Last week I had a very serious row with somebody who attends the church occasionally but who I have a lot of dealings with. I will spare you the boring details, but they involved his overdraft and tangled family relationships, and his rejection of the way I went about trying to assist. Because of who this person is and the way they have reacted, I have decided I can’t deal with them, at least for some time. Our last meeting left me shaking, and in fact I was shaking even as I recounted the story to our church secretary this morning. He has, so far, respected my request to stay away from the church and not contact me, which I’m grateful for – especially as it hasn’t been so easy in the past. I’ve yet to talk it through with my spiritual director.
Of course the problem is still with me all the time, and I feel divided between, frankly, some relief that this individual isn’t around and guilt at feeling relieved. I stood at the altar on Sunday evening listening to a visiting priest from a neighbouring church invite the people to confession: ‘Jesus says, before you offer your gift, go and be reconciled’, and of course with this person I am not reconciled, neither can I be until I sort out my own reactions and recover from what has been a horrible experience. The words of forgiveness I pronounce over others cannot but ring somewhat hollow. And even forgiveness, in the sense of understanding how both I and the other person may have got things wrong, can’t on its own bring about reconciliation.
Yet I can’t just ‘leave my gift at the altar’, and abandon public worship until this is sorted. There is much in our lives which is never ‘sorted’ and stands no chance of being. To refuse to preside at worship once might actually have a tremendously salutary effect on the congregation, but you couldn’t keep doing it, and frankly there is hardly a time in my life when I’m free from one sin or another. The other morning there were scant minutes to go before the start of a service, and the people reading the prayers and scripture readings were nowhere in sight: I fell instantly into angry and self-pitying thoughts which were all guiltily dispelled when they arrived. I wonder whether this, as much as the inconvenience of keeping a fast, is why early-morning Mass developed – so the priest wouldn’t have had as much time to screw anything up. As so often, I can do nothing other than throw myself on the Mercy of the Court.