Freedom to Choose — A Gift of God
The story of the fall of Adam and Eve, and the story about the tempting of Jesus are two interesting and contrasting stories. Most of all, they are stories about making choices.
For Adam and Eve, God gave them the Freedom to Choose. He gave them the opportunity to do the “right thing” – the right to be moral in their actions. They had the opportunity to live by choice, to live consciously, unlike animals who live by instinct. They could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God, and, as we know, they abused that freedom. In choosing evil, they, and we, abuse the freedom with which we are gifted, for the essence of the gift is essentially the freedom to choose what is right.
Jesus was also faced with the decision to choose evil over good. It was not easy for he too had to struggle to do the will of God. He was divine, true, but he was also very human.
Every day we are faced with decisions — choices to do good or to do evil, to choose God or not. We have within us a certain self-centered attitude of “I know what is good for me;” or relativistic attitude of ‘what is true for you isn’t true for me.’ This is shortsighted behavior that leads to self-destruction.
Jesus won in the desert, but that battle is not over. Everyday we have to make the same decisions over and over…the good news is that the more we make the ‘right’ decision, the easier it is to continue to do the same. The real punishment for choosing evil is that it is also easier the second and third time to choose evil and this becomes self-destructive behavior.
The winning is in the fact that not choosing evil does not bring us to the original innocence of Adam and Eve, but helps us to rise above sin and temptation; we become virtuous, unwilling to commit sin. Jesus’ way!
~ Deacon Paul
The New Trump Cards!
And, no! I am not speaking about the President of the United States.
If you know anything about card games, you have heard of playing the ‘trump card.’ The trump card always wins; whatever anyone plays in the current hand of cards is lost to whomever plays a ‘trump’ card. Trump is always the winner of the hand; nothing beats it (save a higher trump card). When trump is played, the hand is won and done.
So what are the trump cards being played today and by whom. Well the three big trump cards today are —
— You are a Racist;
— That is not politically correct;
— That is offensive.
Without regard to left or right of center politics, these three labels are used to attack the freedom of thought and of speech of any person who mentions any of the sacred cows in a conversation.
If you think and comment that a specific person, who happens to be black, is not doing a good job as a politician, you are stopped with the label ‘ you are a racist.’
If you have an opinion on a number of current issues contrary to whatever the prevailing thought might be, you are not ‘politically correct’ and should not voice those opinions. This might be combined with other trump cards such as Homophobe or Islamophobe.
If you speak out against any specific persons or comment on issues which happen to be related to some specific religious extraction, even though your comment has nothing to do with that specific religion (not unlike the Racist matter), then you are ‘offensive.’ It is as though not being offended is a constitutional right.
Now, getting to the basics of argumentation: There used to be a general rule of fair and logical argumentation that ‘ad hominem’ comments — i.e. comments (name calling) against the person of a debater/arguer, were strictly out of bounds. It is even said that once a person is reduced in his side of the argument to ad hominem arguments, since apparently he has nothing more to say on the issue at hand, he has lost the debate.
The use of the, now in vogue, trump cards are, to say the least, ad hominem arguments or attacks, which have no place in legitimate discussion. At worst, and this is how they should be treated, they are the final bastion of the bully.
Using the trump cards is meant solely to cut off the speaker using his or her fear of being labeled as either a racist, offensive or politically incorrect. It cuts off legitimate debate. It appeals to the masses as a winning strategy when the conclusion of legitimate debate would otherwise serve to inform and teach important points of politics, life or education. Its intended effect is to shut down fair comment; to keep the one who should be heard from being heard. Bullies seem to win quite a bit in society today.
These bullying tactics should be rejected by society as just what they are — attacks by persons who have nothing of intellectual standing to support their own positions and which happen to be, also, emotionally and intellectually deficient and ignorant of the full or true facts of any situation.
These bullying tactics should be summarily rejected as irrelevant, but they should be rejected in some way to send the message that such tactics are no longer acceptable.
And, quite frankly, they should be met by the counter, ‘your attack on my person is not only truly offensive, but irrelevant to this discussion.’ Another response might be, “well I see you have nothing more to add to your side of this discussion. I win.”
What, Me Worry?
Most of us remember the iconic picture of Alfred E. Neuman on the cover of Mad Magazine with these words – “What, me worry?”
Worry is something that affects us all. It is part and parcel of our daily lives. Worry is usually something we choose to do; In spite of what we may think, it is not caused by external circumstances only, but also by internal disposition. Most often we are most anxious about those things that might happen rather than those that have happened to us. Usually, when it is all over, we realize we made ‘much ado about nothing.’
Even though it is impossible to live a life beyond all fear and anxiety, a human frailty, it is possible to reduce the power of worry over us. Jesus, as always, gives us the answer.
Jesus tells us to concentrate on what is essential (our salvation); He tells us to focus on doing the will of God. When we trust in God and desire to please him worry is banished. When thoughts of God and what is eternally important in our lives prevails, there is little to no room for worry.
Worry is essentially distrust in God. Difficult though it may be for us to live worry-free lives, we should work towards handling just the present day’s problems as they come, and not look for tomorrow’s troubles that may never occur.
The Bishop’s Appeal motto this year calls us to ‘Trust in the Lord.’ This is where we should focus our minds and hearts if we are to be good stewards of all that God has given us — whether we have time to give; talent to share or a little bit of treasure to spare, if we focus on God, we will know what to do.
The only way to get rid of worry in our lives, or at least most of it, or to lessen it, is to focus on God and do what we can.
St. Augustine said, “Entrust the past to God’s mercy, the present to his love, and the future to his providence. “ Truly, everything else is the ‘small stuff.’
~ Deacon Paul
What of Our Salvation?
“Be Perfect, therefore, just as your Heavenly Father is Perfect”
I am confident that at one time or another in each of our lives we have had a ‘situation’ that totally consumes our every thought. Something that is so worrisome that throughout the entire day – whether at work or play, with others or alone or even at a party or joyful gathering, our thoughts are on the problem or situation. We are preoccupied with it. Usually only to find out that it was not all that much to worry about when it is over.
Well, what about a more important ‘situation.’ Our Salvation! Do we ponder this every moment of every day, wondering whether our salvation is secure. Is this our first thought in the morning or last thought at night? Are our minds more tied up with vague, idle, earthly or worldly thoughts? We must judge for ourselves if we really have the business of our salvation more than any other at heart and what there is for us to hope or to fear in eternity.
What matter; what affair; what event is more important than our salvation? And, why is it, that this most important of matters is given little to no regard in our lives? We do not sufficiently appreciate the importance of salvation. We tend to live a false security of believing that there is still time. Someday, there simply will not be any ‘time to prepare.’ Jesus warns us many times in the Gospel [fool, this very night your life will be demanded of you!].
This is the point that Jesus makes at the very end of the Gospel Message today. We are called to perfection. No doubt we cannot attain that lofty goal, but Jesus’ point is that we must try – do our best. The proverbs tell us to ‘be in fear of the Lord all the day long, because thou shall have hope in the end.” St. Aloysius tells us to be guided by this: “What is this [event, situation, worry] to Eternity?” — i.e. What is more important than Eternity?
~ Deacon Paul
What of the Law?
You have heard the law… but I say to you!
You and I are subject to the law and Jesus himself was subject to the law, both human and divine. As Jesus grew up he obeyed Joseph and Mary. He obeyed the law of the land (Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s). And, of course, he obeyed the law of God.
In today’s Gospel if we look deep enough, it is Jesus’ attitude about the law that is important to him… and to us!
He found no fault with the law. His problem was the way it was interpreted and applied by the leaders of the day. For them it was the letter of the law that was important. Follow that and you were okay. But for Jesus it was the Spirit of the law that was important. What was important was not how many commandments we follow or obey, but the spirit in which we obey them.
The Pharisees, both of the time, and the Pharisees of this time, look only to the outward sign. God looks at the heart. So Jesus tells us to look not just at our actions, but at our thoughts and desires, even though they may never lead to actions.
When we look at the commandments as only addressing acts and actions, such an interpretation leads to minimalism… doing enough just to get by…doing the bare minimum. But Jesus says they must be interpreted in a positive way; One example: thou shalt not kill. But he said, interpret this in a positive way. You must love your neighbor. Another example: thou shalt not steal; And he said you must share your goods with your neighbor when he is in need. Thus also giving rise to our need to be good stewards of all that is given us… God’s gifts!
~ Deacon Paul
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel Reading,
“…you are the light of the world…your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.”
No doubt we all recognize this as a call to discipleship. But this not the discipleship of talkers, but the discipleship of ‘doers’ — those who take action. We are not called to be passive believers in Jesus. Jesus wants us to be more — active believers.
Every Gospel message has within it one core, and sometimes unspoken, request – “Respond.” There must be a response to Christ. When we say we ‘believe,’ that belief must be more than talk. Jesus’ teachings – the Gospel, the Scriptures all call us to Stewardship – a recognition that all that we have, all that we are, is a blessing and given us for a purpose. Certainly it is our responsibility and privilege to use those gifts for the benefit of our families; but it is also our obligation to share those gifts with the Church and others. Here and many times before, we hasten to point out that this is much more than financial support, though it is that; it is putting our faith in action.
Becoming true, strong, faithful disciples is putting our faith in action by what we do, how we act in public, how we treat those poorest among us, whether our faith is ‘true faith’ or dead faith. Faith without action is dead faith, faith with action is discipleship.
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “To keep a lamp burning you have to keep putting oil in it.” What we put into our lamps of discipleship is action, loving God with all of our hearts, mind and strength.
Jesus calls our lights to shine. Indeed they will shine, but will they shine to bring glory to our Heavenly Father or will they shine to show us hypocritical (speak one thing and do another) and bring him dishonor?
What if… the members of San Juan Mission were the only Catholics left? Would others see our good deeds that glorify our Heavenly Father? Would we be the seed of faith that restores the Kingdom?
~ Deacon Paul