Monday, August 1, 2011

Cutting off arms and tearing out eyes

One of the most challenging things that a priest can do in his ministry is to help the enchained to be free and the lame to walk. No, I am not talking about any sort of radical liberation theology nor of any sort of miraculous healing. I am referring to the transformation that can happen when the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation invites and compels a penitent to want to walk that path of holiness after having strayed and made the wrong choices.

Why is this challenging? Simply because if the penitent is sincere about making those life changing decisions, it will be a very painful thing to do, especially so if the sin had been one that had been deeply engrained in the life of the penitent hitherto the confession. We are not talking about small change here (pun intended). What really rocks the boats of our lives is when one squarely looks into one’s life, and sees that for a long time, one has been making the wrong choices, getting one into the present fix that one is in, and the only way out is to make those radical decisions that require some root pulling.

To be sure, many of these changes are not going to come easy, especially if another person is involved, or when some attachment had already been long established. For instance, making that cut from an affair in an adulterous relationship is going to be heartbreaking for sure. I have even advised the owner of shares in a casino related business to sell off those shares as being a shareholder in such a business is tantamount to being a contributing partner in an enterprise that ruins the lives of many. Apparently, he sold his shares but nevertheless feels a certain regret each time he sees how much the share price has risen since then.

In scripture, Jesus gives us a very graphic image of what I had just elucidated. Mt 18:8-9 has him say, “If your hand or foot should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”. And a little further, “if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire.”

What gives? Does Jesus want us all limping around like victim of minefield mishaps or looking like Cyclops? Certainly not. But what he alludes to is the reality that if we are serious about sin and its effects to our lives (entering into life), there are choices that we have to make, and oftentimes, these choices will hurt.
How does one deal with the pain? Perhaps this is where good spiritual direction comes in. Few spiritual journeyers make full use of spiritual directors to help one to truly enter into life, especially if one has been maimed due to radical cutting and plucking, and this is most unfortunate.

One of the best ways to work around the pain is to realize that all of us need to have a real loving and living relationship with Jesus, who is saviour and Lord. The word “Saviour” has connections with the word “salve” or healing balm, and also has links with the world ‘salvation’. If we cut off our reliance on the opiate of sin that had us sin-bound for many years of our lives, we would be in free-fall mode if there is no where or no one who we can “hold on to” once we have made that radical cut. Why Jesus is called our Saviour is because he has always been, and will always the one who we have to be rooted in to dare to stand apart from our attachment to sin.
It has been my sad observation that many a Catholic has yet to really form that deep abiding relationship with Jesus from the get go. And so, when the wave of life comes our way, we tend to get swept up in all that thrills and delights us, taking us to wherever we think is appropriate. Storm-tossed in the sea of life, if one has lost one’s sight of the saving beacon of Christ on the shore of life, one easily thinks that one can float fancy free in the open waters, until one realizes that one’s compass (moral or otherwise) has been spinning amok.

Does this then mean that establishing a relationship with Christ becomes just another opiate to occupy our minds in place of some other person or thing? It certainly could. But that should only be a start. Even saints had to purify their relationship with Christ, and most did not get it correct from the start.

I sincerely believe that when we truly establish Christ as the head of our lives, when he becomes the centre of our universe (which he truly is), it orientates our lives in the proper way that it should be. Our marriages become ‘set’ right when we love Christ first before our spouses. Our families become ‘set’ right when we truly make Christ the head of each household and orientate our lives towards his and his kingdom. It will also make our work, our recreation, our goals and every other aspect of our lives ‘fall into place’.

If Christ is not yet the centre of our lives, and if we only want to cut our relationship with the ‘arms’ or ‘eyes’ that have caused us to go astray in life, it will be akin to abandoning our pleasure yachts on the high seas of life, jumping into the shark infested waters with only a life raft or some floatation device, and trying to swim shore-ward without a guiding beacon.

But with Christ deeply rooted at the true centre of our lives, we can courageously make that necessary, albeit painful decision to cut off arms and tear out eyes.


  1. “One of the best ways to work around the pain is to realize that all of us need to have a real loving and living relationship with Jesus,.....” – if I had read this when I was much younger in age and faith experience, I would have dismissed this outright since a loving and living relationship with God seems to be cut out for only those in Holy Orders or the religious ! Now – however, I recognise this as a simple but significant truth , for all who search for the answer or the something /somebody to fill the ‘achy neediness’ prevalent in every human heart. It is the desire for authentic God experience – and that means a real , loving and living relationship with Him.

    Fr Paul Coutinho SJ in his book about the freedom to experience the divine, said, “ experience the Divine is to rest fully in God’s love while we have an experience of the cross – an experience of freedom and liberation at all times of life, even in suffering, sickness and death...’’ Based on this, what you said about having this relationship with Christ first - before one goes about ‘radically loping off one’s trouble-making limbs or gouging the eyes that are sin-prone ’- is sound rationale. It seems to be a celebration of total trust / faith in His unconditional love.
    Thank you and God bless you.


  2. Hi Fr. Luke,
    On the subject of a relationship with Jesus: probably the first thing we realise upon coming to know Jesus is just how sinful we are. As St. Peter exclaimed, "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man" as soon as he recognised just who Jesus is.
    With Our Lord as a referece point (and the great saints as well) we come to understand how painfully short we all are of true holiness.

    I wish you well in your studies to come and will continue to pray for you (and all Catholic priests as well).

    Peace and Joy,

  3. We are not discouraged. God alone gives growth. Your latest musing makes me think of the moso bamboo that remains underground, quite unseen, but its roots are reaching far and wide for about five years. After that it begins to shoot upwards and shows how beautiful and strong a plant it is. I would think it is the same for the earnest Catholic who listens and hopefully acts on the word. Meanwhile, God is watching and giving growth. So, Fr Luke, keep it up! You are touching lives and hearts are being changed. Praise be to God!