Saturday, June 25, 2022

Giving our all but without bitter zeal

WE need to understand that if we really want to follow Christ, as we should, we should do it by giving our all, willing to leave everything behind, filling ourselves with overwhelming drive to carry out his will and continue his mission here on earth, but without falling into bitter zeal. 

 This truth of our Christian faith is somehow highlighted in the gospel of the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. (cfr. Lk 9,51-62) As the gospel narrates, two men expressed desire to follow Christ. But when Christ gave them the requirement, they made some excuse. 

 “Lord, suffer me first to go, and to bury my father,” one said. And the other said, “let me first take my leave of them that are at my house.” That’s when Christ said to the first, “Let the dead bury their dead, and go and preach the kingdom of God.” And to the other, he said, “No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

 It’s quite clear that if we want to truly follow Christ, we should be willing to give our all, and to leave everything behind. Anyway, as Christ reassured us, what we seem to have lost because of following Christ, we would regain a hundred-fold later on, and eternal life at the end. 

 “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for the sake of My name will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Mt 19,29) We should consider these words of Christ as guaranteed to take place. They are no bluff. 

 But in all that zeal to follow Christ, we should see to it that we avoid falling into bitter zeal. What we ought to have is righteous zeal which means that we should always be respectful of legal, juridical and most importantly of the moral standards, especially that of charity and mercy. 

 Bitter zeal was shown by Christ’s disciples, James and John, who reacted badly when a certain city of the Samaritans did not welcome Christ. “Lord, will thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?” they asked. (Lk 9,54) Christ immediately rebuked the brothers. “You know not of what spirit you are,” he said. 

 While it’s true that we have to be zealous in carrying out the will of God, we have to see to it that our zeal is driven by love. There should be zero bitterness even if a lot of pain and suffering are involved. Authentic love, which can only reflect God’s unconditional love for us, will make things sweet and meaningful. 

 As St. Paul describes it, true love “takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,6-7) 

 We have to learn to be patient in handling the contradicting reactions to all the goodness that we may be doing. We just have to look for an alternative way in resolving issues and situations like this. 

 We have to be careful with the phenomenon that is called bitter zeal. It is the wrong zeal of intending to do good but discarding the requirements and details of charity. It is Machiavellian in spirit. 

 Bitter zeal makes a person hasty and reckless in his assessment of things. It makes him fail to consider all angles, to listen to both sides, so to speak. He is prone to imprudence.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Mercy the ultimate truth in charity

“WHAT man of you that hath an hundred sheep: and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which was lost, until he find it?... I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.” (Lk 15,4.7) 

 With these words, Christ is telling us to be like him: ever patient, understanding and merciful with everyone, especially those that clearly are in error or have offended us. In other words, to look after the lost sheep. 

 These words of Christ also encourage us to take the initiative to look after them, and not to wait for them to come to us, asking for forgiveness. We have to offer it to them and hope that they do penance. 

 We need to understand that patience, understanding and mercy, and taking the initiative to do all this, are what would comprise as the ultimate expression of truth and charity and vice-versa, charity in truth. 

 We should never forget to channels God’s mercy for all of us. It’s the ultimate expression of his love for us. Imagine, we may not even ask for it yet, but he will offer it to us, as he expressed it before he died on the cross. 

 “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing,” he said. (Lk 23,34) St. Paul reiterates the same point when he said, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5,8) 

 But we need to learn how to blend God’s mercy and the all-out effort we need to exert to achieve our ultimate goal and win our definitive status as God’s image and likeness, children of his and sharers of his divine nature. Let’s remember that while Christ was merciful to the woman caught in adultery, he told her to sin no more.

What we have to avoid is to rely simply on God’s mercy without exerting any effort, or the other way around—to think that we can achieve our goal with our effort alone without God’s mercy. 

 With God’s grace always, we have to learn how to be merciful and compassionate with everyone, willing to bear their burden. We have to learn to go beyond what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair. We have to offer mercy and compassion, and patience and understanding along the way. 

 The mercy and compassion that we have to learn is that aspect of the redemptive life and work of Christ who fraternized with sinners, who taught us to love our enemies, who spoke of the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, and who bore all the sins of men by offering his life on the cross. 

 They all tell us that it is not enough to have good intentions only towards others, nor to do some acts of charity which is more of philanthropy than anything else, a kind of “noblesse-oblige” mindset. 

 The mercy and compassion asked of us is that very attitude of the poor widow who out of what she had to live on gave her two mites in contrast to the rich man who gave quite a bit but out of his abundance.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Not only a matter of words and intention

“IT is not anyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7,21) Christ says it very clearly. Our prayer should not just be a matter of sweet words and good intentions. It should be a matter of deeds that fulfill the will of God. 

 Let’s remember that when our words and intentions are converted into deeds, we would be strengthening our integrity and consistency as a person and as a child of God. As the gospel says it, we would be like a house built on solid rock. (cfr. Mt 7,24-25) 

 As such, we would be more able to bear our own weaknesses, to resist the temptations around, to carry out our duties in this life, and to continue to pursue our supernatural end to be with God in heaven. In other words, we would be fulfilling God’s will for us. 

 St. Paul said something similar. “Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Rom 2,13). And St. James: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (1,22) 

 Christ himself lived by this principle, even at the expense of his own life. “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father has taught me...” (Jn 8,28) And in the agony in the garden, he expressed that most eloquent submission to his Father’s will, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22,42) 

 All the saints lived by this principle. And the epitome is Our Lady. When someone in the crowd told him his mother was around, he said: “Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12,29-30) 

 Far from disparaging his own mother with those words, Christ was actually praising her. Mary did not only beget her son biologically. She begot him through her deep and constant faith, through her faithful obedience to God’s will. Her ‘Fiat’ (Be it done) was not only uttered at the Annunciation. She lived it before and after that meeting with the Archangel Gabriel. In fact, she lived it all throughout her life. 

 We have to find ways and strategies to turn our good intentions and nice words into action. We cannot deny that we, in general, are notorious for being good only in the former but bad in the latter. 

 Let’s always remember that doing God’s will is what is most important to us. It’s not just following our will which is, of course, indispensable to us. Otherwise, we would be undermining our very own freedom and our humanity itself. Whatever we do is done because we want it. It should be a fruit of our freedom. 

 But what is most important is to conform our will to God’s will, which is even more indispensable to us. Otherwise, we sooner or later would destroy our freedom and our humanity itself, since God is the very author and the very lawgiver of our freedom and our humanity. 

 This is a basic truth that we need to spread around more widely and abidingly, since it is steadily and even systematically forgotten and, nowadays, even contradicted in many instances.