A week or so ago, someone I know slightly came to me asking for counselling, but I turned him away, telling him that I was a teacher, not a counsellor and that he should go and see one of the trained counsellors. He then told me that another priest had recommended that he come and see me, so I sat him down and talked with him. Afterwards, I sat down and reflected – not about him but about myself and I did not really like what I saw, for I had to admit that had it been some other person I might well have just sat down and talked him – but I had been picking and choosing whom to help and this showed me a side of myself that I do not often see.
We have been taught to examine our consciences by looking at what we have done or not done – but that approach sees only our actions and not the person, who performs those actions. It is only when we look at the way we spontaneously react to the people we meet that we see what type of person we are. That is what happened to me when I reflected on how I had received that person who came looking for help and, having absorbed that, I was led on to ask another question: “Is that the type of person I want to be?”
There are two ways of understanding whether someone is a good or bad person – the first comes from the ancient Greek way of thinking and the second comes from the Hebrew or Biblical way of thinking. The Greeks began by imagining an “ideal good person” and then asking “What does this good person do?” They then made a list of those virtues that make up a “good person”, for example, he is kind, gentle, understanding etc. Then, when they wanted to judge whether someone was good or not, they measured them up against the list they had made. The problem is that if you use this way to judge whether Abraham is a good man, you have to say, “No!” If you, then, go on to ask whether Moses was a good man, you also have to say, “No!” Lastly, if you ask whether, according to this method, Christ was a good man – and you remember how he cleansed the Temple – you will also have to say, “No!” Then, where are we?
The Hebrews, on the other hand, did not know of “ideal persons”, they only knew of real men and woman – men and women, who meet and try to serve their God in the situations and with respect to the persons they come up against in their daily lives. Thus, they did not judge a person by his actions – by what he did or did not do – but they judged him/her by what he was trying to do. Were they trying to reach out to God and serve him in the best way they knew how, or not? It is of only secondary importance that the way in which they tried to serve God may not have been as good as our ways of doing the same thing, what was of primary importance is what they were trying to do – what type of person they were trying to be, because it is this which gives value to their actions – not the actions themselves, considered and judged separate from the person who does them.
We have been taught to think that it is our good or bad actions that make us good or bad people, but that is a too simplistic way of looking at our spiritual/moral lives. The truth is: you cannot have sin without a sinner and you cannot have a good act without a good person, just as our Lord taught us: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6.43) In other words, I am led to do good actions because I have chosen to be a good person and I am led to do bad actions because I have chosen to be a selfish person and those actions confirm me in what I have chosen.
This is part of the basic truth of our faith that we have been chosen by God to be his sons and daughters and we are in the process of being moulded into his likeness, as St Irenaeus puts it, by the two hands of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are “becoming”, but I have a part to play in that becoming – I choose the type of person I want to be. Do I want to be a partner of God – a lover of the world and its people? Or, do I want to live for myself in selfishness? My answer to these questions will determine the direction of my life and the type of actions, good or bad, that I will do.
However, that still leaves a problem: when do I come up against the question: “Who do I want to become?” This question should face me every time I examine my conscience, but if I look only at the good or bad actions I have done or not done, that question will be hidden from me. So, when I go to confession, I should not just be presenting my sins to be forgiven, but I should be presenting myself to be healed. In admitting that I have done wrong, such as turning away that person, who came asking for help, I am confessing that I do not wish to be that type of person. If my firm purpose of amendment, as required in confession, is to choose to be different, then I am opening myself to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and should that person come to me again asking for help, I hope I shall say “yes”, for by doing so, the Spirit will move through me and slowly change me into a more caring person – one who spontaneously answers: “Of course I will, please sit down and tell me your problem”.
After several months, last Monday I was finally ready to go and have a hole drilled in my jawbone in preparation for a tooth implant. I was not looking forward to it, being little nervous about the procedure. However, Monday arrived and I presented myself at the Government clinic at 8am only to find that there was a power cut. I waited an hour and then spoke to the dentist suggesting that I re-scheduled. He agreed because, he said, the electricity supply had been erratic and he would not wish it to go off again in the middle of the procedure. So, I have had to wait until this afternoon – and the appointment is still before me! So, I want to finish this blog now, before I go.
Last Sunday evening, we had our yearly barbeque. The Rector ordered the meat – chicken, pork and lamb – and the students decided how to prepare the food and a wonderful job they made of it. All this was accompanied by slide shows of various activities throughout the year and then a touch of karaoke to help the digestion. It all points to the fact that the end of the academic year is only a few weeks away. Wow that has gone quickly!
My Mum had a great love of African violets and her house was always full of them at various stages of growth. I found a rather sickly looking one in the cloisters of our College and brought it up to my room. Being in an air con room and being near a window, which gives light but not direct sunlight, has done wonders for it and it is thriving. So, I have started growing babies from it and Sister Pat, our cook, has given me another plant to look after.
One of my fellow Mill Hill Missionaries, Father Ivan Fang MHM, has started a Lay Missionary Movement called “The Missionary Companions of Corpus Christi” It is a new Missionary Movement in this part of the world, but it is growing well. You might like to take a look at its worksite: www.mc-corpuschristi.org