December 19, 2008

The Joyful Catholic / Rick Hermann

How a difficult person can be your ‘assignment’

Rick HermannIn one of my favorite movies, It’s A Wonderful Life, small town banker George Bailey suddenly faces bankruptcy and disgrace.

In desperation, he prepares to jump off a bridge into the frigid water below, but suddenly another individual leaps off in front of him.

Instantly forgetting himself, George strips off his coat and dives in to save the screaming stranger.

Later, as they dry their clothes beside an old wood burning stove, the stranger introduces himself as “Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class.” Clarence explains that he is George’s guardian angel, assigned to help him find meaning in his life.

Furthermore, Clarence claims that he will earn his wings as a heavenly reward for helping George.

Clarence tries his best to convince George that he has a wonderful life, but George is skeptical.

For the majority of the movie, George distrusts, disappoints and mocks Clarence every step of the way.

Although he is continually rebuffed, Clarence faithfully attends to his assignment and repeatedly resorts to prayer.

Perhaps someone in your life troubles you. It may be a stranger, a trusted friend or a family member who offended you. The offense may have been accidental or intentional, recently or a long time ago. You may feel frustrated, angry and resentful.

As difficult as it may be to believe, this person may be your assignment.

As preposterous and repugnant as it may seem, you may have been given a mission, like Clarence’s, to help this person in some way.

“No way!” you may say. “This person is hopeless! ”

You may think you can never forget the deep wound inflicted by this person, whether it was emotional, financial, physical or spiritual.

But if you forget yourself for a moment, and look past your hurt, you may recall Jesus’ words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

This may seem outrageous and disgraceful. Your tormentor may be the last person on Earth you would choose to help. Nevertheless, you may be the one person who can lead this troublemaker to God.

Your assignment may be as simple as being nice to the person for a short time.

Then again, it may require you to walk the extra mile.

You may need to practice Clarence-like virtues such as humility, patience, kindness and forgiveness. You may be surprised to discover new depths of courage, wisdom and compassion deep within your heart.

It may be impractical or impossible for you to interact with the offender. In this case, you can always rely on the power of prayer. Pray that the person turns away from darkness and toward the light. Pray for that person’s happiness. Try it now, just for a moment.

You may need to pray a little or a lot. One anxious mother named Monica prayed for her sinful son for 24 years. Thanks to her prayers, Augustine ultimately converted and became a saint.

You may never have the satisfaction of witnessing the good results of your prayers here on Earth. The person you pray for may never thank you.

Yet God works miracles beyond space and time. Your prayers may work effectively back to the past or ahead to the future. Trust that “God works all things together for good” (Rom 8:28).

You will enjoy peace of mind, knowing you have done your best when you truly commit that person to God’s mercy and compassion.

Then you will feel your soul take flight, as if you were given angel’s wings, liberated like Clarence to soar heavenward and free like George Bailey to live and laugh and love again.

(Rick Hermann of St. Louis is a Catholic author and career coach. His e-mail address is

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