Sunday, February 9, 2014

Self-preservation is the first law of nature, but self-sacrifice is the highest rule of grace.

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” – St Thérèse de Lisieux

Scripture text: (IS 58:7-10)
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Philanthropy is good by its definition. It can be objectively measured by good deeds. Much can be given in a philanthropic gesture, and much good can be done for others because of it. Philanthropy by itself, however, does not necessarily demand much of us, does not require us to change, does not place demands on our relationship with God.

Holiness does. - The difference between the two is virtue.

A miser could give a fraction of his wealth to charity, but ultimately he has done nothing at any real cost to himself. Jesus works in our lives through sacrifice, it is in that space that we meet him face to face. Mother Teresa put it this way, “Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self. ” Nothing that we can do that leaves us within our own comfort zone can be an act of grace.

Saint Paul, before his conversion (from Saul to Paul), was not wildly successful across much of the known world because he was always in his element, confident in his rhetoric. But when he encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus, he changed. He then began to poured his heart into his ministry and was himself very vulnerable in his work: “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power" (1 Cor 2:1-5) . Brilliant rhetorician though he was, Paul's true genius was his vulnerability, his willingness to let God have mastery over his work, to transform it into something that transcends this world, and in the process, it transformed Paul's heart.

Do we do the same?

I encourage each of us to ask ourselves: Is my good work simply done as I see fit? Am I promoting justice to satiate the hunger in my heart, my thirst for meaning in life but find myself still empty? Or am I building up virtue in my life? Am I living the Gospel? Do I take time to actually know Christ, and let my heart be vulnerable to his love? Do I allow my life to be permeated with Eucharistic Amazement?

I think the actions of the righteous man in Isaiah are good and necessary, an important place to begin building up the Kingdom of God. But they are not enough, for the Kingdom of God is ultimately written in our hearts. Our task in this world is not only that we transform society for the better, for the material good we do in this world will pass away in the end, and what will truly matter is how we allowed God to use it to transform us.

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