Monday, February 17, 2014

Living a life of grace is 'hard work'

Did the martyrs and holy men and women live a somewhat different kind of life than we do?  Whenever we read about those wonderful and heroic lives of the saints, the picture that we often get in our heads is that these people were specially set aside by God to manifest a special love for him through the difficult and often painful times that they lived in.  It seemed as if they were born with a certain immunity to the ways of the world, and at the crucial point in time, were able to make that terribly difficult decision to remain steadfast in the faith and an option for God.

Much as I would like to believe it, the opposite is more the reality.  Each person who lives in a state of grace does not do this in any easy way.  To want to be steadfast in your faith, to live as a ‘friend of God’, is to respond positively to God’s constant outreach with purposefulness and a constant awareness.  And this requires a dedication that goes way beyond mere good feelings.  It requires a decision to love, which is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of any good and godly relationship. 

If living a life of grace and holiness is easy, it implies that one does no ‘work’ but is taken up along the currents of goodness without much effort.  But that is hogwash, and makes little sense in our world of the material.  If there is one thing that the spiritual life and the physical world have in common, it is that where there is ‘no pain’, there is ‘no gain’. 

What is the ‘pain’ in a life dedicated to God and holiness?  Among other things, it is generally a life of delayed gratification, a willingness to see the crosses in life as hidden blessings, an openness to letting hardship and defeat in life be teachers of deeper truths, and to not be too absorbed by the fact that our human lives are so imbued with the never ending thirst and yearning for status, companionship, thrill, sex, fame and pleasure.  This is not to say that the holy person is a boring oddball.  He or she just has a ‘graced’ intuition that these things have a very limited happiness value, and that there is a deeper, more lasting and even eternal quality to his or her existence.  Those who practice a religion will know that it is in God.  Those who do not, search far and wide for this.

As I look out at the congregation from the presider’s chair in the sanctuary on a Sunday Mass gathering, a whole sea of faces returns the gaze, and this sea of faces often give me the picture of a great mixture of people who are in different kinds of relationship with God and their fellowman and woman.  The “I-am-bored-and-wish-I-could-be-somewhere-else” look is ever prevalent on the faces of many who perhaps have not yet appreciated that their total presence in Church one hour a week is a very weak response to love God who continues to love us every second of every day. 

Then there are those who are showing signs of fear, anxiety, depression, worry and sadness.  Hoping to find an answer to their perplexities in life, they come to ask God for help. 

The other end of the spectrum are those who have come with a willing heart and a knowing that this is something that is right and good, though it may not always feel good and right.  They don’t only come before God once in a while when the feeling is there, but with a weekly (or even daily) consistency because they know that responding to a divine love (or any other love) is a decision that is very often exclusive from feelings. 

Are we ‘categorised’ in these boxes and remain stuck there?  The truth is that we are a mixture of all of them at various points in our lives, and if we recognize ourselves and know where we stand, we will ask ourselves why, and with God’s grace, want to live for a higher purpose than ourselves and our worries.  It takes a lot to want to live this way, because more and more, it will require us to put ourselves, our needs and our fears out of the centre of the equation, and put God there.  This is the main difficulty of living a life of grace.  It is this re-orientation that fills many with trepidation and fear, and we human beings will be the best procrastinators of deep change because we have a rather limited notion of what a life of grace provides.  Most of these notions are stilted and biased, but we will only realise this when God opens our minds in love and mercy.

Helen Keller is known for many sayings, and one about happiness had her saying, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness.  It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose”.  Though the truth in this is deep, it does lack a key or answer for those seeking a ‘worthy purpose’ because much conflict and violence comes as a result of different people having different definitions of what a ‘worthy purpose’ is. 

But fellow Christian who is reading this, I hope that a mindfulness of what we have been graciously baptized into (a life of Christ) is your only real and lasting worthy purpose.  It takes hard work to respond to this at each moment of our lives, but you and I know that this brings with it a peace that nothing in the world can give.  It gives us strength to ride out the many difficult storms of life, and a willingness to be people of cheer despite the sacrifices that true living and loving often requires. 


  1. It is such a "coincidence" that you should have written your blog on a topic that is close to my heart....not for myself, but for a close friend whose life long tribulations make me ask myself why God is not granting her much grace in her life. She is not a Christian, and despite my sharings how I find peace and strength (sounds a bit contradictory...) through my faith, and, despite I think her efforts to try to see what I see, she remains very much in a mire of problems, with poor health and lack of family and friends being the two biggest issues. Reading your blog of yesterday, I will share that with her, and I hope that God can speak to her through you... Thank you for always sharing your thoughts with us all.

  2. Thanks, thank you frLuke. Hmmm for me, the ‘pain’ is having to die to my-wanting-to- control self, wanting-to-win-at-all-cost self, wanting-to-have-the-last-say self, ... in short, my very human egoistic self. Recognizing, only by the grace of God, i am slowly 'metamorphosising' ...; and by the grace of God, i am making the decision each day to love Him more than my egoistic self.


  3. Dear Fr. Luke,

    I recently remarked to a friend that, “If you feel comfortable being Catholic, then something’s certainly not right.” By this I mean that the Christian life is a struggle; not so much against the forces of this world, but against our own proclivity towards sin and selfishness. It is a (daily) work in progress, and much of the time it’s a case of “one step forward, two steps back.” That certainly is true for me. Anyone who tells me that he’s reached ‘a secure and comfortable position’ in relation to the spiritual life has to be sorely mistaken.
    The words of that song, made popular by the Hollies: “The road is long, with many a winding turn,” brings to mind the effort required to stay the course no matter what.

  4. Dear Fr. Luke,

    True living encompasses a much deeper sense of seeing things far and in broader perspective. Take for instance that we have experienced much love-related upheaval throughout our lifetime. Perhaps we saw our relatives' parents go through a messy divorce, or viewed someone close to us lose a lover through death or some other traumatic occurrence. As a result we possess great strength -- which may not even be evident to us but it can have great potential for transformation through our own love life.

    Love is constantly mentioned in your writing (6 out of 10 paragraphs of your writing) which is also what our creator displays His great love for us on the cross.

    Life without love feels empty. That's one of those ancient human truths that almost no one can escape. Love doesn't always mean "sexual love" or even "committed relationships." We're talking about far broader arenas: friendship and caring, talking and listening, supporting, sharing, laughing together. People without partners can be content and complete. But people without love live in shadow land. With love, we live with the acceptance of the unknown that lies ahead.

    In every difficult situation, there exists a moment that has the potential to be magical, delightful, joyous and inspiring. Why then, doesn't that moment feel like this to us? It must be something that we are doing wrong! But then, if we allow ourselves to stop and worry for too long about where we may be making a mistake, would we not be making an even bigger mistake? The key to happiness may seem elusive but one way to find it is definitely to refrain from indulging in too much fear, anxiety or self-criticism. Give oneself the support one truly deserve, and things will start to change.

    Some people travel to the ends of the Earth in search of education and enlightenment. Travel may broaden the mind, but it does not necessarily deepen it. If our mind is full of prejudice and fixed belief, it will remain just as closed whether we find ourselves in Morocco or in Melbourne. Whereas, we can be right in the middle of nowhere interesting and, if we have a genuine willingness to find things out, we can be deluged with inspiring revelations. The only thing we need to change is our entrenched attitude and fear.

    The road may be long and full of obstacles but our life's spiritual journey is bestowed by God's grace that gives us the strength (courage) to ride out the storm. Whether one is a Catholic or a non-Catholic, being purposeful in life, practising humility, love and being gentle to oneself are all life virtues gifts.

    An awesome sharing. Thank you

    May God Bless You.

    T. Dior