The Petty Fight
The petty fight started over the placement of my rather-large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe near the top of our living room wall.
My wife moved my picture back to the side-wall of the living room, where it previously had hung for 7 years. When I discovered this, I should have started a cheerful confrontation or parry as did our Lady when St. Juan Diego tried to avoid her.
Instead, I confronted my wife who explained that my picture clashed with her eclectic Asian art collection that covered all but the very top of the front of the living-room wall.
I had recently begun saying my prayers in the living room. Interestingly, this is the quietest and most private part of our small house. We’re empty-nesters now, and my wife’s domain is the large, master-bedroom while I am headquartered in a small bedroom that doubles as my office. I need space, you see, especially inspiring-space that is suited to prayer.
I wanted to view this picture during my prayers. I love Our Lady of Guadalupe. My picture is large enough to even capture the immaculate coloration of the beautiful turquoise mantle worn by Our Lady. Because the facial characteristics unique to Our Lady of Guadalupe indicate she is a mixture of two races, European and Aztec Indian, (only in God’s omniscience could such a unique and profound manifestation take place!), I saw Her placement above my wife’s Asian art as yet another fusion of unique and wonderful cultures.
She thought the picture worked better on the side wall, which I could not fathom for a long time. From the comfortable living-room rocking-chair in which I sit to pray and which faces the front living-room wall, I could finally view and immerse myself in the warmth and comfort of my heavenly Mother. In explaining this to my wife, I got sidetracked to another point I wanted to make and thought I was making it. What I was really doing was bringing up a past fight that had never been resolved, and probably never will be. It is my primal and original fight, lasting now almost the full 43 years of my marriage, and before that, through the childhood and adolescence when I fought consistently with my parents. It frankly derives from my sense of inferiority instilled in me in utero, to be perfectly candid.
One Petty Fight Leads to Another
My wife stopped talking to me. I naively believed that this was a hopeful sign. She agreed with me, I reasoned, but could not yet admit it. I can almost fool myself into believing anything sometimes, if it suits my purpose.
But I could not let go of it. The next day I ended up accusing my wife of deception and dishonesty regarding the picture and then everything else in our life. This was really ironic because our primal fight started long-ago over a deception that I had initiated. If anyone is deceptive, it is me. I am like Adam in my original self-deception.
She really went into silent-mode this time. That night, she removed most of her Asian collection from the living room wall and stored the pictures in her bedroom. She kindly placed my picture in a more prominent position, in the process exposing several old holes in the wall that had been previously hidden by the placement of her pictures. This frustrated me all the more because I now would have to patch up these obnoxious holes, sooner than later.
I Get What I Deserve
In the interim, I decided to hang the picture on a wobbly nail that actually allowed the picture to cover up the holes. Like Jonah after his misery when he found sudden delight with the enormous growth of a gourd plant that gave him shade in the desert for a day, I was elated (Jonah 4: 6).
I did some yard work but when I returned the glass-covered picture was on the floor, all its glass shattered. Like Jonah when his gourd plant withered and died after one day (Jonah 4: 7), my misery returned.
In picking up the hundreds of shards of broken glass, I cut my hand. I noticed the full and deep-red of the spreading blood that I let seep slowly when I was diverted by a similar phenomenon in the uncovered picture. I discovered that Our Lady’s image took on an even more colorful and gripping image in the absence of the flattening effect of the glass which had somewhat skewed the image. It was as if Her image had now become three-dimensional and I could finally view the fullness of her evident pregnancy with Jesus implicit in the splendid corporality of both of their bodies. His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity had blossomed before my eyes! His was the glory bequeathed to the red-blood roses in the tilma or cloak of St. Juan Diego from which placement Our Lady’s image had been majestically projected and transformed. She was the living image of Her Son. I was stunned at this epiphany.
The Light Dawns: Cheerful Confrontation or Parry
The following day, I was struggling to prepare my homily for the weekend of the Twentieth Sunday of the Church Year. The Gospel was about the Canaanite woman who begged Jesus for her daughter’s exorcism (Matthew 15: 21-28).
Suddenly I realized I had totally blown the disagreement with my wife. I had not imitated Jesus like Our Lady always did or even like the Canaanite woman. The Canaanite woman had parried with Jesus through four (4) beautiful levels of fight-like exchanges that escalated from pestering Him to tender comparisons to a pet dog. I decided then and there that my homily would need to elucidate this faith-filled dynamic interchange between Our Lord and the Canaanite woman. I realized that to do this authentically I would have to also disclose in my homily the fight that had led me to slowly realize the depth of God’s mercy in spite of my pride and tempestuous anger. I found this unsettling, but knew I needed to go there, to cauterize my wound and to prevent its poison from spreading further into my expansive ego.
The first level of exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman occurred when she insistently and persistently begged Jesus as Lord and Son of David to cure her daughter. Jesus seemed to ignore her completely.
But He was not ignoring her ardent and authentic appeal for the healing of her possessed daughter. The Divine Word was silently opening Himself to her hunger for salvation. He was providentially provoking the impetus for the woman’s faith to reach its zenith of true encounter with Him. This was a subtle level of interchange that I obviously never recognized in the petty fight with my wife over the picture. I should have sensed that my desire for a deeper prayer life could never be imposed by me. I should have imitated Jesus and drew my wife through patient silence to the deeper reality of my love for her.
Then, in the second level of interchange, Jesus responded within earshot of the Canaanite woman that He “…was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v. 24).”
Jesus was referring to a Divine Truth that had been the bedrock of Scripture through all God’s covenants with humankind. Scripture had enumerated countless times the promise of the Lord to first shepherd His chosen people. Intriguingly, scripture had also indicated that all nations, like the Canaanite nations, would ultimately be shepherded by the Lord.
In other words, both Jesus and the Canaanite woman were motivated by truth; she by the truth that a Messiah would want to, and would indeed, heal her daughter; He by the fulfillment of all scripture as the true Word of God. Such are the necessary conditions for any disagreement or fight between two people. Commitment to seeking only the truth must be the unwavering condition for true love to endure and patiently await the resolution of any difficulty in God’s plan.
The third level of interchange between our dear Canaanite woman and Jesus began when she simply pleaded in response: “Lord, help me (v. 25).” She did not waver in her honorable focus to secure healing for her daughter.
If only I had been as humble and aware of my inadequacy as the Canaanite woman was! I might have then said to my wife: “My love, help me to be a better person and to pray more effectively. I need your help!” Instead, I criticized her and humiliated her through my inferiority and crazy accusations.
The fourth level of interchange is the most remarkable. It is the climax to the entire dialogue of love between the two amazing personages.
In response to Jesus’ assertion that the food from the table should not be taken from the children and thrown to the dogs, the Canaanite mother recognizes that Jesus has divinely appealed to her through her own motherhood by the insertion of “children” into the analogy.
Jesus also refers to the Jewish belief that Canaanites were heathens or Gentiles, similar to dogs. But He appears at the same time to coquettishly open His Mercy to the Gentiles who may also be considered as table, or pet, dogs.
The woman picks up on the analogy Jesus offers and amplifies it imaginatively and with the full depth of her faith. She responds enthusiastically that pet dogs would certainly be served the table scraps by the playful children at table.
With this Divine analogy now fully embraced between the two, Jesus and the Canaanite woman have achieved an amazing resolution on a difficult issue. It is a model for all cultural and personal differences for all time! Their exchange then culminates in a loving and faith filled miracle that Jesus pronounces: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
I pray that my future differences with my wife and others be always grounded in a common search for the truth; that I can discuss my differences without destructive language or vilification; that I can stay on-point and not wander off into obtuse arguments or past wounds and hurts; and that I can be imaginative and faith-filled when confronted by my own inadequacy or inferiority.
After my homilies that Sunday and back at home, I passed quickly by the now-barren side-wall where Our Lady of Guadalupe once hung. I realized that this was the perfect angle from which to view Her if one were to pass it by on the way to my wife’s bedroom and to the other rooms she frequented. I was humbled by this awareness that I had totally overlooked.
Now I understood that her love for Our Lady of Guadalupe had been wonderfully fulfilled by viewing it on the side-wall, where her perspective had been full and unimpeded, letting two mothers and wives have a few special moments countless times a day to exchange their motherly and wifely perspectives.
Prayerful and loving exchanges, just like Jesus and the Canaanite woman!