A week ago, after community Mass, I had a run in with one of our guest. Nice young man, devout, very conservative, and thinking about entering the priesthood. He was upset about a another guest in the retreat house and how we treat the behavior he objected to.
He was angry and his tone contained a demand that I respond to him in the way he wished. Which, of course, I didn’t. What he was demanding from me was unreasonable, though in mind not so at all.
As he was talking at me, the other guest came up and started yelling at both of us about the incident. After calming him down, I suggested he asked go and have some breakfast and I would see him a little later.
As our conversation continued, it was obvious that the young man did not agree with me, yet to his credit he offered to go and apologize to the other guest. I dissuaded him of that and told him that I would relay an apology for him.
Young people of this generation want secure structures that provide definite direction. My generation, on the other hand, tore down structures, admittedly, without replacing them with anything substantial. But I’m still unsettled, at times, when confronted with the desire for rigid structures — in my opinion, they actually do more harm than good, certainly more harm the more flexible ones.
I deal with these kind of demands, first, by respecting them and, second, by not allowing any harm come to others as a consequence. Monasteries are places where many come for healing, quiet, and rest. They come here more often than not to simply not be “looked at” in a negative way, not to be judged by others.
As I looked at this young man, I could see a person who trying to do the right thing, but going about it in the wrong way. As we talked, I told him that his approach was not beneficial to anyone, and that the man he “accosted” was emotionally unstable, a pilgrim trying to find some order in his life. His treatment of the other guest was unjustified and I asked him not do anything like that again.
Afterward, the guest who was confronted came to me and said that his retreat was ruined and he was going to leave. So I asked him why he would allow someone else to ruin his retreat. “Cool down,” I offered and added, “Go for a walk and before you make up your mind.” He tried to stay but left before noon.
It’s easy to forget that to follow Christ we must try to see others in such a way that does not harm them. Without intending to, and with the best of intentions, our opinions of others can plant seeds of destruction, or add water to a bad seed that has already taken deep root. We simply cannot see the fragility of others through the lens of our own fear.