Step Back

Life is made of relationships and sometimes these relationships can be very thorny. If we learn to live through them, then our life will be serene. Otherwise we shall suffer and make others suffer. Just recently I came across a couple of stories which helped me deeply

A priest wanted to approach one of the choir members to dissuade her from singing in the church. She was a good nice woman, but she had, what could most charitably be described, as a grating voice. Many in Church complained – this seems to be the area of expertise of some Church goers – and he himself bit his lip every time she belted out the lyrics.

One day this woman approached the priest and asked him over for dinner. The pastor decided it was a golden opportunity to softly break the news to her that perhaps music was not her mission. He had to do something. It was a constant sore thumb.

They had dinner and before he could approach her about her singing, this woman, a widow, explained her story to him. She described how she had been married to a good man, but one who had forbidden her from her great love: singing. He had not allowed her to sing anywhere near him, and perhaps nowhere, period. For years, she had to suppress the great pleasure she took in music. He had died relatively recently, and while she had obviously mourned that loss, at the same time, she told the priest, she had experienced a tremendous sense of release in that she was finally able to sing!

How could the pastor now say a word? How was he now to fire her as a cantor? And he didn’t. Now he knew her story.

As it turned out, when the next pastor did fire her, there was such an outpouring of complaints from the congregation that he had to beg her to come back.

What a lesson! How important it is to take the time to “know the other person’s story”. How important to understand why those who bother us are the way that they are because of a past suffering which still conditions them.

When we do know the details, then we shall understanding and if we understand, then we perhaps we shall start loving again. Look at God. He knows the detail of every single aspect of our lives …. and look at how much He loves us!

Many were complaining that this priest was too slow in saying mass. Sometimes, it was forty minutes or more before his weekday Mass ended, setting those who were on the way to work into a bit of frenzy.

He was extremely deliberate and devout and respectful, but the slowness during the liturgy was a source of irritation — until the other day, when he explained his story.

It seems that when this priest was a young man, he had a bad stutter. For years, his mother helped him with it — always telling him not to speak too fast. It was when he tried to hurry along, he recalled, that he stuttered.

Now that they “knew his story,” how could anyone complain? And how can we ever complain, about anyone, until we know that person’s story? To this day, explained the priest, if he moves along too quickly, the stutter will return.

Step back and look at the HEART of the person who is speaking to you.

I know a woman who suffered from terrible tantrums. She was a living mine. It was enough that someone slightly stepped on her toes that she would literally explode. Shouting or crying hysterically.

I was asked to speak with her and see whether I could help because the situation at work and at home was becoming really bad. She also told me her story. And I was shocked and understood. Her father apparently had abused her for many many years. She tried to tell her mum but her mum sided with her husband and this poor girl was left alone to face this terrible tragedy. She did survive, but the deep emotional abrasion inside her obviously were deeply ingrained in her. No one knew and evidently she could not go around parading her past. She had to carry this terrible skeleton in her cupboard. And suffer the consequences….

When I learnt this story, I never judged her any more. I started loving her even in her grumpiness.

I became Provincial of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers when I was only 33 years old. I was very young and naïve. I had no experience. Being a major superior was a very challenging enterprise to me. The day after I was elected, I got a phone call from an old priest who after congratulating me, told me something which I will always remember.

He said, “Remember, Father Pius, that behind every person whom you meet, behind every priest whom you govern as superior, there is a history which you do not know. Tread carefully….” What wisdom!

Abba was asked to say a word. He closed his eyes tightly and said, ‘Treat others always with compassion…’ He did not say anything else, because perhaps he knew that he had said everything.


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.