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3 Ways to see the gifts of those you may have trouble with

Visits from my East Coast relatives were eagerly anticipated when I was a child. My first impression of one visit, however, was that New Yorkers were a bit strange. A cousin arrived thrilled because he met Bishop Fulton J. Sheen during the flight. I was surprised by my cousin’s enthusiasm because the 8th-graders I knew had told me all about bishops! They were imposing authorities, asking probing questions during confirmation. I imagined being unable to articulate a reasonable response. The bishop’s finger would point to the vestibule and I would have to slink out of church in disgrace. Bishop Sheen may have had an audience of 30 million viewers through his radio and TV shows, but I had no desire to meet him!

Sunlight and Shadows. According to Bishop Sheen, troubles “constitute as much the essence of life as shadows resulting from sunlight.” When we are attracted to someone, it is the sunlight that draws our attention: “Wait until you meet her! She’s like the spark that starts a fire – her enthusiasm is contagious.” But each beloved quality also casts a shadow. “She’s like a bolt of lightning! Out of the blue she just flares up!” The deeply-admired individual who stands by his convictions seems frustrating when he is as stubborn as an ox! The characteristics that draw us to a person are often the same qualities that we just can’t stand.

Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti. At confirmation, we receive (accipe) the spirit of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and awe in God’s presence. But receiving a gift is a process, not a one-time event. The recipient of a gift is expected to use it, rather than tucking it away. The word accipe also means “learn” in Latin. Through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we learn how to use our gifts. For example, quick-witted individuals learn to use right judgment so that their words heal others with humor instead of inflicting wounds.

With the gift of understanding, we learn to recognize Christ’s presence in the talents of loved ones. Our Catechism states that anointed with chrism oil, confirmands are filled with the Spirit “so that their lives may give off the aroma of Christ” (CCC 1294). Christ’s essence is a soothing fragrance, one that brings cleansing and healing, joy and consolation. Even when separation occurs, memories of loved ones comfort us with their lingering aroma of Christ.

As the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, wrote: “Long, long be my heart with such memories fill’d, Like the vase in which roses have once been distill’d. You may break, you may ruin the vase if you will, But the scent of the roses will hang ‘round it still.”

– Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a professor of Psychology at Hope College and a certified spiritual director.