new atmosphere and hopefully a new openness, and thus help both parties to see themselves and their problem from a more objective vantage point.

And then if that doesn’t work, Matthew says that in some cases it might help to get the Church involved. But finally — and this is the clincher — if you try everything and nothing succeeds, we should at least treat the offending party as we might a Gentile or a tax collector. Meaning that not even here can we set limits to human forgiveness.

Remember how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors? Matthew himself, who wrote these words, had been a tax collector and now was one of Jesus’ best friends. Meaning that even if the offending party is like a tax collector or a Gentile, you may still win him over, like Jesus did. Patient love can sometimes touch even the hardest heart.

Is there someone in your life from whom you are alienated due to their sin — or maybe your own? If so, what plan do you have to set things right? Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel is very concrete and practical: Put it into words, speak face to face, and if that doesn’t work, get the help of a wise person.

Of course there may sometimes be cases where due to abuse or harassment it becomes necessary to set limits for destructive behavior and even prohibit further contact. Matthew is not talking about that sort of situation. But even here we should continue to lift up the offending party to the Lord in prayer. This will help to keep our own hearts pure in their regard, while entreating the Lord to help the offending party in ways that we cannot.

Love is easy when everything is going well. Here Jesus gives us advice on how to deal with difficult circumstances in a practical, loving way.

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