Saturday, 26 September 2009

The life of virtue

This Sundays Gospel reading is from Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48.
What jumped out at me straight away when reading this Gospel this morning was the the beginning of the passage:
John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." (Mar 9:38 RSV)
It was not necessary a pleasant experience... it was not because I thought John did it because he thought the man did something evil, something wrong and wanted to stop him for that reason. No, it was because I felt that it might be a challenge to me on the address of jealousy. Not in John's reaction, as we don't know why he tried to stop the man, but in my own encounter with the Word of God.



The question I had to ask myself is: Am I glad if somebody is successful in doing something, anything really, or am I deep down jealousy of the success of others? To be sure I have to shamefully confess that sometimes I did use to be jealous of others success...

St. Paul is quite strong in condemning several kinds of sins like jealousy:
Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19 RSV)
So what does that mean, how to interpret that? Please bear with me, as the reason for starting this topic was not condemnation, but a deeper reflection on the life of virtue.

So were does this bring me? Jealousy, or envy, comes forth as one thinks his own excellence lessened by the other and is an opposite of the virtue of charity, of love. Where love would rejoice in the success of the another, envy or jealousy of the other person results in sorrow, a closing of oneself to the outer world. Moreover, St. Thomas (II-II:36) enumerates hatred, detraction, rejoicing over the misfortunes of one's fellow, and whispering among its children, the "fruits" of envy or jealousy.

As I realized this, I realized how dangerous and slippery the road of such a apparent small thing can be. St. Paul says "that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:21 RSV) and that seems in a way subsequently to make sense with jealousy leading us in a way opposite of the way of love, which is God (cf. 1 John 4:16). Besides if we are jealous of some human being because we feel our own "greatness" under pressure we see that there is going to be a problem when seeing the face of God... It can be very closely related to the pride that was the cause for Satan's downfall, as he couldn't accept God to be greater than himself.

Maybe we should not dwell on those things too much, but we be aware of them I feel. The life of virtue is a life in which we little step by little step come closer to God, and in the process God points out little deficiencies on which we can work in order to get closer to Him. He slowly burns our "fault" away with His love, gently guiding us by the hand.

God is always trying to draw us closer to Him, but if we close our hearts to Him, He cannot force us out of respect for our freedom. Sometimes the process of chance can be painful, but once we identify our bad habits and replace them by good ones we more and more tune into the everlasting joy which comes forth from knowing God. It is this deep fulfillment and longing which is strengthened within us with every step we get closer to Him who makes life even in this world more and more meaningful, hopeful and joyful.

We read that Jesus said "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me." (Mar 9:39 RSV). Once we more and more conform to God, once we more and more "fall in love" with Him, our inclination to do wrong become less and less. That is at least one lesson we can take of this quote of Jesus. Anybody who does the will of God, anybody who follows the commandments of love is on the road to the Kingdom: "For he that is not against us is for us" (Mar 9:40 RSV)

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