By Fr. Glenn Jones:
So it begins…
Already there are numerous reported scams of those who would rob others of the stimulus the government has offered … in the midst of one of the most financially-challenging periods in many of our lifetimes, no less. Just a warning: If someone calls asking for your bank and account number or your SSN, DON’T give it to them! It’s a sad reality that we have to be wary of heartless scammers who literally rob even the elderly of their life’s savings.
Most persons would likely never stoop to doing something so contemptible … so dishonorable. But then … thinking about such things as honor and virtue, one might dare to ask oneself: “How good am I? What do I do, and yet try to cloak myself in a veil of righteousness with wrappings of self-serving justification? Or, worse yet … am I a wolf in sheep’s clothing, preying upon others?” As we witness in life, many are content to devise evil, recalling scripture, “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” But St. Paul is quick to add warningly: “Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
It is often said that we each have two faces—the one we present to others, and the one with which we see ourselves. Each may be false, however—the former because of our own desire to be seen in a good light, and the later because we often delude ourselves … or at least are blind to our own faults.
So, we must decide what we WANT to be, and then—like the artist who alters on his canvas that which is not the image he desires—we remove (or add) that which conforms us more into our ideal. But that’s easy to say; not so easy to do. To succeed, we must become our own most ardent and honest critics; all that is needed is a determined will, realizing like the budding athlete, that development and improvement takes time. A savage does not become a saint in a day, so to speak. Similarly, we mustn’t be daunted simply because we’re not world champions right away … and yet neither excuse ourselves too readily. A great religious author wrote that if we rid ourselves of one fault each year, we would soon be perfect.
Of course, all of us know well the temptations which lurk, seeking to thwart that determined will of ours. Even St. Paul struggled with this, famously relating his own agonizing internal battle with self, worth quoting at some length: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24)
Paul no doubt constantly practiced what we Catholics call the “examination of conscience” in our religious lives—the recollection of: “What did I do wrong today in regard to love of God and neighbor? What action of charity did I omit that I could have done, but failed simply because it was inconvenient?” In fact, that is one of the purposes of the sacrament of confession: to confront our own failures through the instrument and counsel of the priest, and to ever seek improvement.
Thus we come to the only two aspects of how we are seen that really matter: the way God sees us, and His vision of who we ought to be.
How ought we be? We’ve no doubt of it; the letter of Peter, quoting Leviticus: “…as [God] who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16) And our model…our archetype of holiness? He who was perfect in holiness: Jesus the Christ, of course, who Himself taught…and embodied: “I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?…if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?…You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48) He demonstrated that perfection from the cross as He pleaded: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
Hmmm … “perfection” … a pretty tall order. But, as the athlete may never attain to the Olympics, the merit comes with sincere and honest striving … the striving to bring ever greater conformance how God sees us to that which He wants us to be—following those great commandments of loving God (and therefore Goodness) above all, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
St. Francis of Assisi reputedly said: What we are in the eyes of God is what we are…and nothing more.” And we might add: “…and nothing less, either.” All our seeking selfish wealth and recognition is, in the end, for naught; rather, the virtuous engages his infinite potential for Good, else we have wasted our one precious life. This Easter season, let us remember the price for that life … and the hope given us in Our Savior’s resurrection.
“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will
also reap…let us not grow weary in well-doing…So then, as we have opportunity,
let us do good to all men…” (Galatians 6:7-10)
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.