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Fr. Glenn: Seeking The Good

on October 1, 2017 - 6:58am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

You may remember the movie “Letters from Iwo Jima” that came out about 10 years ago. “Letters” is fairly unique (in American cinema, at least) in telling the story of that World War II battle from a Japanese point of view. A particularly moving scene is when a Japanese soldier who knows English translates a killed Marine’s letter from home to a group of Japanese soldiers—a letter which transforms their attitudes from viewing the Americans as barbarians to seeing them as fellow men and warriors also simply doing what they see as their duty. The young Marine’s mother counseled him: “Do what is right because it is right”—the same exhortation that the Japanese soldiers’ mothers had given them.

What wonderful advice that is: to do what is right and good simply because it is right and good ... not calculating “what do I get out of it” or how to profit in some way, but simply because it is a good and moral thing to do. But … how to determine what is right?

Most of the time righteousness is pretty basic, because there are principles which cross virtually all religious, cultural and ethnic boundaries—that which the Catholic Church refers to as the “natural law”. These are basic principles of good and evil, justice and injustice, morality, etc., imbued within us from our creation. For example, there have been recent sightings of a primitive native Brazilian tribe uncontacted (some say “untainted”) by civilization. Yet one can be sure that they, too, follow the universal principles that it’s wrong to steal from one another, kill the innocent, commit adultery, bear false witness, etc.—pretty much that which is embodied in the Ten Commandments.

We Christians, of course, look to (and are thankful for) our Christian faith. In that faith, we know that what God has decreed is, by very definition, that which is good, because God is all good and the very source of good. Obviously the various Christian denominations differ on interpretation God’s Word, but all have the same goal—to follow faithfully the teaching of Jesus Christ. To help us with this, Jesus explicitly states the two great commandments, which encompass all perfection: to love God the Father/Creator with whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor (basically anyone and everyone) as ourselves. As imperfectly as we may observe these in our normal day-to-day, it is the goal and ideal for which the faithful Christian continually strives.

Yes, even Christian history is replete with brutality, war and injustice … and yet it is also filled with those who have done the good without concern for their own earthly welfare; in fact, that is a proof of true faith, because this is what Jesus exhorts His disciples to do: to give without counting the cost. This is the faith of the martyrs, the apostles, and the thousands (indeed, millions) who have given their lives to prayer and work in monasteries and convents, hospitals and schools, churches and missions throughout the world. For every instance of trumpeted scandal within Christianity, there are hundreds and thousands of unsung instances of private heroism and self-sacrifice for the good of others. These persons seek to do what is right because it is right. Reward is not their first thought; rather they seek to follow the will of God—to love Him and neighbor—with whole heart because that IS what is good.

The true disciple seeks to please God by doing His will—following the (literally!) perfect example of Jesus in obedience and charity. As St. John writes: “…this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” … exhorting us with the assurance: “And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3-4) After all, is it really so hard not to steal … to not commit adultery … to not bear false witness, etc.? To avoid such things are basic even to personal honor. Certainly temptations come, but “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength…” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Love does not seek its own will, but rather the will of its beloved … and love’s joy is to see joy in the one loved.

We hear from the prophet: He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8) So let us seek the good because it is good, serving God and neighbor … and then, at the end of this life, hear those words for which we so yearn: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share your master’s joy.