Monday, August 31, 2020

True freedom and having prophetic courage always comes at a price. If we have been paid, our silence would have been bought.

Someone came up to me recently and asked if I had made any money at all from the time that I had been maintaining this blog of mine for over ten years.  I thought that to be a rather strange question, and my immediate response was of course in the negative.  No, I didn’t start this blog endeavor of mine in order to make a few extra ‘bucks’ on the side, supplementing my monthly basic allowance that I get as a priest for the diocese of Singapore.  To be fair, I do have several motives for doing what I do in this blog.  The first and primary motive is to use this as a platform to catechize people (Catholics as well as non-Catholics) on the various aspects of the faith, and in so doing, I am able to help people to mature slowly in their spiritual lives.  One can never really say that one has learnt all that can be learnt about the faith, and at best, one can only say that one is on the way towards fuller development of one’s faith.  

The other reason I keep hacking at this at a regular basis is because I believe that writing requires thinking, and both of them need to be regularly done in order for one to experience growth and maturity.  Writing, because it is essentially a craft, also  requires discipline – the discipline of consistent practice if one wants to develop one’s writing character.  While the writing itself doesn’t really get easier with practice, what does get better is the confidence in forming the ideas that swim in one’s head.  Turning them into phrases that others can read when they are put into words requires effort, and as I have said ad nauseam, effort equals love.  

I have come to appreciate as well the fact that the freedom to write what I write has been made possible largely because I am beholden to no one but God.  I am not sponsored by anyone, and have not gotten a single cent by monetizing my writing efforts.  Let me state clearly here that I do not in any way denigrate nor view negatively the many other bloggers or vloggers who monetize their work.  To be fair, this is the only way some of them make their living, and many of them do contribute to the well-being of their 'followers'.  But I was very humbled to read one of Fr Ronald Rolheiser’s regular columns recently when he shared that it was because he was a syndicated writer who was paid for his contribution to the many publications that publish his writings on a weekly basis, that he somehow isn’t as free as he would like to be as a writer.  

He also reveals that somehow he has to ‘tow the line’ and be somewhat PC as a Catholic writer.  He admits that he would like to make a strong stand on things like social justice, but he has to be very measured as he doesn’t want to rub his readers up the wrong way, and to have multiple newspapers drop his columns as a result.  Prophetic courage always has a price to be paid, and as Rolheiser makes it clear, money and renown can be very powerful paymasters.

While I am not sure if my writings are at the level and quality that are worthy of being published by any newspapers or religious publications, but of this I am certain – that the moment I start to gain in some way, financial or otherwise from these weekly reflections, that accompanying it could well be a concern of whether or not my next piece or article will cause my readership to suffer.  Even being overly concerned with the numbers that read my reflections each week can work against a writer’s freedom.  As it is in the spiritual life, one has to constantly purify one’s motives if one wants to live with any degree of courage and tenacity. 

The same freedom applies to anyone who is serious in his being an evangelist at any serious level.  Our freedom to speak about Jesus and his truth can become very diminished if we are very concerned and worried about how our audience will treat us or view us as a result of our sharing of our faith, or if we are obsessed with numbers.  To be sure, the message of Jesus and his values are always going to be counter cultural and counter intuitive for the mind whose values are based on the things that this world has to offer.  

Of course, one can always just preach and share about the “safe” issues that almost everyone can agree upon – being kind, being generous, being faithful and sincere in all that we do.  I suppose, these “safe” issues will keep one safely maintaining one’s regular paycheck and strong readership numbers.  These are not, and will not be wrong in themselves.

Yet, it wasn’t these truths that Jesus was sentenced to death for on Calvary.  It was for the hard truths that he not only stood for, but for the truths - of who he was; that he was the Son of God, the only way to eternal life of heaven, and that he is the eternal King of a kingdom that will have no end.  Jesus didn’t stay on teaching only about the “safe” issues of life, but really pushed the envelope when he taught about loving one’s enemies, forgiving those who are sending us to our deaths, being washers of each others’ feet, that we need to eat of him in the Bread of Life that is the Eucharist, that he alone is the source of true life and that no one can come to the Father EXCEPT through him.  In fact, he doubled down on some of these hard truths when his followers began to walk away, rather than dialing it down just so that he could keep the numbers of his followers.

Jesus didn’t need any form of payment for his prophetic courage, because his courage came from knowing just how deeply his heavenly Father was always loving and sustaining him in his very being.  I am certain that we too will have much more prophetic and moral courage and authority in our discipleship if we also know how much we are just as loved by our heavenly Father.

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