Frustration is a big problem in our lives. I know because my most well-received homily ever was on frustration. I so much good feedback that I thought: this a frustrated group of people.
Let’s start off reflecting on two things: 1) How much of our frustration has to do with other people? For example, people not acting kindly, people not doing what they should be doing, letting us down, not helping us, etc. If we say to ourselves, “What frustrates me most is _______,” my guess is it has to do with other people.
2) Think about the amount of mental energy and time we spend thinking about the ways our spouse, kids, family, co-workers, friends bother us. One night, it was an insight from the Holy Spirit that helped me to recognize that I had been thinking almost all day about the problems that other people were causing me.
Notice now how thinking about these things brings us down. We lose energy, focus, and desire to love.
I was deeply inspired by St. Paul’s reaction to his situation in the second reading. At this point in his life, he’s been arrested by the Romans and in prison, but still allowed to write, so he writes to St. Timothy how during his first trial, “no one came to [his] support, but all deserted [him]” (2 Tim 4:16). Yet his reaction isn’t one of frustration. He says, “May it not be counted against them.” So he forgives them. Why? Because “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” This is such a beautiful example for us: He’s not brooding over the people who were supposed to support him. No. He’s thinking about God. His mental energy is focused on what God’s doing. And so he’s brought up, and he has the grace to forgive.
The message today is very simple: focusing on other people often brings us down, especially when it’s on their problems. Focusing on God brings us up!
I saw the simple impact of this lesson at Subway. I asked for my usual Italian herbs and cheese bread, but got something that looked different. So I said politely to the man working there, “Excuse me, but that doesn’t look like Italian herbs and cheese.” He said, “It’s the same.” I thought to myself, “What do you mean ‘the same’? That’s not Italian herbs and cheese; I want Italian herbs and cheese; he’s trying to pull a quick one on me.” We talked about it again but he didn’t budge. Then, in a moment of grace, I thought of St. Paul and said in my heart, “Lord, may it not be counted against him.” Right away, my attitude changed.
I believe for many of us our attitudes are like yo-yos: we’re up and down depending on how people treat us. My attitude, at least in my heart, changed because of something as silly as someone not giving me the bread I want and not being friendly. Can you believe that? I was about to act in an unfriendly way because someone was being unfriendly to me. When our hearts and minds are focused on other people, we tend to reciprocate how they treat us, so our love is extremely volatile and reactionary. But when our hearts and minds are focused on God we’re like a rock; people can’t frustrate us.
I’d like to tell you about a new friend of mine: Bl. Jerzy Popiełuszko. I heard of him in July when I was in Poland for World Youth Day. On our second night there, my hosts, Janusz and Zofia, told me about him. He was a young priest who resisted atheistic communism from the Soviet Union and led the people in huge open air Masses against Soviet orders. His motto was: “Fight evil with good,” borrowed from St. Paul (Rm 12:21). Janusz and Zofia told me that he was always kind to the Soviet soldiers even though they hated him: he would give them candy as gifts!
“On October 19, 1984, the young priest was kidnapped by security agents on his way back to Warsaw after a visit to a parish in the neighboring town… He was savagely beaten until he lost consciousness, and his body was tied up in such a way that he would strangle himself by moving. His weighted body was then thrown into a deep reservoir… On 30 October, Popiełuszko’s bound and gagged body was found in the freezing waters of a reservoir near Wloclawek.”
Janusz and Zofia told me that when the Soviets found out that there was going to be a public funeral for him, they were expecting an uprising. Over 500,000 people went. You know what happened? No uprising; the people chanted: “We forgive… We forgive.”
Now how did Bl. Jerzy respond so well during his life? It was by not constantly thinking about and wasting mental energy on his Soviet oppressors: their injustice, oppression, torture, and killing. He was constantly thinking about Jesus, which allowed him to overcome evil with good. In the same way, when the 500,000 people came out for his funeral, they were thinking about him, who’s a saint, and that lifted them up! And whenever I think about Bl. Jerzy, I’m inspired, and I recognize that God’s calling me to love.
Here is another application of this truth: whenever we focus too much on other people, our faith becomes very fragile. Many Catholics, for example, leave the Church because of the scandals in the Church. They get demoralized because, for instance, some priests are sinners, some abused children, or because some Catholics in the past have done horrible things. We can always tell that, when a Catholic leaves the Church, he or she was more focused on other Catholics than on God and the Eucharist, because if they had been focused on the latter, they would never have left.
Remember that great story from Mark Hart? He was “flying on a plane, and started talking to the guy next to him, who gave him his whole philosophy of life when he saw Mark’s crucifix. When Mark started asking him questions, it became apparent that he was raised Catholic, he had had some really difficult situations in life, and ‘he had abandoned the divinity of the Church because of the humanity in the Church.’ Mark apologized for the sins of Catholics, and then this successful man started weeping, opening his soul, and said, ‘Look, I’m Catholic, I get it, I get it, I get the Eucharist thing, I get the Communion thing.’ Mark interrupted him, ‘Rob, with all due respect, no you don’t. No you don’t, brother. Because if you understood the Eucharist, boy, you would never ever leave the Catholic Church. You would never leave the Catholic Church.’”
St. John of the Cross was thrown in prison by other priests and brothers! St. Ignatius was examined by the inquisition. St. Philip Neri had his faculties suspended by a cardinal (Fr. Vincent J. O’Malley, Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints, 125, 137). St. Mary McKillop was excommunicated unfairly. But none of them ever left the Church. They prayed, rather, for their persecutors because they were focused on Jesus.
If ever, for example, we find ourselves annoyed at Mass the goal then is to focus more on the Eucharist—that’s the sacrament of love, and that’ll help us to overcome evil with good. This week, if ever we find our frustration thermometer going up, let’s focus on God.
Focusing on others can bring us down. Focusing on God brings us up!