How we stand before our God is a common enough theme in Scripture. Because it is so common, we are then led to recognize that this is very important. So, we might take a moment to reflect on how we ourselves stand before our God, acknowledging it and owning it, and then compare our self-understanding with that of Scripture, and for that matter with the Saints whose very lives mirror Scripture so masterfully.
We can begin with the Publican and the Pharisee. In this story the Pharisee stands before God, praising Him for giving him the Grace to not be like other men, such as the Publican. The Publican, on the other hand, beats his breast simply saying “O God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Here we are offered a distinct contrast of two different ways of being. I am not going to say two personalities though, because all personalities are called to be in dialogue with Scripture, and as a result of this dialogue, to change.
Consider! Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman of England was famous for saying, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” He would also say “True Christendom is shown…in obedience, and not through a state of consciousness.” These are two very important points to reflect upon. Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, in their book “The Spirituality of Imperfection” draw on the wisdom of the Desert Fathers when they point out that “Obedience-to obey- means simply to ‘listen thoroughly.’” (Kurtz, p.95) How else can conversion happen, considering that the original meaning of sin is to “miss the mark,” and the original meaning of conversion is to have a “change of mind.” How can I have a change of mind if I do not listen carefully to what God wants, considering that His perspective is Supreme. If I do not listen carefully, I find that I will often miss the mark, or, we might say-sin.
Returning to Blessed Newman, he would say: “Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him. In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness or perplexity or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain. He may prolong my life, He may shorten it. He knows He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me.
Still, He knows what He is about. Therefore, I will trust Him.” (From “A Great Teacher of the Church, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, His life and legacy, in celebration of his beatification by Pope Benedict XVI”) To be sure, the above quote shows us a person who listened carefully to what God wanted and is thereby to be considered by us in these days to have been obedient. He could listen carefully because he began with the obvious conviction that God knows better how he should live than he did. The Publican had the same spiritual mindset. And as a result of his conviction, he would not compare himself with other people; nor would he feel superior to other people. Rather he saw himself as someone standing before a most Merciful God, and recognizing that he falls considerably short before the Awesomeness of God’s Love, could only ask for Mercy for himself. Both men saw Reality as it is, and not as they want it to be. Kurtz and Ketcham would say that “Willingness involves the acceptance that one is not in absolute control, thus opening up the possibility of being changed- being open to what change is possible even if one is not in control.” (Kurtz, 122) So, when you first evaluated yourself and how you stood before your God, were these the insights that you, yourself, had? Have a blessed week!
Peace, Fr. Walter