Tuesday, March 1, 2011


[This thought is based on this morning's daily Mass homily.]

The readings for Mass this morning offer a challenge to our mode of approaching God (or even acknowledging our need for the Lord), as Sirach reminds us not to try to bribe God.  Most of us would probably think, "I never do that!"  But I think too often we do.

We may not come to the Temple to offer sacrifices of lambs and oxen, but we do come with promises in our hands, and the words are often a version of Do ut des ("I give so that you might give"), or perhaps Da et dabo ("Give, and I will give"). 

We sometimes pray, "Lord, I'm offering all this to you; now, please give me what I want."  Or our words might instead be, "Lord, I'm offering all this to you; now, please don't give me what I deserve!"  Our focus is ultimately on ourselves:  either rewards we long for or punishments we want to avoid.  The sad part of this is that in such a focus we are operating on what the moral theologian Louis Monden, SJ called the "Instinctive" or lowest level of ethical behavior--in which the guiding principle is fear of punishment. 

But the Sacred Author today encourages us to live lives that are full:  obedient to God's law, eager to do justice for others, cheerful in giving, engaging in worship as relationship rather than as beggary--what Monden called the "Christian-religious" or highest level of ethical behavior, based on love relationships.  Would such a way of living (with God and with others) not actually make us much happier than anything else?

"We have given up everything and followed you," Peter protests to Jesus in the Gospel.  We 21st century folk have surely not left "all," but as we approach Lent we might well consider how much we could profitably leave behind--so much baggage (or garbage?) we carry that needs to be dropped.  With St Paul, let's forget what is behind and run forward to what is ahead (Phil 3:7-14).

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