Choices, Creative Educator.
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[Jesus said] whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Matthew 5:22.
Today we live in an ocean of choices: from the mundane: which clothes to wear when we get up, what breakfast food to have, which car on the train to take, and so on, to the middling: what to do this weekend, when to mend something about the house, choosing a new book to read, to the profound: do I say sorry about something, am I satisfied with my career, what do I do about a terrible decision I made, each with a resounding ? after them. Television is saturated with choices thrown at us, from which $50,000 car to buy to which toothpaste will be most beneficial. Look at the quote from today’s gospel above. Jesus talks about the commandment Thou shalt not kill, the 5th commandment in the Catholic reckoning. That’s pretty clear, but Jesus has expanded it enormously in today’s reading – we must not even be angry with someone! He teaches similar massive developments with the other commandments in today’s gospel. What is his point?
There is an expression, great oaks from little acorns grow. This is clearly true – where else would oaks come from? But that can be applied to today’s teachings. In old school Catholic teaching a great deal was – is – made of the concept of venial sin. It is always contrasted with mortal sin, the worst sin we can commit, as it destroys – kills, hence ‘mortal’ – our very spirit, our very soul. The teaching says that venial sins, left to themselves, can lead to the death of the soul, hence our link with God, hence eternal damnation, which is eternity without hope; a hell of our own making. So, following the Lord’s line of thinking, anger left alone can grow into the most terrible situations which could be avoided by acting earlier, with courage and hope, to resolve a potentially terrible consequence. So leaving anger unchallenged is to permit it to grow to hatred and ultimate disaster. He points to other common failings which could also result in ultimate catastrophe, such as lusting leading to adultery and destruction of life-giving and sustaining relationships, and so on (great mortals from little venials grow?). Today’s first reading has the same theme, the need to make choices which strengthen our relationship to God and those around us, sometimes very difficult choices, and the second reading indicates the ultimate result, a profound wisdom which is the result of carefully made choices where the goal is clearly on getting closer to God rather than getting more wrapped up in ourselves, God-focussed as opposed to selfishness.
Each of us lives in a unique situation with its own challenges and demands. The golden rule which applies to each and every situation remains the same, love God, neighbor and self. Living by that golden rule would deal with anger immediately, lust would be extinguished, and anything which presents itself as a choice but which leads us away from the golden rule would be rejected at once. Stamping out selfishness in all its guises however is not easy; it seems that modern life is devoted to attempting to enhancing selfishness on a daily basis! Awareness of what is happening around us and to us is a step in the right direction though, provided we choose the correct pathway. With today’s readings as a guide, and with prayer, reflection and the sacraments to strengthen us, the right choices should become clear, if not easy. That’s when we ask for God’s help and guidance. St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, had a model for arriving at the right choice, a “discernment” as he called it. Briefly, when a very important decision was required and hence you are faced with a choice and (most important) acting with radical self-honesty, and a searching for the deep feelings which the various choices trigger within your heart, you list the pros and cons of each side of the argument, honestly and bluntly. This is putting it very simply (though look at “prayerful decisions” below for the full approach), The choice with the more positive thoughts and feelings and the least negatives point in the right direction; those choices which trigger negative feelings, honestly identified, should be rejected. Here is a secular version of the same thing.
St. Ignatius Loyola, Making Prayerful Decisions.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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