Monday, November 30, 2020

When having a poor understanding of charity can really expose a smallness of heart. (Included at the end is a YouTube link to a coming Advent talk I will be giving tomorrow night)

Sin and evil are not always obvious and clearly defined.  They can be also subtle and therefore complex as well.  This makes it very challenging for anyone to really want to listen to the inner promptings of the conscience because the way sin and evil like to work is to hide themselves in the fabric of good.  


No one would willfully and willingly commit an obviously evil act for the sake of evil itself (unless one was psychotically deranged, and even that would be a result of some mental disorder).  Almost always, one would commit an act of evil or sin within what is considered a shaded or misguided good.  After all, we see how the author of the book of Genesis describes the serpent in the Garden of Eden as being “more subtle or crafty than any other beast in the field that God had made” (Gen. 3:1).


The oft-quoted phrase “the road to perdition is paved with good intentions” is said to have originated from St Bernard of Clairvaux who lived in the early 12thCentury.  His was a more succinct version, which went something like “hell is full of good intentions or desires”.


But how does one assure oneself that one’s intentions for anything are pure?  What does a pure motive look like?  What defines a heart that is a heart that is full (or at least having a large portion) of charity?  


It has to be reducible to loving the other in such a way that the other’s good is ultimately desired, even it means having to displace oneself to attain that end.  If it has a tinge of shaming the other, calling the other one out in public, or diminishing the other’s dignity is any way, there will be some form of vindictiveness or even vengeance in the act, and therefore should be avoided.  Carrying on would reveal a lack of charity.


This kind of evil is never obvious, and the means through which one’s thoughts are easily made public comes readily to mind.  We only need to look at how the proliferation of social media in its various forms have consequently seen the emergence of the keyboard warrior.  Hardly a complimentary term, keyboard warriors do not usually act with charity of the heart, nor willing the good of the other for the sake of the other.  There is little effort made for holistic engagement to take place.  When an incident that incites the ire within happens, one takes to the keyboard to write an email of complaint not just to the person directly, but oftentimes will also cc the world (or the larger community) and with one hit of the ‘return’ key, someone else is publically named and shamed.


When this is done, it immediately changes what could be a charitable act into an act that diminishes the other. An act of charity in this case would be to engage the other in a one-on-one conversation, bearing in mind the intention of ultimately wanting the good of the other.  But with a blast of one email that is cc-d to all and sundry, instead of building bridges and fostering the growth of well being, walls are erected and the world becomes a smaller and darker place.  Instead of love, fear and discord is sown.  Hidden behind all this, a sense of self-righteousness and a false sense of superiority can also lurk.  When the battle could have been God’s, it ends up being a round going to the devil.


This is why when there is conflict and disagreement, the golden rule would be to follow what Jesus says in Matthew 18 – if there is a matter to resolve, first go up to the person concerned and have a conversation on the matter.  If that doesn’t help to resolve the matter, bring one or two others along. If that doesn’t work, then tell it to the Church.  


This is sometimes called the law of gradualness or the principle of subsidiarity, where a certain hierarchy is followed.  Although it is tempting and easier to just go to the highest level (the public arena) when something is causing one to be upset (or when something causes one to feel offended), this law reminds one to take things in small steps, and in so doing, also helps one to develop the virtue of patience.  Of course it is going to take more effort.  But it is in the very act of its slowness that gives one the necessary reasons to bring the matter up in prayer and to listen to what God may be saying to us in our hearts.  


Bypassing the important preliminary steps and going straight to the community may be a quick way to be heard, but often what is heard (or seen) is the anger and bitterness in the heart rather than a deep desire for growth and maturity.  


In case you, my reader, are wondering what caused me to reflect publically and openly on this matter, it is because a letter of complaint had been sent to all the priests of the diocese regarding the way a fellow priest had apparently flouted liturgical laws during the celebration of a funeral Mass recently.  It was addressed not to the priest, but to the Bishop, and all of us priests were cc-d on this matter.  


While I can understand that there are a good number of the laity who are very liturgically minded, and get rather upset when they see what they term to be ‘abuse’, going straight to the bishop and cc-ing the entire priestly fraternity doesn’t really show much charity. Try instead to foster charity of the heart and make the effort to foster some engagement with whomever it is that we may have issue with.  


This way, we can really grow as a community where we truly want the best for the other.

Post-Script:  For those interested, I will be giving an Advent talk at 8pm (Singapore time) on Tuesday, 1 Dec 2021, tomorrow.  It will be conducted from the sanctuary of my parish of IHM, but because the COVID situation limits church gatherings to only 100 persons, it will also be broadcast online.  Just click on this link to bring you to the broadcast -

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