Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Perfect and Without Blemish

In the past several days, I have discovered a new way to deal with pride.

This is important, because in the spiritual life, the worse sin is pride. The opposite of pride is humility, which is also known to be the virtue which feeds all the other virtues. (This is easier to remember if you associate it to the word humus, or ground, from which beautiful flowers of virtue may grow.)

During my times of prayer and contemplation, I have been focusing on opening my heart to God by the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I often feel like a plot of land in which sometimes weeds are being pulled, and sometimes seeds are being planted. As such I see myself as being tended so as to remove vices and bad thoughts while nourishing holy desires and virtues.

The Embarrassment

Now lately, I have noticed bad thoughts sprouting up in response to some holy desires I have pursued. For example, if I would consider taking a lower place or a lesser reward in order to please God, something would rear up in me that would object, claiming that it would be a mistake and even an error to do such a thing, like putting on dirty clothes or otherwise contradicting my desire for keeping perfection and excellence.

Normally, such thoughts would be undiscernable among the thicket of numerous other thoughts crowding my mind and the muck of conflicting feelings filling my heart. But since I have been cleared of most of the larger weeds after months of prayer, I am able to recognize smaller ones sooner. And I test them to determine their ultimate intent. This is done quite simply by talking to them and letting them answer according to their own nature. For this to work, one has to endure the embarrassment of the existence of such things in one's heart in spite of wishing them not to be there.

Now, on one particular occasion a few days ago, as I prayed the Our Father during the rosary, I envisioned myself being presented (as it were) to the Father. I gratefully considered the beautiful virtues being planted in me, and how I would be acceptable to God. All of a sudden, one or more prideful thoughts found root and sprouted, with the intention of cancelling my offering!

Here I had to apologize before God and address the scene. I discerned that the basis of these thoughts was that pretty gardens are despicable and weak, and that it is girlish and short-sighted to consider that the offering of something cute and humble could be taken seriously for eternity. (Now, this harkens back to the schoolyard, where boys make fun of girls, because girls value pretty things so much, whereas boys can easily tromp all over them and scorn the fragility of what they chose).

What to do? I wish to offer myself to God, but such prideful thoughts are obviously defiant and thus displeasing to God. I was menaced with the fear that if I tried to make this offering, it would be wasted, and I would lose everything. And I saw the source of these thoughts as a sort of creature that considered itself strong and perfect. Unfortunately, I had to sort of own up to this, since it was on my plot of land. I seem to have accepted this creature into my heart at some point in the past. It wants to crush the prettier virtues (flowers), as if to prove that they are not worth keeping if they are not strong enough to resist the deliberate act of a crushing force. This creature tends to immediately refuse to comply with any act (such as an act of humilty or service) that would seem to offend its sense of being extolled. It seems defiant against anything that might be deemed better than itself. And its coarse sayings are the bad thoughts that somehow keep finding root, and growing as weeds, on my plot of land. It was mine to be ashamed of.

The Remedy

Suddenly, somehow, I realized that I could, and in fact, should, also offer this creature to God. I now saw myself as if in the temple of old bringing a sacrifice to God. According to the Old Law, the animal brought for sacrifice had to be perfect and without blemish. It had to be the pride of the flock. Well, this creature I encountered certainly fit the bill in its own eyes. And if it was mine to be ashamed of, it was also "mine" to give!

So with all my heart, I offered this creature "without blemish" to God, deeming God worthy of all I have. And the more it claimed to be perfect, worthy, the best, etc., the more firmly it sealed its fate as being acceptable to God as a sacrifice. And in being sacrificed, it disappeared! I felt an intense closeness and devotion to God. It was amazing to me! Any thought of pride that rose up after that then became an occasion of renewing to God the sacrifice of the old law in a more profound and spiritually profitable way.

The New Law of Sacrifice

It is for this reason, then, that I can say with certainty that the Old Law of Sacrifice is necessary to this day, albeit in a more profound manner. In such a spiritual sense then, surely the laws God put in place in the Old Testament could all be found as worthy of being kept for eternity.

Certain protestants believe there are now no religious laws to follow, and that we do not need to worry about any sins because Jesus fulfilled the law and suffered in our place for all of our past, present, and future sins.

On the other end, certain other protestants believe that God's laws are for all eternity, and that we still need to be following all the laws in the Old Testament, including keeping the sabbath on Saturday, keeping the feasts such as that of Tabernacles, avoiding pork and other unclean foods, and more.

But in thinking about it, Jesus said the time is coming and is now here when all will worship God in spirit and in truth. Jesus said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. Regarding circumcision, he said we must circumcise our hearts. Regarding the commandment about adultery, he said we break it if we even think about it in our hearts. Regarding the commandment about murder, he said we break it if we even think about it in our hearts. And there are many other such examples. It is about what is in our hearts, what is done by our hearts. External practises are not enough. Jesus said if our righteousness does not exceed that of the Pharisees (who only focused on exterior practises), then we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, the Old Testament foretold and foreshadowed the New Testament of God, in which we find the fulfillment of His promise of salvation brought to the world.

So those who think we no longer need to follow any laws are greatly mistaken. The fact is that we need to follow them more thoroughly by applying them in the depths of our hearts. And those who claim we still need to be following them externally are mistaken in thinking that is enough. The external sacrifices had their purpose, but what God ultimately desires from us is the internal sacrifice of our wills to Him. So making sacrifices to God is still required, but to a more profound degree. Don't just sacrifice the pride of the flock, sacrifice the pride of the heart.

1 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

I think that this is one of the most profound reflections on Pride and Humility that I've come across these 21 years of journey.
It is brilliant, allow pride to so self-consume itself that it ends up a sacrifice to God. I think all too often we feel that we must present ourselves perfect and without blemish before God and that until we are such, we should not approach His Grace. Which is false, since we need His Grace in order to become pure!
I am blessed to have read such wisdom! Pax!

4:43 PM  

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