Grace to you!
There are two broad approaches to growth in the spiritual life. There is an approach that focuses on what evil or bad behavior to avoid. There is an approach that is driven by what good to do.
The first approach is classified under the "negative way" in fundamental theological thoughts. It begins with the assumption that we have to avoid evil. It grows from the deeper concern that evil must have to be rejected.
So, when one focuses on this, one would have to measure one's attitudes and behavior based on the stipulations of the Law. For instance, when one is in a hurry, driving to work and approaching a red traffic light, one would think of what the law says. Should I proceed or not proceed? Should I drive through the red light or not? What determines what not to do is what is stipulated by the law or the policy. This is not that simple, but I try here to represent this view in the simplest possible way.
You would notice that this negative way does its functions. Without it, there would be a lawless society. Without it, one wouldn't even know what the basic expectations in our relationships could be. One wouldn't know the metrics for improved performance in the organization or, somehow, the measure for determining quality service delivery.
But life and spirituality based on this would not go too far. It would, for sure, not be rich in generous love and charity. In cases of dilemma or crisis, it would be depressingly stressful. It would lead to an utterly legalistic way of life and deprive us of the sweetness of holy creativity and affectionate relationship.
It would be an utterly static position in leadership that does not give room for creativity and innovation. Go back and check. Organizations that hardly innovate or create do not grow.
For all its worth, no one likes sleeping on the bed of law's regulations. For all its worth, no co-creator (you and I) of the Creator would live without exploring the beautiful opportunities for the practice of charity. We become co-creators in doing and living of the seed through which life is born or regenerated. This seed is love, the charity that makes us live like God, who is love. We want to live the Law but not to be led by the Law. We want to fulfill the Law and breathe life into it because we are in love.
The second approach takes the first to a more pleasant attitude. It is the approach that believes one becomes better by doing good. The practice of virtue overcomes evil. One could avoid evil as much as one wants. Still, without the practice of the opposite of that evil, it will continue to stick around and seriously distract the moral will.
The Blessed Lord shows us this dynamic in his conversation with the so-called rich aristocrat (Mt 19:16-22). The man asks to know how to inherit eternal life. Without focusing on the problem of his mindset, which makes him think he can earn eternal life by his works alone—a topic I have reflected on somewhere else—, I want us to pay attention to the Lord's response.
First, the Lord proposed to the man what he was used to doing, namely the evil he has to avoid. Notice the Lord tells him to avoid this and avoid that. The man responds he has done so since birth. But the man knows that what he had been doing hasn't made him any better. Something was lacking. He wanted to build a moral life of avoidance, but he was certain in his heart that the avoidance approach wasn't enough. Being on the defensive wouldn't guarantee victory in the line of battle.
So, the Lord told him what was lacking. It is the ability to allow oneself to become a doer of good. One has to do something to change something evil. One has to practice virtue to overcome vice. One has to be proactive. We win over evil because we replace it with the good.
A positive approach of this kind is symbolized in the Lord's answer to “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). It implies the walk from an avoidance approach, the negative way, to giving away some values for a higher course, a positive way. And then, this is followed by service to others, "give to the poor,"; and then committing to the Lord, "come follow me."
There are three things involved here. One is the selling, and the other is the giving aspect. And yet the third is the following of the way of the Lord. The "selling" doesn't mean the Lord wants us to sell off our belongings or assets to live in the monastery and make a perpetual vow of poverty. This would be a myopic way of reading the Lord's message. The "selling" has to do with the willingness to detach and give of ourselves in service.
These three—the selling, the giving, and the following—are processes in the practice of virtue. One has to detach. One has to serve others. One has to be a committed disciple of holiness. It is in doing these that one can mature in the depth of spiritual wealth and holiness.
By following the Lord, and the Lord taking the lead, we find the home which the soul is searching. That home is God’s life. Anyone who follows the Lord receives the life of the Lord. The person receives it because the person is following it.
So, do you want to be perfect? Follow the Lord. Walk by faith. Lead in charity.
I am praying for the grace to do so.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Week 20: Jgs 2:11-19; Mt 19:16-22]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.