Fr. Glenn: The Bitterness Of The Sweet

By Fr. Glenn Jones:

Warmest of wishes and blessings especially this weekend to all of my former parishioners in Los Alamos in my beloved former parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary—the weekend of the parish’s annual patronal feast day—a celebration and veneration (NOT worship!) of Our Lord’s mother and her purity in a heart devoted to God’s will. As Yoda might say: “Missed, you are!”

One thing I miss from parish life is the great food that people would bring to events. For one thing, I luuuvvvv sugar. I am a pastry hound … a cookie. monster. So when faced with that, my nemesis, it’s a struggle to not indulge in gluttony.

Now, it seems that, since sugar is so pleasurable to me, it must be good for me; therefore, for maximum good, I will eat nothing but foods high in sugar. Seems logical that that which is physically pleasurable must be good, right? Similarly, that which we find odious or which limits pleasure must be bad.

Alas … if only it were that simple. And yet that’s often how we live.

Well, we all know what would happen if we indulged in unlimited sugar: weight gain, diabetes, overall bad health … just not much fun at all. All that glitters is not gold, so to speak. So where is that which is of true and lasting value, and leads us to true contentment?

One might review wisdom of past sages of philosophy and religions who, unsurprisingly, discover many of the same principles: don’t focus on ever-increasing wealth, be generous, do good to others, don’t overindulge, treat others as you would want to be treated. This from Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Moses and others and, of course, Jesus.

Christians, of course, believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God—God’s instruction to us is for the benefit of humanity. Jesus affirmed scriptures as the Word of God many times, perhaps most explicitly with statements such as: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4), and “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets…Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:17-19)

So, O Christian, if God is all good, and thus the Word He gives is the good, then that which opposes His Word cannot be good. If a = b, but b ≠ c, then a ≠ c. And, because “God IS love” (1 John 4:8,16)—in fact, He is the source of ALL love … therefore, true love—love of God and love of neighbor—must comport with God’s Word, and thus with His will. 

But human weakness and error lurk, often accompanied by that fallacious idea that what is pleasurable must necessarily be good. That’s why God gives the Commandments—to instruct us, often against our proclivities, what is good and what is not. Strong desire doesn’t force indulgence; for example, many poisons are sweet, but reason and a desire for the good keeps a person from consuming them. Likewise, our reason and will can conform us to the will of God, or we choose otherwise and take us further from that eternal Good.

Sexuality has always been among the greatest of temptations; we see such even in reading the earliest scriptures and prophets. In our day even many Christians believe “Just so that you love!” is sufficient justification for pretty much anything. Yet … what IS love? St. Thomas Aquinas defines it: “Love is willing the good for the other”, a definition meshing perfectly with the fact that God is love and wills only our good. 

The Christian might therefore introspectively ask: “How can my departing from God’s Word then be good?” So, when we’re off the right path, we seek to find the way back.

No realistic person would equate sex and love. After all, one often loves blood relatives most deeply, yet absolutely chastely. Thus, one might argue that a chaste love is the sincerest love, for it is not dependent upon physical pleasure. Alas, chastity is way “out of style” in our day, and even ridiculed more than not.

Yet, since true love is willing the good for the other, the greatest good we can do for each other is follow the Word, and thus the will, of God. And scripture nowhere approves—in fact, it strongly proscribes—one of the most sacred of human actions—sexual relations—except in the commitment of marriage between a man and a woman. Even the polygamous Israelite kings had multiple wives and concubines because they could, not because it was God’s design.

No, many do not accept scripture as the Word of God; even Jesus laments that some teaching is hard for many people to accept, and many even of His disciples abandoned Him because of it. The Word conflicts with just too much of the world’s “wisdom”, as well as with immediate passions. So we can imagine Jesus asking us as He asked the apostles: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67)

But we Christians have God’s Word—a very pillar of our faith, and to pick and choose what parts of the Gospel and the moral law that we observe according to personal likes and dislikes places oneself above God—“judging” God, as it were—especially if we condemn something promoted in scripture or—more commonly—approving something expressly prohibited. But some of Jesus last words: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him…He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

The true Christian loves all persons and hates no one, and thus approves of things God approves, but does not approve what God does not; Jesus certainly didn’t. In fact, love warns when another strays from the good path, we must disapprove, not out of hatred but rooted in love and concern. Even Jesus—who cannot hate—often expressed strong disapproval of wrong actions (see John 2:15, Matthew 18:17, 23:13 for just a few), not to condemn but ultimately to correct and guide for the persons’ greater—and eternal—good. 

We often sacrifice many things for a greater good … and adhering to the Word of God—no matter the challenge or sacrifice—leads to the greatest good of all.

Jesus once laments: “…when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Let us be firm in conviction and discipleship, ready to proclaim at all times: “Yes! He will find it in me.”

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.

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