Obedience and Development

Last night my friends and I were discussing about how obedience is never mechanical. It is not simply being told what to do and doing what we are told. Sometimes we want to be told what to do because we are having a hard time understanding what we should do, what we should believe. But notice how moralistic and systematic that is. Life cannot be reduced to a system or laws. In the end, such a view of life will suffocate you. I find that this tendency to reduce life into a system is manifested in many ways. For example, a person thinks he is called to the priesthood. He enters the seminary, does what he is told, and then thinks he can pursue his self-appointed mission. Many times we just want to get things “right.” In this case, it may very well be that he did his chores in the seminary, went to confession, etc. but is still immature. Again, it is because life is not about getting this right. Even if we know which things are “right,” what beliefs are true, we can still fall short. My friend said, “Suppose life B is good. Then you did it. So what?”

We also see this in Catholic universities where people are filled with Aquinas, Catholic orthodoxy, and good liturgies. Sorry, but I would probably be suffocated by all those things. Christianity is much more than that. I have learned more about Christianity at Rutgers than I would have learned at Christendom College. This is because God is beyond structures. This is what Pope Benedict warned us about in his encyclical on hope. It is good that we pursue good structures in society. However, no structure can ever be permanent. No structure can win the hearts of people. This is because our freedom is fragile.

Hans Urs von Balthasar has argued that a theo-drama is not committed to any laws. What is at play is infinite freedom and finite freedom. When freedoms are involved things become dynamic. There is creativity at play as well as reason. Some people speak as if creativity and logic can simply converge in a linear way. Artists know this is not right. In life, we often think of things in a linear way. However, that is not what life is. All of us know this. We get that surprising news that our wives are pregnant, that we are fired from our job, that we lost our loved ones, that our houses got hit by a hurricance, that we are told that we are loved, etc. Life is never linear. Why think Christ’s relationship to us is? In fact, all of those examples show that Christ’s relationship with us is not linear.

Take the example of John 6. Jesus was telling people that they should eat his body. They thought that he was talking metaphorically. Then, suddenly, this idea came to his head. He told him to eat his literal flesh. This is where the drama begins. He proposed something incomprehensible, something that does not make sense. What are his apostles to do? Is not truth evident to us? Don’t we have the capacity to understand it? Why don’t we understand it? Why, then, should we not leave? Peter’s answer gives us a hint: because we cannot deny what has happened to us. We do not leave because we are at least certain that this man has corresponded to our hearts in such a way that no one else can. So we stay. But what happens, what do we do, when we stay? What is the proper response to something that does not make sense? The only proper response is asking (prayer). “Who are you that I should follow you even at this moment?” This is when life begins to be dramatic and less systematic. At least at this point, there is a relationship. We see this even in Christ. His obedience is expressed in asking: “Why have you abandoned me?”

Let me comment on the doctrine of development which has been spoken of here recently. It seems to me that if life is not systematic, we should not expect doctrine to be either. In fact, suppose that Sally and Billy got married. Sally proclaimed the doctrine, “Christ sent Billy to me.” This is about Christ because it speaks about the concreteness of the event of love, the love Christ has for Sally, so concrete that she can touch him. There is nothing “new” here in the sense that we all know Christ loves us. Yet, it is a discovery to understand the meaning of “Christ loves me” in this way: “Christ sent Billy to me.” Now, was this a deductive development? Well, was it deductive that when Sally looked left, saw that Billy was looking at him, Billy came over and asked her out for the first time? Absolutely not. It is coherent, yes. It is consistent. Yet, it isn’t as if Sally planned her life at 2 pm to look left so that Billy can look at her. It isn’t as if Billy logically had to come to her and ask her out. No, it happened this way because of the free and generous love of God.

What happened in this story is that Sally followed what she was attracted to. It was not as if everything was fine from then on. They probably had many fights before they got married. Yet, obedience was not just being nice to each other. They could have made rules such as, “No fighting” and never fought. But that’s just suffocating. What is important is that both stayed in front of each other and never lost restlesness for each other. In staying in front of reality, newness and beauty jolts us. Being jolted is how we change, how we develop into maturity.


25 Responses

  1. I have to agree with the general tenor of this post. I went to U.C. Berkeley as a Catholic (though I got back my Faith as a student). Catholicism cannot work through a bunker mentality, and I think I have learned more about what I believe by interacting with non-Catholics and militant atheists.

    That being said, I think the question ultimately becomes where we need to draw the line in the sand and where we need to stand our ground. In this day and age, there is no systematic answer. It is a complex issue, and I don’t think Catholics in general are doing a very good job in determining this.

  2. Take the example of John 6. Jesus was telling people that they should eat his body. They thought that he was talking metaphorically.

    I’m not so sure. Verse 52: Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat ?” And then in Verse 60, the disciples call it a “difficult statement” (or, “hard saying”).

    I’m not trying to quibble. I liked this post, but I would question whether the Jews and/or the disciples took Jesus metaphorically. The right answer is probably that they were not sure how to take Jesus. They didn’t know what he was saying, and many thought that he may be speaking literally (hence, verse 52).

  3. Kevin,

    Ah, ok..I might like that one better. My point was more of his statement was incomprehensible.

    So, in light of incomprehensibility, what should you do? Still trust?

  4. Apolonio:

    I can find nothing to disagree with here. Fifteen years ago, that would have disappointed me. Perhaps I have matured a bit. But perhaps not: thirty years ago, I was convinced that I had been learning more about Christianity at Columbia than I would have at Christendom, which at that time had just been founded by people I knew and admired. Go figure.

    I hope it’s not a sign of lingering immaturity that I have the following question: how, in your view, does the dynamism of DD work in particular cases? So far, all you’ve offered is an extended metaphor. A good and rich one, I might add. But the case needs some fleshing out.

    Perhaps this would help.


  5. Mike,

    Well, it’s a bit hard explaining how DD works in particular cases because there is no law in DD except that it is a continuity of Christian experience. This is hardly a law, actually. But since there are two freedoms involved, infinite and finite, it seems that it is hard to pin point at how our understanding of Christ (DD) matures. We cannot see how the freedom of God plays out in our life until later on when we look back. Of course we know one thing: that the freedom of God is our happiness.

    Anyway, I think the issue of DD is not separated from the nature and grace distinction. How exactly does grace perfect nature? Again, that seems hard to explore. But I do think that what is relevant is the event of Christ and the human experience. We all know, because of technology, how evil it is when a natural disaster hits us, when a terrorist attacks us. We may understanding suffering more in the past in the sense that we know it is simply bad to suffer; the past may know *how* to suffer better, but I think we understand the nature of suffering better because of our experiences. This is why, I think, we are less pessimistic than the Augustinians who hold to the theory of massa damnata. To conceive of people suffering forever: how can a just God allow that? Certainly the tendencies of universalism of some Fathers is more attractive than Augustine simply because it seems that Augustine did not understand the nature of suffering as much as we do now.

    Or take the difficult issue of homosexuality. It is clear that we cannot deny what the Church teaches. It is even clear, to me, that the whole “pedophile” issue was not really pedophilia but that of homosexuality. Yet, that is too simplistic, another way of systematizing life. It is clear that what the Church teaches now about homosexuality is insufficient. Even Theology of the Body is insufficient. What is required, and this is where I was getting at with Criticizing the Church, is that we synthesize our experiences with Church teaching. This is harder than it sounds. I know homosexual persons who are striving to be Catholic. Is it simply just “Don’t act on your desires!”? I don’t think so. What is needed is an integration of the fundamental needs of the heart and the experiences of people. When this happens, we even understand Theology of the Body better, that is, we understand what it is *intended* for. The intention of the Theology of the Body is not limited to John Paul’s intentions, but the One who subjects all things to Himself.

    What was the intention of declaring Mary the Theotokos? The intention of Augustine’s development of original sin? Certainly the Council of Ephesus’ intentions and Augustine’s intentions were different. One was to uphold the divinity of Christ and the latter was to uphold grace. Yet, we see how in the life of the Church, when these teachings were understood and internalized, that the overall intention was actually the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. We even understand Augustine and the Council better because of it. So clearly there is an intention apart from the consciousness of Councils, Popes, etc. that is discovered by the People of God.

    How did the discoveries of that intention came about? Well, there really isn’t any law except for the fact that people responded to their circumstances. And we don’t choose our circumstances (this is an expression of Infinite freedom). The fact that people were suffocated by the notion that the Church is Roman-centric allowed the way for collegiality. Yet, it was because they wanted to be faithful to the Petrine office that they spoke of its collegial aspect. So fidelity to the Petrine office is what made the Church teach collegiality. The development of the sacramentality of the episcopate in Vatican 2, for example, doesn’t really have any logical consequence (in a deductive way) from the historical point of view. Yet, it was brought about in a dynamic way. Certainly there is a continuity but not the way we would have expected. Heck, who would’ve thought there would have been a Vatican 2?

    I probably didn’t answer your question directly but I hope there are glimpses there for a better answer.

  6. I think this piece illustrates why I don’t have a problem with the development of doctrines being piece meal and even apparently haphazard. Though biographers may do their darnest to give it a structure, a biography isn’t a ‘narrative’ – a human life with its decisions and choices and sudden graces doesn’t necessarily have a structure which is rationally explicable to us, or form a visible pattern. The same could be said of the wild course of the church over 20 centuries.

  7. Apolonio, (and others):

    I agree with you, at least in part. Every year in seminary, we are required to write “growth plans” which outline the ways in which we hope to grow in a given year. I can hardly remember a thing I’ve written in those growth plans, and after four years of writing them they are more of a chore than anything else. I have grown so much in the past four years, but my “growth plan” never seems to line up with God’s plan for me. In fact, often growth happens in spite of seminary structures rather than in cooperation with them.

    On the other hand, I wonder if our Church has already , de-emphasizing the importance of structure too much over the past 40 years. I think a lot of the problems in our Church have occured when people threw away valuable institutions and practices. You may have grown a lot at a non-Catholic college, but it was by sheer grace that I was able to make it out of my Catholic high school with my faith intact (many of my classmates were not so lucky). The culture at my high school was not conducive to passing on the faith.

    I am consequently very sympathetic to families that possess a “bunker mentality,” who for example homeschool their kids, even at the risk of oversheltering them. Call it a “bunker mentality” if you want, but I say that it is better to shelter them too much via Catholic structures and institutions than to throw them to the wolves of our Catholico-secular high schools.

  8. So, in light of incomprehensibility, what should you do? Still trust?

    Yes, still trust. The discourse begins in v. 26 with Jesus criticizing them for seeking “the food which perishes” (v. 27). The work they should be doing is “believe in Him whom He has sent” (v. 29). They then ask for a sign, but they want one as tangible as the manna from heaven, recorded in Exodus 16. Jesus responds that he comes from the same Father that gave them the manna, except that he is the “true bread out of heaven” (v. 32) and those who believe in him will never thirst or hunger (v. 35). The next part is critical:

    “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. …For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (v. 36, 37, 40)

    The Jews “grumble” at this because, as they say, he is just the son of Joseph. What is Jesus’ response? The same: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. …he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (v. 44-48)

    This is the context for the “eat my flesh,” “drink my blood,” “true food,” “true drink” statements which immediately follow. They don’t understand that he is referencing his Passion in which he will give his flesh and spill his blood so they can receive eternal life. They don’t understand, but the real problem is that they do not believe in him. They have not been drawn by the Father and taught by Him. The apostles who stayed did not understand either, but they believed in Jesus — they believed he was the bread of life in whom they must believe, but they didn’t understand how he would give them this life. Jesus did not try to explain it to those who departed because the problem was not their incomprehension but the fact that they have not learned from the Father and been drawn to the Son.

  9. Kevin,

    I’m not sure you understood my question. You said, “Yes, still trust.” Why?

    I just heard a talk from a chinese man who was persecuted in China because of his faith. He was in a concentration camp. To me, the whole question is, where is hope? Why should you trust? I find it superficial to simply say, “Yes, trust him! Jesus I trust in you!” I think it is more reasonable to say, “Look, if I don’t trust you, then I won’t believe my own eyes. But why is it that you are saying this? What do you mean?” Here, a dialogue is made. I find it stupid when we tell people that when they are having a hard time, when they are suffering, they should just say, “It’s God’s will. It’s God’s will.” That seems to be imposing one’s idea to reality. The more human response is that of asking (prayer). We cannot take it as self-evident that we should just “trust”. This is why the question of, “Who are you that is telling me this incomprehensible thing?” is more human and does not take away the mystery of faith.

  10. phamilton,

    I do think structures are necessary. The Church has a structure, but a structure that is dynamic. It is not limited to the Petrine dimension but also the Marian.

    Also, Ratzinger’s critique of Rahner was on this point too. He said,

    “It seems to me that the real problem with Rahner’s synthesis is that he has attempted too much. He has, so to speak, sought for a philosophical and theological world formula on the basis of which the whole reality can be deduced cohesively from necessary causes…Theology is just such an attempt to find an understanding of reality itself. But revelation has given us no world formula. Such a concept is plainly counter to the mystery of freedom. Even science is aware today that it will find no world formula because, even in the realm of nature, there exists the nonnecessary.” (Principles of Catholic Theology, 169)

  11. Those ‘growth plans’ are not structure, they are pscho-babble, in my op.

  12. Apolonio,

    I wasn’t trying to do something quite as ambitious as solve the problem of evil 🙂 My little bit of exegesis was just to demonstrate where Jesus put the focus for the lack of faith in the Jews who rejected him and the disciples who abandoned him. The Father reveals. It is by Him that we come to understanding; we are not capable. The answers come in time (and in eternity). Eventually the apostles who stayed will understand that the giving of his flesh and blood is his slaughtering as the Lamb of God, but for the time they could only trust and follow, as they must throughout their life. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (v. 68-9). I don’t have a better answer than that.

  13. Apolonio,

    Gotcha. I had a feeling you wouldn’t disagree, but I just wanted to be sure.


    (Be careful! They might heeeear you!)

  14. “We may understanding suffering more in the past in the sense that we know it is simply bad to suffer; the past may know *how* to suffer better, but I think we understand the nature of suffering better because of our experiences. This is why, I think, we are less pessimistic than the Augustinians who hold to the theory of massa damnata. To conceive of people suffering forever: how can a just God allow that? Certainly the tendencies of universalism of some Fathers is more attractive than Augustine simply because it seems that Augustine did not understand the nature of suffering as much as we do now. ”

    I find this statement horribly presumptuous. Especially with the the Prozac-laden generation of self-esteem, I really think that the opposite is the case. If we really do not see the depth of human evil as meriting eternal punishment, it is we who are blind, not those in the past. Of course, I will say no more about it, since the best way to get to hell is to presume that you are not going there, or speculating that others will.

    “Yet, that is too simplistic, another way of systematizing life. It is clear that what the Church teaches now about homosexuality is insufficient. Even Theology of the Body is insufficient.”

    I agree with this. In many Catholic discourses about homosexuality, we seem to be between a rock and hard place. On the one hand, we want “freedom”, “conscience”, and all of the other trappings of progressive democracy for ourselves, yet we wish to consign those who have same sex attraction to perpetual second class citizenship. I am not saying that homosexuality isn’t wrong, but when it comes to sexual sins and chosing the life style that we wish to lead, do we not all have blood on our hands to some extent? Why do homosexuals become the scapegoat for our own moral crusades?

    “The fact that people were suffocated by the notion that the Church is Roman-centric allowed the way for collegiality.”

    Again, another problematic statement. I think we have to be very careful drawing the line between development and freedom on the one hand, and degeneracy and license on the other. Were people justified in their feelings of being “suffocated”? Or is it merely an adolescent sense of rebellion against an old religion that will not “get with the times”? There are some fine lines that need to be walked here. I don’t think that they are being walked correctly in this case.

    Bottom line: the other side of Christ saying “I will be with you always” is “when I return, will I find Faith on earth?” It’s a scary question, but it is just as much a part of salvation history as everything else.

  15. Kevin,

    I would just add that those who left simply didn’t lack faith, but were *unreasonable*.


    It’s not even human evil but human *suffering*. It’s not the fault of people if a hurricane hits them. Plus, there is always the question of, If God already knew they would go to hell, then why create them? I think it is right to see that it is not okay to see a human person suffer forever. In fact, the saints saw this as well.

    And yes, people were justified in being suffocated. Roman-centrism is a bad thing. Plus, it was Pope Paul VI who actually said that when you put Christianity into a system, people will suffocate. He was making that remark when liberals back then were trying to reduce the Church into their own ideas.

    I find that Nietzsche was right to feel suffocated by the moralism of religion he had experience. This does not mean it justifies him for denying truth-value as a whole, but there is a lot of truth in his desires.

  16. Human suffering may well be a product of our own fault, very broadly speaking. It says plainly in the Epistle to the Romans how all creation groans for the redemption of man. The chaos that governs the cosmos is a reflection of the chaos in ourselves due to sin. Thus, I find the past acts of penitence in both the Old and New Covenants to stave off plagues, earthquakes, and the like profound ontological insights into the fallen nature of the universe due to sin. How can there be order in the cosmos if no such order exists in ourselves? Indeed, many saints who overcame sin (St. Francis, St. Seraphim of Sarov, etc.) could be served by animals because they were “right” with the world. Maybe it is not a “guilt” thing per se, but if sin is the only real disorder in the universe, it is hard not to argue that we don’t have a lot of things coming to us. Besides, what of God’s saying that He loves who He chastises?

    Being a quasi-Gallicanist, I think I can agree with the general tenor that opposes “Roman-centrism” that you are saying, if it is what I think that you are saying. Otherwise, I would chalk “Romanism” up with all the other terms chic theologians have to come up with of ecclesiastical Newspeak. It is whatever you say it is. I won’t argue with it.

    I cannot answer the question of why if God made me knowing that I will go to Hell, why He bothered making me at all. All I know is that if I end up there, I know why. That is called maturity and taking responsibilty for my own actions. The best advise comes from St. Silouan of Mt. Athos: “Keep your mind in Hell, and despair not.”

    I can sympathize with you to some extent in saying that you are disillusioned with moralism. Having read all of those anti-Western theologians like Yannnaras and Zizoulas, and some of the other people who baptized existentialism with a light sprinkling of holy water. However, if I have learned anything, it is that real religion sometimes just has to treat adults like children. In the end, if people want to misbehave, no amount of reasoning is going to get them not to do it. In the end, you can try to create a morality without mental coercion that will convince everyone to behave “from their gut”. Forgive me, however, if I think such endeavors are utopian. Give me rules and regulations any day of the week, because I know that I am a slob, and I need them. Then again, I will only speak for myself in this case.

  17. Apolonio,

    I hope you didn’t find my previous remarks concerning the Order of the Natural World being the very handiwork of Divine Providence itself and by which Man has come to know & discover God as well as the Laws of the Natural World via systematic thought offensive.

    In any case, I am rather curious though; do you consider Job in Old Testament Scripture to have suffocated by often choosing to do the “right” thing?

    Your line of thought concerning doing the “right” thing by mere virtue of obedience intrigues me.


  18. Simply,

    I didn’t find it offensive. I might have accidentally deleted it, I don’t know.

    In response, I said that just because life has laws it does not mean it can be reduced to those laws.

    As for Job, he is a great example of obedience because he questioned, he asked, he complained to God. He simply didn’t do what he was told, but had a dialogue with God.

  19. Apolonio,

    Thanks for the response!

    I agree very much with the latter.

    I think it is wrong for a person to do things so mechanically as well; that doing the “right” thing all because of some automaton reflex rather than because of it actually being the “right” thing may very well be equally wrong since it is being done for the wrong reasons.

    I only brought up Job because of how it seemed through all those trials, though he assuredly kept doing the right thing, the thought of God as God seemed to have escaped him at some point; that is, as if his doing the right thing each time should have earned him some sort of reward for all his troubles rather than the travail he continued to suffer.

    The point being: if you are doing the “right” thing because of some expectation of a reward; you are doing so for the wrong reasons as well.

    The “right” thing should be done because you love God and not for some reward.

    On your other initial point though, I do believe about an aspect you’ve mentioned concerning seminaries and those who pursue a vocation to the priesthood.

    For example, I was amongst those who called for closure of the minor seminaries because, among other things, one of the principle drawbacks is the seemingly utopian “dreamworld” that such an environment — most especially, considering the youth of such seminarians at this junction — that brings about certain disillusionment.

    As I believed then, It is that unrealistic environment which would only be disadvantageous to a seminarian if he were to become a priest since he wouldn’t be equipped at all with dealing with the actual realities of the real world.

    I am hoping that those who are coming from your major seminaries haven’t resulted in similar disappointments.

  20. Corrigendum:

    As I believed then [and apart from what you’ve said], It is that unrealistic environment which would only be disadvantageous to a seminarian [even] if he were to become a priest since he wouldn’t be equipped at all with dealing with the actual realities of the real world.

  21. “The point being: if you are doing the ‘right’ thing because of some expectation of a reward; you are doing so for the wrong reasons as well.

    The ‘right’ thing should be done because you love God and not for some reward.”

    Why do modern Catholics have to always pose these questions as “either/or”? Why not, “both/and”? Human beings are complex creatures. Sometimes we do things out of love, sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of fear of losing love, sometimes we do it for reward, and so on and so forth. Love and fear are not mutually exclusive: self-interest can be a great incentive not to sin. One can thus speak about “gaining heaven”, “being crowned”, and so on and so forth; this does not make one any less virtuous.

    Ideally people should do everything for altruistic reasons. But to pretend that everyone at all times should do things for altruistic reasons is naive. And I speak as well for myself. I fear going to Hell, I want to go to Heaven. I will probably not cuss out the person next door playing his music too loud because I don’t want to go to Hell and want to be happy with God forever in Paradise. I don’t see this as selfish, nor is it any less virtuous. Even within ourselves, we need different motivations for different circumstances. That’s just life.

  22. Dietrich von Hildebrand pointed out that to love someone simply because it is the other, because you recognize the value of the others, is mistaken. It would be pure abstraction. We ought to love others so that we can also receive love. Of course this does not mean that we should do it solely on that. We should take into account all of the fundamental categories of importance. So, we should love because it is 1) it is important in itself, 2) receive love, and 3) because it is satisfying.

    The problem is when we reduce love to any of those 3.

  23. Arturo,

    I suggest you read up on your Saint Francis.

    There is what’s called “vainglorious pursuit”.

    If you are doing the “right” thing simply out of expectation of a reward, chances are there is self-interest involved rather than doing so for “love of God” or, for that matter, even “fear of God”.

    Man is, indeed, a complex being.

    Yet, alluding to the complexity of man does not mean man is entirely incapable of falling into such a state of sinful deception.

    For, if anything, what Apolonio is alluding to here (as I have interpreted him to be) is that man may very well be thinking he is doing the “right” thing for the right reasons; however, that may not be the case at all.

    For one, that person may be doing so, as I’ve said earlier, simply out of some automaton reflex (i.e., it was something he was taught to do rather than out of genuine will).

    Perhaps if I might offer an example:

    Take for instance somebody who seems to be committing an act of charity by giving money to the poor.

    There is a story I know of such a person who was doing so not out of any genuine sense of charity, mind you; but because it was something they were taught to do.

    That, to me, is doing the “right” thing for the wrong reason.

    It is similar to the case Apolonio raised about the Seminarian in his example.

    That is, there are folks I know who pursue the priesthood because it was a goal that they were, in a sense, taught to pursue as being the “right” goal.

    Now, as to what I alluded to earlier in my comment about the pursuit of a reward as the sole motivation behind doing the “right” thing which is actually the “wrong” reason for doing so;

    When somebody does the “right” thing expecting to get a reward for it each time, it should be manifestly obvious that this is the wrong reason for doing the right thing since it egregiously operates on self-interest as its primary underlying motivation.

    For example, if a person thinks that if he donates large sums of monies to charity, dedicate the weekends to helping the poor and the unfortunate, volunteer his services to his Parish, etc.; that he is entitled to some reward after doing all that from God, he essentially did not do the “right” thing.

    I hope you can see just how wrong such a view is.

  24. There is an amusing story in the Apothegmata Patrum of a hermit who after years in the desert was finally overcome to give in to sins against chastity. A voice came into his head that he should take a wife. So he made a life-size female doll out of mud and straw. Then the voice came into his head saying: “You have a wife now. That means you have to work twice as hard in order to sustain her.” He used to make baskets. So he had to make twice as many baskets out of straw in a day. Then, the voice said again, “Look she’s pregnant.” So he made for himself four little mud children. “Now you have to work four times as hard to sustain those children,” the voice said to him. He was up night and day making baskets. After a few days, he lost all temptations to flee to the city and take a wife. He got rid of his mud family and continued on the ascetical life.

    As someone who has been both a seminarian in a traditionalist seminary and a monk in a fairly traditional monastery, I can tell you that routine and habit may not be the most edifying reason to do things in religious life, but sometimes it is just what you have left when you are running on spiritual fumes. Even if we are shocked that there are people in the world who give out alms expecting something in return, the fact is that they are probably still doing an objective good: they are still giving money to those who need it. Would you prefer that they don’t do it since they are insincere in your eyes? Would you have prefered that the monk in the story have gone to Alexandria to go hog wild with the whores? I find such views profoundly unrealistic.

    The monk did what he did in the story for selfish reasons. He overcame lust with laziness, and thus kept himself out of a good deal of trouble. If self-interest is going to stop you from being a jerk or will make you generous, it’s not ideal, but I’ll salute it.

  25. Arturo,

    I guess I’m too idealistic in my notions.

    Yet, your story is not unlike the one I’ve read about how St. Francis, when the thought of impurity had arisen in his mind, simply threw himself naked into the cold snow and, likewise in your story, built snowmen that would comprise his family of a wife and children.

    I’m not disregarding the trial & tribulation of the believer or even the temptations that might arise during the course of his life and might, at times, due to human weakness, perhaps give into; such things might very well go on to not only testing the mettle of the believer but also, quite ironically, fortifying his faith even stronger than it was before, making him into a better Christian & servant of The Lord.

    “Even if we are shocked that there are people in the world who give out alms expecting something in return, the fact is that they are probably still doing an objective good: they are still giving money to those who need it.”

    I have no doubt that the external result might very well be good given their apparent outcome; however, the reasons for doing these acts still happen to be wrong if they were done solely for selfish reasons.

    In fact, I have seen time & again the result of such selfish reasoning.

    I have seen folks who initially served the Church like great saints with such open & generous hearts, only in the end to become its worse enemy when they perceived that the Church was not rewarding them for all the good they had done for the Church.

    Personally, I believe that the problem behind such instances lies within the very heart of why they were performing such acts of generosity in the first place.

    Most thought they were entitled to something in return.

    In my view, how can anything be said to be done out of charity & generosity (for that matter, how can one be claiming to even perform such acts for Our Lord Himself) if something is expected in return like that for the performance of such good works?

    In the end, it wasn’t good works to begin with where that person himself is concerned; it was more like a quid pro quo arrangement that called for payment for all his services & by which he demands God to pay-in-full immediately upon receipt.

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