July 13, 2024

Public Domain: The Mocking of Christ by Anthony van Dyck.

By Laurie Stiegelmeier

“Some people take offense like it’s a limited time offer.”

This quote by Tim Fargo seems to summarize much of society today. Negative reviews over trivial matters, criticism of beliefs, personal attacks and false accusations spread through media and gossip. Those same behaviors erode the foundations of personal relationships, work environments, businesses and even the Church. 

We’ve all witnessed or experienced its destruction. Or maybe we’ve caused it.

Cause and effect

“Being offended usually originates because of pride,” Father Jerome Ranek, parochial vicar of St. John the Baptist Pastorate, says. “We think we are better or greater than we are and should not be slighted, spoken down to, accused or cursed. Pride can cause us to take ourselves way too seriously, unable to laugh off some of what might be unfounded accusations, comments or jibes.”

Father Jerome Ranek is parochial vicar of St. John the Baptist Pastorate

Lois Heron, a parishioner of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, explains the cause of being offended as not knowing our identity and allowing the culture to tell us who we are. For her, the parable of the two houses in Matthew 7:24-27 brings clarity to what is happening to humanity. In it, Jesus says that everyone who listens to his words and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. Despite rain, floods and winds, it did not collapse. But those who do not act on his words are like fools who build on sand; their house collapses and is completely ruined.

Lois quoted Father Malachy Napier, CFR, who said, “‘Our Father who art in heaven’ establishes our identity as his beloved child, and from that every good thing flows (such as security in one’s identity). God’s fidelity as Father is the rock that grounds our peace, even when the world around us seems to be standing on its head.”

Continuing, Lois says, “When we draw our identity from the lies of postmodernity (agnostic and atheist worldviews), we are building our identity on sand. Therefore, we have no secure foundation. The fallout from this is allowing cultural ideas, causes and rights to define us. We are left trying to hang on to shifting sand, always on the alert to anyone who upsets our understanding of ourselves. The ego-god we serve lives and dies by self-centered ideologies that easily collapse!”

Father Ranek sees a new “tribalism” as a modern phenomenon. “Any critique of a certain point of view draws condemnation from all those who hold to that point of view, even to the point of ‘canceling the offender’ who dares to question their action or position. By refusing to engage in honest discussion and refusing to consider any other viewpoint, one gets locked into a particular ‘tribe.’” He says that clinging to the approval of a tribe can stunt spiritual and social growth.

“Postmodernity moves God to the margins, influencing us in more ways than we can imagine or have time to consider,” Lois says. Explaining the harm that being easily offended frequently does, she refers again to the parable of the two houses. “We collapse as a people and as a society. We’ve seen this throughout history, but it seems our pace is running headlong into the complete ruin Jesus speaks of in the parable.”

Being offended

While the dictionary offers a wide range of definitions for the word “offend,” from disagreeable and annoyed to angry, Father Ranek says that the closer one’s feelings of being offended verge on anger, the more they become a fault or sin. He reminds us that taking offense—and the underlying need to be right that leads to blaming others—has been part of fallen human nature from the beginning. 

“The earliest example is Adam and Eve; Adam blamed Eve, and in a way, even God for giving her to him so that she tempted him to eat the forbidden fruit,” Father Ranek says. “Eve turns the blame on the serpent, but even more stark is the offense Cain takes when God receives Abel’s sacrifice but not his. He becomes so angry that he kills his brother.”

Emotional response helps Lois define what it means to be offended. She says that we are grieved by moral offenses of injustice and lack of respect for life and God’s created order. We are more likely to feel hurt or insulted by a personal offense. “Offense over the law of God being maligned or disregarded and offense over a careless word spoken are entirely different.”

While individual offenses may include moral issues, they are most often personal. 

“There are legitimate offenses in relationships that need to be carefully confronted,” Lois says. “On the other hand, we are a people of unbridled hedonism who are innately self-deferent, which can cause us to be blind to our faults while magnifying other’s faults and turning slights into offenses and grievances.”

A Christian response

Lois says that our lives depend on God’s created order, which includes humanity’s role in upholding the natural and moral law; our existence depends on staying true to that order and defending it personally
and publicly. 

“There is a sense of duty to the Lord that comes along with that,” Lois says, “and learning to take an appropriate stand requires something Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:16: ‘Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.’ We get into trouble when we stand on soapboxes confronting others without listening to them and dialoguing with them.” 

Rather, she suggests asking “How did you come to that conclusion?” and “May I share with you how I came to my conclusions?” to encourage discussion.

Lois Heron is a parishioner at The Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls. She is a retired educator and a writer.

“Take no personal offense,” Father Ranek says. “Be offended by injustices to others; be offended by sin, which offends God, and respond to it with loving correction. God does not find the sinner offensive, but the sin, which makes the sinner less human, less like God, less loving than he or she could be.” 

He added that one of the most difficult works of mercy to perform is admonishing the sinner. “It is better to call to virtue. We do that for others through loving them with the love and mercy of Christ and helping them recognize the goodness and love they are called to in Christ,” Father Ranek says.

Continuing, Father Ranek says being offended can help point to areas in our lives where we still need to grow in love by patient endurance. If we have done nothing to deserve an offense, we must realize the offender may have some wound that was triggered by something we did or said. Being aware that persons with emotional trauma from abandonment, rejection, guilt and shame become especially sensitive to those issues can help us to love and forgive them more easily.

“It can work the other way as well, when our deep-seated wounds are touched by what another may say or do with no malice towards us whatever,” he said. “In this case, a solution will only be found when we are able to forgive those who wounded us, when we are able to bring the wounds to Jesus for healing.”

Timeless wisdom

Lois advises that the timeless wisdom of Sacred Scripture helps answer the question of offense. To her the Wisdom books of the Old Testament are the manual for learning human behavior. Of the 71 references to foolish behavior and choices in Proverbs, Lois said Chapter 26, verse 4 is particularly worth memorizing: “Do not answer fools according to their folly, lest you too become like them.” 

“In opposing others, there is a fine line between being right and being a fool,” she said.

In Sacred Scripture, we also learn who Christ is and what pleases and offends him. “In all things, following Jesus’ example is our goal. We need to conform to Christ before we take up with someone we disagree with,” Lois said. 

She suggests daily meditation on the Gospels and New Testament letters to learn Jesus’ ways, adding that there is only one recorded “outburst” from Jesus. “It is noteworthy that the desecration of the temple and the worship of God were at stake,” Lois noted.

St. John’s insight into Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in 2:24, “But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,” has become a rule for Lois’ life. “And the Holy Spirit reminds me of it regularly when I start to expect approval and acceptance from others. We really set others up to fail when we hold them to our impossible standards. If Jesus wouldn’t do it, why would we?”

“As Christians, we should find it hard to be offended personally. We have the example of Jesus, who did not take offense at the bad things said to him or the cruel things done to him. He submitted humbly like a lamb going to the slaughter,” Father Ranek said, citing Jesus’ advice to take the lowest place, rejoice when you are dishonored in his name, and turn the other cheek. And, he says that treating every person with respect will help us avoid causing offense.

The value of humility

Since pride is at the root of being easily offended, humility and dying to self is the rock foundation of virtue. Father Ranek said holding onto an image of self that one can’t let go of causes defensiveness if challenged. “The image of Christ is all we need. The more we grow into his image, the less ‘self-conscious’ we will be.

“We need to work against that vice that claims special privilege or insists on our own rights above others. Start with humility, the key for holiness,” Father Ranek continued. “Jesus is the perfect example. Falsely accused, he doesn’t react defensively. He accepts humiliation and punishment he didn’t deserve while being associated with criminals whose crimes did deserve death. Second, cultivate patience. Love is patient and kind; the humble person can be patient with the faults of others and doesn’t react to insults or being shunned, dismissed
or overlooked.”

Despite the erosion of virtue in society, Lois reminds us that we are a messianic people, not apocalyptic, and there is always hope that our culture can avoid the total collapse from the parable of the two houses. 

“It depends on our cooperation with the Holy Spirit,” Lois says. “As followers of Christ, we can reverse the trajectory, one person at a time. When we begin to conform to Christ’s ways and means, we influence those in our corner of the world.”

We take offense for free, but the cost to individuals and society is high. Only humbly leaving a personal offense is truly free. And, it actually pays in virtue, the foundation of goodness for all.

 

Laurie Stiegelmeier is active in faith formation for all ages at St. John de Britto Church, Britton/Our Lady of the Snows Pastorate. Above career and volunteer work, being a mother and grandmother is the most important and rewarding “job” she’s ever held.