Failure to Bother

One of the books I’m currently reading is James Martin, S.J.’s most recent book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. In one of the early chapters, he talks about the Examen, a prayer that is part of my daily prayer and about which I’ve written before.

Talking about the step of the examen where we ask for the grace to know our sins – to know where we have turned away from God, he talks about why reflecting on our sins is neither unhealthy nor an invitation to guilt. He then shared a way of thinking about sin that he learned from his moral theology professor, James F. Keenan, S.J. Keenan explained that Jesus never had impatience with sinners “struggling to make amends.” Rather, his condemnation was for those “who could help if they wanted, but don’t bother to do so,” illustrated by the story of the Good Samaritan; the priest and the Levite are fully able to help the Samaritan, but pass him by. In Father Keenan’s words, Martin reports, sin is often a “failure to bother.”

Such an ordinary phrase – failure to bother – but it seems to me a helpful way to approach the examen. Martin suggests that we might confront our sins of omission by asking ourselves where we failed to bother. Father Keenan’s insight

can help you to see where you failed to respond to God’s invitation in your day. Where did you fail to bother? Where could you have been more loving? Perhaps you neglected to help a friend who needed just a few minutes of your time, or a sick relative hoping for a friendly phone call. You could have, but you didn’t – you failed to bother.

If your prayer includes a daily examen see if Keenan’s formulation is helpful to you. If it not a part of your daily prayer, consider making it one.


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