A good slap upside the head

Friday, May 10, 2019 - Updated: 3:36 pm

By Deacon Keith G. Kondrich

Recently, God came down from heaven and gave me a good slap upside the head. WHACK! I am not kidding you.

You see, even though I didn’t realize it, part of my life needed a serious course correction. I needed a wake-up call from my pride, from my piety, from my “standing” in the community, from my self-righteousness.

So God, in his mercy and wisdom, decided that I needed a good slap upside the head to correct the course that could easily have led me straight to hell. Here’s what happened:

For many years, I have been estranged from a neighbor. The reasons why aren’t important. The bottom line is that at some point I decided that this neighbor was a jerk, that everything he did was wrong, and everything and anything I did was right. I avoided this neighbor like the chief priests and the elders avoided the tax collectors and the prostitutes. I honestly, albeit shamefully, hated this guy.

In my mind, that hate was justified. Hating him was easy, and it felt good. I believed I had righteousness on my side. After all, I’m a deacon. I’m a Boy Scout leader. I’m a good family man, a good Catholic who goes to daily Mass! I pray religiously, every morning and every night. I am the good neighbor ... this guy is the bad neighbor.

And then, after all these years, God smacked me upside the head. This week, my wife and I received this letter in the mail:

Dear Helen & Keith:

I am sorry that our relationship as neighbors has been damaged. This has been on my mind a lot as of late. I don’t believe that either of us was at fault for what has happened in the past. I have always wanted to be a good neighbor, and if it is at all possible for us to move beyond the past, it would mean a great deal to me. I am hoping that this letter will be a start toward repairing our relationship.

Sincerely, W

Did you hear it? Did you hear God slapping me upside the head? All this time I had been deluding myself. I had been paying lip service to the ideas of forgiveness, reconciliation and being a good neighbor. But when it came down to actually putting those ideas into actions, I was a colossal failure.

To paraphrase Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes and Deacon Keith’s neighbor are all entering the kingdom of God long before Deacon Keith!”

It wasn’t the holy deacon who reached out to his estranged neighbor for forgiveness. It wasn’t the wholesome Boy Scout leader who reached out to his estranged neighbor for reconciliation. It wasn’t the good Catholic who reached out to his estranged neighbor in hope of mending a broken relationship. It was the guy I considered to be the jerk, the bad neighbor.

Actions speak louder than words, and my neighbor’s actions spoke volumes. As Christians, we must constantly be on guard against falling into the same trap as the chief priests and the elders. We must make sure we are not just saying what we think God, our Father, wants to hear — and then never acting on those words.

Every Sunday at Mass we say, “Thy will be done,” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and “Peace be with you.” All are easy to say, not so easy to do.

We stand before Jesus Christ, truly present to us in the Eucharist, and we say, “Amen!”

“Amen, I believe this is the body of Christ.”

“Amen, I believe WE are the body of Christ.”

Following Jesus requires more than saying all the right things. I had probably said “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” literally a thousand times before this letter came from our neighbor. A thousand times! And yet never once in those thousand times did I take action to reconcile with my neighbor. If we are always saying good things and doing nothing, then we have no right to call ourselves Christians. Indeed, the words we say during Mass are meaningless.

Let us pray for the grace to put the words we say at Mass, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, into action. And, for those times when we really need it, let us pray that God will give us a good slap upside the head.

Deacon Kondrich is assigned to the parish grouping that includes Good Shepherd in Braddock, Madonna del Castello in Swissvale, St. Maurice in Forest Hills and Word of God in Rankin/Swissvale. He also serves as a chaplain at the Allegheny County Jail.

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