Toasting the testy guest
And now we venture into the most wonderful time of the year. But for some — we’re reminded again — it can still be the winter of discontent.
Ah, the jovial scene: festooned home readied for guests, hearty food lavished on tables and counters, generous open bar, punctuated laughter, crackling fire, soft holiday jazz. This should be fun. People comment on hairstyles, outfits, recent relocations.
But there’s quicksand around the main table. It sits unsuspected as guests balance plates and drinks in search of seats and people to catch up with. The doorbell keeps chiming, the shindig is in full-throttle. Why don’t we do this more often?
At the packed table, political figures are nonchalantly mentioned. Someone barks “no religion or politics here!” But gasoline’s in the fire. People chew in measured silence as others leave the room. And then the blitzkrieg – with denunciations of ‘stupidity,’ ‘idiocy,’ ‘racism,’ slams on Catholicism – peppered with repugnant profanity. Whoa. Anyone choking down food is now getting pulled in, willing or not. Those in adjoining rooms pretend not to hear.
It happens at many gatherings, incensed antagonists ambushing the same targets. Contending with a rapacious adversary is a lifetime training exercise, usually with zero popup warning. Harmless discourse can instantly booby-trap into war.
“The single greatest cause of conflicts – especially in the family – is envy,” says the late Father John Hardon, “and envy of character is the worst kind.” One might think it would be over economic problems, kids, estrangement, or care of elders. But simmering envy has no acceptable reason for its seat at the table; it marinates there … ever-primed to seize and suffocate the resented one. And one doesn’t have to stoke it … just amicably attend an occasion, engage others, and enjoy courteous exchange. Artfully evade talk of business or achievements. Reveal no plans, ideals, or triumphs.
“You’re Catholic, right!?” the table-prosecutor booms. So what about this, and this, and that! Zig-zagging all over the maps of history, religion, politics, and antiquity, depth-charging for an argument, the persona invidiosa throws insults and accusations, pushing for a flash-fight to sink his target into livid defense. The recipient is tempted to fling a knock-out punch, with embargoed counter-invectives no one’s yet heard – and wouldn’t soon forget.
But patient suspension is key.
Rather than an angry retort – which could be justified – a mannerly toast of preliminary listening and saying nothing is a fitting tribute to the snapper. No return smack-downs or sordid accusations. A soldier of Christ follows His example, beginning with patient pause.
The party quiets in anticipation. Then a calm explanation of Catholic teaching – perhaps buttressed by example – hushes it.
Christ has promised His faithful “ … for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15). To make an apt answer is a joy for a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (Proverbs 15: 23)
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.