Do we do enough when we pull ourselves back from the brink of sin? Do we fulfil our vows to the Lord, to do His will, when we choose a path of lesser evil over the temptation to commit a grave sin?
Too often the lesser evil is taken for good, for we see in the world around us so much sin that we deem ourselves clean by comparison. But in the words of the Apostle, “each one should test their own actions; then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Gal.6:4).
We are held up to a standard that is not of this world. When we compare ourselves, our actions, it should not be with the worst that the world has to offer, nor even with the average, but with the teachings and actions of Our Lord. It is only then that we may adjudge ourselves clean and free from the stain of sin.
We are lost as soon as we believe we are not in need of the Lord’s mercy, as soon as we judge that we have not done enough bad to be in need of reconciliation. We are charged by Christ not just to do no evil, but to actively do good.
There are many who do not act out their hatred upon their neighbour but nonetheless seethe and harbour ill intent in their hearts, even while they smile at them. Are they virtuous because they have not yet acted on the evil that dwells in their hearts? “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven’.” (Mt.5:20)
As daily we examine our consciences, let us go beyond the surface to compare our every thought, word, and deed with the standard that is Christ Our Lord, and having sought His pardon for our failings, seek also His strength to live lives that are not just good by comparison to evil, but virtuous in the sight of the Lord.
We have seen that the difference between our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ is all a matter of perspective. Upon what is your gaze fixed? What is your greatest aspiration? Discerning these defines the needs we place before the Lord in prayer.
Today we are told to ask our Father in heaven for all our needs, with faith that He will respond out of love to sustain us from His bounty with all that is good. It is something we do every day of our lives, every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “give us this day our daily bread,” even when we do not fully understand what we are asking for.
Prayer is always answered in the providential love of God; when we call He always comes to our assistance. If we cannot always see the fruit of our supplication, it is not that He does not hear and answer; it is that we have not yet discerned from our many desires, our true needs.
Some ask for wealth, others for health when the body fails, still others for length of days, or success, or happiness in a world that can be the cause of heartache and grief. Throughout our history as God’s chosen people, our most fervent pleas for the intervention of God in our lives have been heard in times of distress. But Divine Providence is at work in our lives at all times, giving us our daily bread – an abundance of benefactions to ‘do good’ in our lives: to lead us to know and love Him, to feel and desire His presence, to walk in and towards His light in this our earthly sojourn and to rest in it eternally hereafter.
Pray hardest, then, when you have no urgent desires, so that amidst the tribulations of this world, you will always see God’s strong right hand lifting you above the fray and giving you all that you could ever need to find your peace, your joy and your life in Him, in the day of your distress and always.
Our world has changed and is changing fast but is our generation any more or less wicked than generations past, even as far back as the generation that Christ speaks to in today’s Gospel?
Sin and evil pervades every generation as a consequence of the sin of Adam. And the men of every generation have tested the bounds of morality and goodness, all the while calling for signs that their gods are on their side. This relativism has existed for as long as the historical contexts it creates, seeking to push the limits of acceptable behaviour, of truth, and of morality ever closer to the side of darkness in the name of progress or the advancement of human knowledge and experience. Our generation is no exception.
Against the tide of relativism there has always stood the Church, a beacon of truth that is as absolute as the salvation she dispenses in the name of Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. It is a truth unwavering that enjoins us to faithfulness; a truth for all times and all peoples; the truth of God’s love and command to love.
Participation in this truth is often stirred through our immortal soul’s desire for God and the realisation that the way we lead our lives might not be yielding the spiritual fulfilment we yearn for. It is then that, like the people of Nineveh in the first reading at Mass today, we need to look deep into ourselves for the faith to make a decisive conversion, and for the humility required for true contrition.
We are not created in the image of God for weary slavery to our basest impulses and cravings, for our bodies are not ours to do with as we wish. We are not born to blend in with the crowd as if all life’s choices are equally good, but to stand out in the light of God’s abiding truth and seek the common good of all God’s people.
Just as the people of Nineveh heeded the call of Jonah to conversion of heart, let us respond, today, to the even greater call of Our Lord, who is our way, our truth and our life.