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12:23 PM   [12 Feb 2020 | Wednesday]

Letters to Jesus (Taint of Self)

Dear Jesus, Spiritual writer and retreat master, Father Anthony DeMello, S.J., and American humorist, Mark Twain are not two individuals one automatically pairs up; but they both have an interesting observation in common. DeMello has said, “We do everything to please ourselves. And Twain has written, “No man who ever lived has ever done a thing to please God – primarily! It was done to please himself – then God next.” There seems more than a little truth in the idea that what we try to do unselfishly, humbly, charitably, and even secretly is, in some way, still selfish. We all too often carry an inner desire that somebody, especially You, notices what we’re doing. So there is a legitimate question as to whether we’re performing purely for the benefit of another, or to score points by being noticed. Even the attempt to hide what we do, ostensibly purifying it, is tainted by the knowledge that You see even what we try to hide. Sometimes we just do good things for a bit of recognition. Sometimes we do good things in order to not feel badly. Sometimes we do good things to create and cultivate a certain image. But in every instance there is some tinge of self – even when we convince ourselves that we’re doing it for God. So, DeMello and Twain have a legitimate insight here – but maybe not entirely! So often we think of God and speak of Him as merciful and forgiving. God understands that as flawed human beings we can do no good without the self somehow being a beneficiary. But this is not to say that we can do no good. We can do a lot of good; and God knows this too, and while forgiving the selfishness in such actions He graces our wills to do good. If we pray and go to church because we say we love God, but deep down we also know we want to score points with Him, God accepts the love and forgives the pragmatism. If we donate time, goods, or money to some charitable cause, we say we do it to help those in need, but deep down we know we like to tell our friends about it, and besides, it’s a tax write-off. God accepts the desire to help the needy and forgives the bragging. If we protest or demonstrate peacefully on behalf of some moral or social justice issue and say we do it because it is right and just, but deep down we know it gives us a sense of belonging to something important and besides, we like to be seen taking a stand; God accepts our sense of righteousness and forgives our displays of conceit. Thus, notwithstanding the truth of DeMello and Twain’s insights, good does get done. Good intentions, sincere intentions do trump our flaws. It is the grace, love, and mercy we receive from God that enables us to do good things. He works in the world through our flaws. Therefore we must not let our flaws get us down. We must see them as the tainted means of a being through which God can work miracles. Despite the self, with God we can do good!

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