St. Ephrem on Verbal Abuse

The Mocking of Christ - Giotto

A close high school friend who suffered unspeakable childhood abuse by both parents once said to me that sometimes the wounds you can’t see are much worse than the ones you can see. This is especially true when family members, co-workers, school mates and even church members start slicing and dicing others with their tongues. 

I first ventured into this topic when I wrote about Ending Verbal and Psychological Abuse in the Family. It’s not enough to say that this behavior, which is a kind of bullying, should have no place in the family. It has no place anywhere, whether it be the work place, the school, the church, cyberspace, the media, or any other place. Yet, especially in today’s political and ideological climate, it’s nearly impossible to have a reasoned discussion on anything we might disagree with someone about without the conversation degenerating into a bullying, derisive, shouting match. I’ve seen people with hidden agendas pound the table and deny the falsely accused a voice at all. I’ve seen public derision of the most adolescent kind by people without cause.

Too often we get caught up in this gross diminishment of others whether we are perpetrators, innocent bystanders, silent orchestrators, or vicarious enjoyers of seeing someone we hold in contempt being taken down. We share in the sin of bullying even if we aren’t the perpetrator, and this sin is very serious. How can we claim to be a Christian if we are part of it? We become no better than the mockers of Christ in His passion and death.

St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373), one of the great Fathers of the Church who writes with such passion and color, sets us straight in his Homily on Admonition and Repentance,#6. Mocking, scorning, and deriding have a much wider audience today than in St. Ephrem’s time, given the internet and airwaves so we have a much greater opportunity to fall into sin by it. We should heed his words.

…If you love derision, you are altogether as Satan; and if you mock at your fellow, you are the mouth of the Devil; if against defects and flaws, in (injurious) names you delight, Satan is not in creation but his place you have seized by force. [This is hyperbole because Satan by existing is in creation, but it is not hyperbole that we have seized his place by force. We are doing Satan’s job for him deliberately and willfully when we demean others. He can sit back and enjoy, as it were, the expertise of his pupils.]

Get you far, O man, from this; for it is altogether hurtful; and if you desire to live well, sit not with the scorner, lest you become the partner of his sin and of his punishment. Hate mockery which is altogether (the cause of weeping). And if you should hear a mocker by chance, when you are not desiring it, sign yourself with the cross of light, and hasten from thence like an antelope. [We should immediately turn off the television, the radio, go to another web site, take a walk and pray the rosary, mow the lawn, sweep the floor, clean the house/garage, anything to shut the evil out of our ears and mind.]

Where Satan lodges, Christ will in nowise dwell; a spacious dwelling for Satan is the man that mocks at his neighbor; a palace of the Enemy is the heart of the mocker. Satan does not desire to add any other evil to it. Mockery is sufficient for him to supply the place of all. Neither his belly nor yet his purse can (the sinner) fill with that sin of his. By his laughter is the wretch despoiled, and he knows not nor does he perceive it. For his wound, there is no cure; for his sickness, there is no healing; his pain admits no remedy; and his sore endures no medicine. [It will take much prayer by others to awaken an abuser to the harm he does to himself, such is his extreme blindness to its effects on himself.]

I desire not with such a one to put forth my tongue to reprove him: enough for him is his own shame; sufficient for him is his boldness. [Unfortunately, most abusers have no sense of shame until something rather large happens to them as a consequence of their actions. That becomes unlikely the more power an abuser has.]

Blessed is he that has not heard him; and blessed is he that has not known him. Be it far from you, O Church, that he should enter you, that evil leaven of Satan!

In the mealy-mouthed culture of today people are likely to say that St. Ephrem is being too “harsh”. But if we want to get to heaven a little harshness is in order. We have to confront the ways we co-operate with Satan and act as useful idiots for his agenda, which is to divide us and conquer us so that we give up entirely pursuing Christ and doing the difficult things we must to follow Him.

Regarding what St. Ephrem says about abusers entering the Church, we cannot allow abusive behavior in our parishes, on committees, or in the classrooms. If as adults we set a high standard of kindness and pursuit of virtue, if we admonish the abuser, if we don’t give him an audience, he may repent and convert. I am convinced that the majority of abusive people are carrying deep wounds in themselves that they are running away from by visiting on others much the same treatment they themselves were subject to early in life. If that’s the case, while we need not allow them to abuse us or give them opportunities to bully others, we can pray for them, and if it is within our authority, we can direct them to appropriate help. After that, it is between them and God as to what happens.

Painting: The Mocking of Christ, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06, Fresco, 200 x 185 cm, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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Sunday, February 1st, 2015 spirituality 6 Comments


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