By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Even at my age there are still certain comics I check every day; it gives a bit of relief from the daily grind and, anyway … how can you not like “Dilbert”?! Recently one comic’s characters were musing at a theme written in the heavens … implicitly indicating a divine source: “Be Nice to Each Other!” I couldn’t but note the irony because the comic’s creator often engages in sharp parody of various political figures. Well, it WAS a Sunday comic.
It’s hard to be TOO tough on the guy, though, because likely almost all of us fall into that trap at times, whether one call it duplicity, insincerity, hypocrisy, or whatever—influenced by the lure of peer approval, attention, material gain or some motivation. For correction, the Ten Commandments were provided because at a deeper level they touch upon the entire gamut of human fault, and that’s why their application is ubiquitous in some form or another throughout the world. Look into just about any religion or beneficial philosophy in the world and you’ll see something like the Ten Commandments looking back at you. That’s because they touch upon no arbitrary “do’s and don’ts”, but rather go to the very kernel of human community.
Always we find ourselves struggling against the relentless current of our passions and their temptations. But it’s nothing new. We humans are quick to forget self-discipline and reason when passions are running high. A Biblical example I always remember is the Israelites at the base of Mount Horeb who, even after witnessing the miracles of God, discarded God’s direction, worshipped a golden calf idol—an image of sexual virility, strength and wealth, the things humans always make their idols—and “rose up to play.” Hmmm … probably not tiddlywinks.
In our common life, we might think of a person who normally is a picture of patience becomes a raging maniac when cut off in traffic. The very model of fidelity caught in an adulterous tryst. A trusted pinnacle of public service caught heavily padding an expense account. And on and on.
And so we might turn the light upon ourselves—taking that log out of our own eyes before examining specks in others’ eyes. As St. Paul warned the Christians in Rome: “…you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?…You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:21-24)
Fortunately, the Lord is so very forgiving, else we would have little hope in our human weakness. Referring again to the golden calf: Aaron molded it, and yet God would forgive that transgression made in weakness and anoint Aaron His high priest. David offended God greatly by his “murder by proxy” of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, and yet upon David’s expression of repentance, God forgave, and even though David would suffer punishment for his sin, the Lord later restored him to his position as king. And who can forget Peter’s thrice denying of Jesus in the courtyard, and yet Peter was entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom and given leadership of the apostles.
Much too often we priests hear people claim despondently: “I’m much too far gone; God can never forgive me!” To which I reply: “Hogwash!” … and point them to just some of the very many Biblical examples of God’s goodness and love, a favorite being “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good…[then] though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:16-18) And, of course, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross erases all sins of those who seek forgiveness and to follow Him faithfully.
But we should never take forgiveness for granted, delaying correction of our behavior til tomorrow—like the “pre-saint” angst-filled Augustine living with his mistress, asking God: “Make me chaste…but not yet.” Rather we are better advised by Paul’s advice: “…we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain….Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2) And as we read in Psalms: “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins…Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” (Psalm 19:13) For just like assumption, presumption often has negative—even tragic—consequence. Unfulfilled good intentions paves which road?
So, in the daily struggle to do the good and the right, let us continue to remember that inspirational verse of St. Paul: “…brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9) … simply a rephrasing of Jesus’ own: “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength [and]…love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 123:30-31) Do these things, and you will walk with the lightest of consciences and the springiest of hearts, come what may.
“…many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:66-69)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.