Even a broken clock tells time correctly twice a day. A person who is unreliable can still be right about something once in a while. We are, however, what characterises us. One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Just doing one or two things do not make up a person’s identity. Going to church on Sundays doesn’t define a Christian.
Things we do consistently, dependably, and predictably, characterise us. Not the things we do once in a while, or the things we find ourselves compelled to do. What we do when we are not afraid of the consequences, how we are when we are alone, who we are in our desires and our weak attempts to make real these longings, is the real us.
Words like ‘Flesh’ and “Worldly” in the Bible are sometimes difficult to internalise because we tend to give our own interpretation of what words mean. This ability, to render subjective meanings to objective words, facilitates delusion and is one of the prime reasons there are so many denominations and many lukewarm Christians. Yet being Christian means being characterised by the Spirit of Christ and escaping the spirit of this world, not simply doing a couple of things that are convenient for us to do, and discarding the rest for “Saints.”
The loudest and most forceful teachings are not from the pulpit but from the unsaid expectations of our immediate and extended family. What is okay with them is usually the belief system that characterises most of us. Perhaps this is also, why it is written, love me more than you love your mother and father (Mt 10:37), or, If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26)
When Image is Worshiped
My work is with families, and regardless of engaging with them for commercial benefit, voluntary service, or as part of my own social life, it is the rarest of things to find a family where image is not the god that is worshipped. Generally, money is the disguise and image is the real love. Everything else can be put on the back burner, but what others think draws immediate and swift reactions. The mantra seems to be- ’ Don’t worry about reality, just worry about what appears to be.’
In the Old Testament, a circumcised Jew could live as though he was not circumcised and in this way, he was only a Jew in name. In the New Testament, a baptised Catholic may live as though he is still ruled by instinct, and not reflect the grace of God in any significant way, apart from the grease that rusting relationships focussed on ‘image’ need.
We are creatures of reason, and what characterises us is, whether human instinct or the Spirit of God leads our reason.
Sin and Error
Everyone is a sinner but Sin has two aspects to it -sin and error. Sin is to fall short of a perfect standard because we are unable to. Error is to willingly not do what is capable of being done. Using the analogy of marriage, a spouse can either be the best person he or she can be, or a spouse could be committing adultery and lying about it. The spouse that is cheating is in error and the spouse who is falling short of a perfect standard is sinning.
Spending yourself on another person –in any form – apart from your spouse, is not being true to the marriage. This is error and with God, we are in error when we spend ourselves on anything apart from our Lord.
Being unable to be the perfect person and losing control over self is sinning.
Both sin and error is imperfection, but disability causes sin, and inability error. (By inability is meant being able to do something but not willing to do so).
When you can but you won’t, you are in error. When you want to, but cannot, you are sinning. We are in error when we live by instinct. Our human instincts are not unlike animals’ and in many ways, we are identical to the rest of the animal kingdom.
The human instinct is not all bad. In fact, it is mostly good and given to us for our benefit. Our instinct, or our nature, as taught in Genesis, has been wounded, corrupted, poisoned because of which (1) We died as we were bereft of the Spirit of God. (2) We are left to our own desires to decide what is right and wrong. The instinctual process of man causes him to reason that:—whatever is good for me is right. This arises from a parallel instinct that causes us to reason that:–whatever makes me feel nice is good.
At the base of all our instincts is the one of self-preservation. Anything, we reason therefore, that enables self-preservation is nice, good, and right. Anything and anybody that promotes our self-interest is great.
All our feelings, beliefs, reasoning and actions (in that order) arising from the above, characterises the worldly person regardless of that person being a Bishop, Priest, Nun, an active Layperson, Preacher, etc.
Those who are in-filled with the Spirit now find God’s way made available to them. These can reason and find good in mortification, sacrifice and suffering. They are able to struggle with and put to death the instincts that have freely reigned within themselves.
Image, status, power, luxury and the life of indulgence become filth as they, by the grace of God, daily overcome their spiritual sickness and weakness. What is visible matters little then and the intangible, invisible becomes paramount.
During the season of Lent, Catholics may conform to the practise of fasting and each year find novel things to fast from.
The unsaid is that come Easter we will return to all that we gave up during Lent. In some cases, like children who give up chocolates, or adults who give up meat, it may be the most practical and realistic thing to return to what they gave up. Yet when it is applied to our spiritual life and when we return to a life of living as this world does; when our instinctual selves drive us, then the proverb “a dog returns to his vomit” becomes real in our lives.
God in His love, compassion and mercy is gentle and patient with us. Like a good teacher, he doesn’t expect us to learn, master and be perfect overnight. We will sin surely, as we cry out to our mother from this vale of tears, but we must not be in error.
Error produces the Sunday Christian who may be sophisticated, rich, and well read, but remains an animal inside, putting up high walls to protect his own image, and to keep out anyone who may be an unrewarding burden. Money like fire is both useful and harmful. We need fire at a distance and not too much of it. Too close and too much and it consumes us. So it is with money. Animals don’t know how to use fire, and it is only the godly that have learnt to use money.
This Lent, try to find out what really characterises you. Remember, don’t fall into the trap of characterising your image. The real you is the one who gets hurt and who has real fears. Write down for yourself how you respond to getting hurt, and what you do when failing can make you look like a fool, or doing the right thing can make you lose money, status, prestige, or a cherished relationship.
The snake sheds its skin to no avail. Too many of our Lenten seasons have blurred into shedding without changing…just a thinner, healthier body to indulge in once again. Let us no more imitate the pig that once washed, returns to wallowing in the mud, or the snake and dog.
Let us do instead what only the human being can. Receive in faith from God and become a new creature. Let us be alert to our reasoning and know where its source lies. Blind faith does not exist. What exists is the choice to reason based on instinct, or reason based on the Holy Spirit. To reason with God, and walk as our Lord walked, is the gift of Easter.