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In the details

First slide

I think it’s safe to say that people have been a little on edge lately.

We see it in the macro, in the chaos that has been spilling out into the streets of just about every city in America. We see it in the micro in countless viral videos, shot in countless Walmarts, of countless people publicly melting down. Mostly over mask use, or the lack thereof. I saw one last week of a woman literally assaulting a young boy. I saw another one recently of a woman on a rampage, throwing merchandise and screaming as horrified shoppers looked on.

None of it is pretty.

If we’re honest, I think a lot of us would have to admit that the edginess has crept into our own lives. I know it has in mine. It has been a very stressful year. I’ve spent a good part of it alone in my house. It has, to be honest, made me cranky at times. I see it sometimes in how I interact with my mother’s caregivers. I’m frustrated that I can’t take care of her myself, or even really see her. And so, when I can’t see how they are caring for her, or I suspect it isn’t the way I would do it, I tend to get a little testy with them. And then I apologize and promise it won’t happen again. But it does.

And let’s not even get started on social media. Suffice it to say I have not suffered fools gladly. Or perhaps I’m the fool.               

Anyway, a few weeks ago a meme caught my attention. I don’t remember the exact content, but it was something to the effect that one of the criteria for the judgment at the end of our lives will be how we treated people we find annoying.

I could be in big trouble.

I tend to be a “big picture” person. I don’t get overly caught up in a lot of details. That trait has served me well in many ways — particularly in speaking and writing. However, I suspect it may not serve me so well when it comes to the Last Judgment.

When you look at the big picture, I feel like I’ve done pretty well. Gave a lot of talks, hopefully led at least a few people to Jesus through them. I’ve tried for the most part to be kind and good to people. Not a bad big picture.

But I suspect Jesus is more of a detail guy.

It’s occurred to me lately that he really meant all of that stuff he said about loving our enemies, serving the poor, visiting the prisoner, etc. And that it’s all going to count in the end. Not in the sense that we will meet with a scowling, nit-picking Judge holding a long list of our infractions and omissions. No, we will meet a loving, merciful Savior, who will show us our lives from his perspective. I believe that, at that time, we will see the consequences down through the ages of all of our good actions. And all of our sins. And all of our omissions. We will see the good that could have happened, had we been more charitable with this person, or reached out to help that person. We will see the difference that we could have made, but didn’t.

Most of all, we will see how, in missing those opportunities, we missed the chance to increase his love in our hearts. Because doing good begets love, which begets more doing good. All of which draws us closer to him.

I wrote several months ago that “all things work for good for those who love him.” And that I believe he is using this time of fear and isolation to work in our lives, to bring us closer to him. And, at least for me, a big part of that is to show me how I react when I’m scared and stressed. And to show me that I’m called to do better.

And so, I’m trying. I’m reviewing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and trying to incorporate them into my life. I’m also trying to examine my conscience, in a more detailed way, at the end of the day. I’m starting with gratitude and with love, and then asking, with the help of the Holy Spirit, where I failed to respond with love to the gifts and the people God placed in front of me that day.

St. John of the Cross said, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” I believe that is true. We will be judged not just in the big picture, but in the details. And not just when it’s easy to love, but when it’s difficult — when we’re dealing with the less lovable, when we’re scared and cranky and irritable.

This has been a difficult, stressful, often ugly time. And we can come out of it either bitter, or better. If we can manage, like the Grinch on Christmas morning, to emerge on the other side with our hearts a few sizes larger, it will have been time well spent.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020