If you are part of any sort of group that gets together you will certainly understand what I’m talking about. It might be a book club or people getting together to play cards. It might be a coffee group that gathers every morning, or even a prayer group that meets every week. Or it could be something as simple as you and your co-workers in the break-room at work. No matter what group, any time people get together for conversation there exists the possibility that someone is going to say something that bothers someone else in the group. Especially in these times.

I know it happens to me all the time. And I must say, not proudly, there are many times in these situations in which I’d like to look the person in the eye and say “how come you have to bring THAT up?”

That sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? But my guess is, many of you can relate. And yet, often I say things that others probably roll their eyes at from time to time. Of course I say things that irritate people or make them angry or bore them or whatever! Of course I sometimes probably make others think “why did HE have to bring THAT up?”

Many of us act this way all the time, especially in these challenging times of the pandemic. OUR problems are important, and we wish others would take note of them, maybe even help us through them.

The problems of others are a different story. Many of us simply don’t want to be bothered. “And many rebuked him telling him to be silent,” we hear from Mark in the scripture passage about the blind man who approaches Jesus and wants some help. Others, instead of treating him with compassion and kindness and understanding, simply want him to keep quiet. It’s as if they are telling him “quit bothering us. Go away. Who do you think you are?”

Why do we do that? Why do we sometimes trivialize the concerns of others, or look past them entirely? Maybe sometimes it’s because we don’t like the package it comes in.

What I mean by that is that maybe we don’t like the person that much. Maybe we don’t like the WAY their message is being conveyed or don’t like the MEANS through which they are trying to be heard — the words they use, the level of their voice, the places they choose to express their concerns or maybe even the content of their complaint.

Instead of focusing on the fact that the other person is in need, or is hurting, or is pleading for some kind of understanding or compassion, maybe even for something as difficult as a societal change we get distracted by all the other things. We fail to remember that the person standing before us is our brother or sister who is loved by God and is deserving of our attention, our concern, and our love.

Reflecting on this, we must ask ourselves: Are other people’s concerns a problem? Are other people’s complaints a nuisance? Are other people’s issues only important if they are MY issues too?

Or does God expect something more from us? May each of us make sure that we are not the ones silencing others. Rather, may we come to understand that the concerns of others are important to God, and therefore should be important to us too. It’s as simple as that. Doubly important in these times when we need to support one another and help each other through the challenges before us.

Deacon Stuart Neslin is a Parish Deacon and Parish Administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome.

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