Love Excuses and Presumes Goodwill

Blessed are the Merciful… and Peacemakers. How can you make peace in the world (or in the family, workplace, nation, etc.) if we are not merciful, especially if we hold on to resentments and hurts? As St. Paul reminds us, in his Canticle of Love, that love “is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Pope Francis explains:

Once we allow ill will to take root in our hearts, it leads to deep resentment. The phrase ou logízetai to kakón means that love “takes no account of evil;” “it is not resentful.” The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, which is rooted in a positive attitude that seeks to understand other people’s weaknesses and to excuse them. As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Amoris Lætitia 105, quoting Luke 23:34).

We need to learn to find excuses for people. Amazingly, most of us are pretty good at this… at finding excuses for our own bad behavior! Let’s excuse ourselves less and find excuses for others more.

This can even be fun! If someone cuts you off on the freeway— instead of blowing up and cursing to high heaven!—invent an excuse: “He must have overslept and is late for a very important meeting with his boss… Lord, help him and give him peace.” Or “I bet he’s late for his date with his girlfriend and she is ready to let him have it… Lord, help him and give him peace.” This can give you a little chuckle and help maintain your own peace and joy.

Finding excuses is very important in the family. We can do a lot of damage to relationships we treasure by over-emphasizing the negative impact that a loved-one’s behavior may have on us. As the Pope goes on to explain:

Yet we keep looking for more and more faults, imagining greater evils, presuming all kinds of bad intentions, and so resentment grows and deepens. Thus, every mistake or lapse on the part of a spouse [or child] can harm the bond of love and the stability of the family. Something is wrong when we see every problem as equally serious; in this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the failings of others. The just desire to see our rights respected turns into a thirst for vengeance rather than a reasoned defense of our dignity (ibid.).

A good rule of thumb is: always presume goodwill—that the other person who irritates you has good will, even if you can figure out that good reason in the moment.

For example, suppose one Saturday the husband decides to work on a project around the house. He goes to the garage to get his tools and can find the tool that he needs. He scours the house as he gets more and more angry… finally he finds the tool in some obscure drawer and mutters: “I bet my wife put this tool here on purpose… she knows where I like to keep my tools and… I bet she was thinking of how this would get me angry, make my blood pressure shoot through the roof… and maybe I would have a heart attack, die, and then she could marry someone else…” No, no, no… she probably was not thinking such a morbid thought, but simply borrowed the tool to do some quick repair needed for the family and then the phone rang, or a child spilt some milk and she simply put the tool in some safe place for later. She had good will.

Finding excuses is so necessary for letting go of resentment, forgiving one another, and making peace… It is necessary for love!

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.