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A desert father’s challenging take on making peace

Handshake in the city

Nokwan007 | BABAROGA | Shutterstock | Collage by Aleteia

Sophie Baron - published on 03/08/24

St. Agathon, who died in 370 in the Egyptian desert, says it’s possible to forgive someone's wrongdoing, but how can we keep someone from resenting us in turn?

St. Agathon, the great hermit of Scetis (a desert region of Egypt), couldn’t rest unless his soul was at peace. He said, “I never have gone to sleep with a grievance against anyone. And as far as I could, I never let anyone go to sleep with a grievance against me” (Agathon, 3).

His first sentence clearly echoes St. Paul (Eph 4:26): “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” A salutary recommendation, for if we go to bed with our souls aflame with anger, we’re likely to sleep badly, rehashing the wrongs we believe we’ve suffered, imagining more or less nasty retorts. The next day, it’ll be hard to get it out of our head. And above all, resentment will have settled into our lives as a lasting reality, producing poisoned fruits.

Cutting the thread of resentment as quickly as possible is the remedy, even if it’s difficult. To regain our freedom, we need to call upon happier memories of the time before this antagonism emerged. We must beg the Lord to remove the temptation to take revenge, even indirectly.

Dealing with other people’s resentment

But Agathon doesn’t stop there. Next, we have to try to keep anyone else from going to sleep with a grievance against us. This is much more difficult.

Typically, at best we free ourselves of resentment and anger. Other people, however, think what they want, and we think it’s none of our business. If they’re angry at us for something and we don’t feel guilty about it, that’s their problem. We tell ourselves we’ve done nothing wrong, so they should calm down! But they won’t calm down. They’ll suffer, have nightmares, or even be tempted to do evil.

Here we find a command from Jesus: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24). We don’t just have to forget our own resentment! We have to seek to overcome the resentment of others, even if we feel we’ve done them no wrong. How can we do this?

Accept that you may be wrong

First of all, let’s remember that our conscience may not be as clear and pure as we think. We may not have committed an objective wrong, but maybe we’ve done something that exasperated the other person. Perhaps they have less self-control than we do. We’ve made them out to be in the wrong, draping ourselves in our offended virtue or ironic calm. And this is already a lack of charity on our part, which we urgently need to recognize to keep our offended brother or sister from feeling bad.

And then, if we really don’t know what has offended the other person, we’ll have to ask them gently how we offended them, in a way that doesn’t make them automatically the bad guy. And then everything will come to light.

There may well be some truth and some error in what they say, and some exaggeration, no doubt. If we argue, if we try to set the record straight and justify ourselves, it’s just going to lead to new tensions, endless explanations, and arguments that won’t bring peace. So it’s often better to give in, to accept that we’re not completely in the right, in order to repair our relationship and restore peace to our brother or sister’s heart.

With hindsight, the other person might admit (at least to himself) that he overdid it. But that’s not the point. As Jesus said, “you have regained your brother” (Mt 18:15).

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