The Spirit of Initiative
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas
The Bible tells us that a great spiritual battle is being waged for the kingdom of God. And just as in any earthly battle the armed forces involved have to take many initiatives in order to win their ground against the enemy, so too, for God's kingdom to spread, many initiatives are needed. God takes some of these directly, and others he wants his People to take, with the help of his grace.
Jesus' parables teach how necessary it is for disciples to be active and to take many initiatives for the kingdom of God. According to Mathew 25:31-46, one's eternal happiness is jeopardised not so much by the many sins one has committed but rather, by the lack of one's loving efforts to promote the kingdom! When we stand before the heavenly throne on the last Day, the King will not be questioning us about the various sins we have committed in life - I suppose because the moment we repented of them, those sins were already dealt with (atoned) by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Once one has been to the sacrament of Reconciliation and humbly asked for mercy, God's loving forgiveness, won for us by the merits of his Son, can transform us into 'a new creation' (2Cor.5:17-19). Therefore, all sins truly repented of are fully forgiven, and cannot thereafter disqualify us from the kingdom of God (which is why the Church teaches that we need never confess the same sin twice).
But the criterion God will use to judge us is the quality of our practical love: 'I was hungry and you remained passive (you did not give me to eat); I was thirsty and you took no initiative (you did not give me to drink); I was sick and you showed yourself to be indifferent; I was in prison and you did not care. You did not, you did not, you did not...' is the way the rather shocking passage reads. It does not condemn us because we 'did this or that bad thing' in life, but because we 'did not do' good things, we did not show ourselves to be persons taking initiatives for the sake of the kingdom of God.
In the parable about the talents (Mt. 25:14-30) too, Jesus teaches that we have been given abilities, skills, gifts - all have received tremendous talents! But the more we have received, the more will be demanded of us! The man who had buried the one talent (one thousand silver pieces) was judged and condemned for his passivity, for his lack of initiative, for refusing to be industrious on behalf of the kingdom of God! We are not told that this man did something really bad (like breaking the Ten Commandments), but that he made no efforts to establish God's society of love, he did nothing to advance God's kingdom in this world, he did not show clearly that he was on God's side in the spiritual battle.
The same startling truth is taught by the parable of the wedding garment (Mt. 22:1-14). The problem with the man who found himself in the banqueting hall not appropriately dressed is that he was caught unprepared for this invitation. The master had told his servants to go out into the highways and the byways to bring the people in. 'Force them to come in' (Lk.14:23) means that it was the time of the final judgement. The time decided by God for the final whistle to be blown in the contest of life had arrived. And that's when each person must be found ready with a 'wedding garment'! Each person must show at least that little bit of initiative in life so as to be prepared to stand worthily before the Creator.
The parable of the ten virgins too insists that the judgement fell heavily upon five of them because of their lack of initiative, their lack of enterprise. They were idle procrastinators, and so they did not find a place in the Kingdom (Mt.25:1-13).
One side of the Good News is that our sins, committed in our human weakness but then repented of, are forgiven and dealt with by the cleansing blood of Jesus. But the other side of the Good News concerns our duties and personal responsibility. For our sins of omission regarding love, we must be held responsible, since they are indications that we deserted our place in God's army. They are precisely the criteria by which God will judge us.
Faith and Works
St Paul spells out some practical ways in which to take initiatives for the sake of God's Kingdom. For example, he refers to the collection being taken up for the Church in Jerusalem:
"I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality, your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack" (2Cor. 8:14f).
The context for this directive is that all the divisions amongst human beings, all the walls which separate us as ethnic peoples, have been broken down by the blood of Jesus so that now there can be neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female, neither rich nor poor, etc. But this new condition of society has to find expression in what concerns our material possessions too!
Hence Paul's demand 'that there may be equality' means that I as an individual must use my spare time for the needs of the Kingdom; I must share a tithe or a proportion of my money, as a matter of equality, for my neighbour who is actually in need. Such is the debt I owe my brothers and sisters in Christ, a debt I incurred the moment I entered the family of God. Paul therefore advises, 'Owe no man any debt but to love' (Rom.13:8).
The apostle forestalls all opposing arguments by citing the example of Jesus, and maintaining that a very important consideration for a compassionate Christian is the real need prevailing in the life of a brother Christian. In such a situation, 'out of what you actually have' you are obliged to give. Paul explains further that if somebody has an abundance of good things, the first truth is that this was God's blessing to him/her, and that God's intention in doing so was to enable the possessor to 'provide abundantly for every good work,' rather than to just become richer himself. The good things were given as an opportunity 'for great generosity,' to supply for the present needs of brothers and sisters in Christ, and not merely to prepare for one's own possible difficult times in the future (See below: 'St John of God').
The Second Vatican Council's Constitution, 'The Church in the Modern World,' begins with these magnificent words:
"The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts."
Is this verified in our daily lives? Notice that it is not a call only to some occasional corporal works of mercy. Such works are excellent, and an integral part of Christian living. But the New Testament (exemplified by Lk.14:12, about not inviting only friends to our parties and celebrations but the poor as well, and 2Cor.8:14 above) demands a radically new attitude towards money, which will turn upside down the values and mores of this world.
In order thus to think with the 'mind of Christ' (like Paul did) and to take new initiatives for God, we need to be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom.12:2).
No amount of study alone can bring us this kind of mentality. The deep action of the Spirit is needed in our lives, to set us free from the ways of the world. In the Acts of the Apostles, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, they became so united in mind and heart that they freely gave up their possessions to those who were in need, so that equality was established. No one amongst them remained any more in need (2:44, 4:34). It was a great sign of the transforming action of the Holy Spirit!
However, Acts 5:1-11 also tells us that a certain Ananias and Sapphira refused to allow the Spirit to change their mentality. They said to themselves, 'Equality? Why should we share our wealth with undeserving people? Let's secretly keep some of it!' But both were struck dead, because they refused to be truly "transferred to the Kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col.1:13), preferring to remain on the side of "the power of darkness".
What about our own attitudes, values, and relationships? It not infrequently happens that people think they are very close to the Lord in their hearts, but are in fact far from the Lord in their way of thinking! The pastoral problem of Christian Unity can serve as an example here. Ecumenically, particularly in the Charismatic Renewal, one can feel a great unity of hearts among fellow-Christians. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Pentecostals are all happy to fellowship with one another. But they are not yet united in mind, in their grasp of the Truth, in agreeing about the teachings of the New Testament. In a similar way, with us and the Lord, we have a long way to go before we can make Jesus' way of thinking our way of thinking. Our hearts may be captured by him, but our minds are still to become one with his. To think like Jesus, we must pray insistently to the Holy Spirit to make 'a new-creation' of our minds as well.
Reading and searching the Scriptures daily with dedication can be a Spirit-anointed way of forming our minds to mirror the mind-set of Jesus. The Church offers us great help here, through the richness of her prayer life and vast doctrinal resources. We must expose ourselves to the Church's great wealth of doctrine, much of it still new to many, so that 'feeling with' the Church, we may become better able to fulfil our vital mission. Pope John Paul II himself asked this of us when he said:
"You must be concerned to provide solid food for spiritual nourishment... God desires that all Christians grow in understanding the mystery of salvation, which reveals to us ever more of man's own intrinsic dignity. And he desires that you, who are leaders in this Renewal, should be ever more deeply formed in the teaching of the Church, whose task it has been for 2000 years to meditate on the Word of God, in order to plumb its riches, and to make them known to the world" (Leaders Conference, Rome, 1981).
Bishop Talavera, the former chairman of Mexico's National Service Committee for the Charismatic Renewal, also insists that the Church's social teaching must form:
"an important part of the evangelization received by members of the Renewal. To evangelize is to preach Jesus Christ, to announce the salvation that Jesus brings, and with a clear awareness of the reality of sin from which he frees us. But sin does not have only its individual aspects; there are also social dimensions. A partial and faulty evangelization is incapable of transforming the totality of our lives, and of leading us to the fullness of salvation.
True evangelization must proclaim the whole Word of God, questioning even our economic, cultural, social and political life, since it is directed to men and women who by their very nature have to live within these realities... This is an extremely broad and open field that the Renewal has not yet touched upon strongly enough. I hope that through the Renewal all of us can acquire a Christian social conscience, formed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and giving us true discernment of God's will in whatever happen to be our worldly circumstances" (1981 Leaders Conference, Rome).
Many of the inspiring encyclicals of recent popes (Populorum Progressio, Laborem Exercens, etc) as well as the key documents of the Second Vatican Council, together with testimonies of concrete pastoral social action, need to be more regularly and widely diffused and studied in our prayer meetings, seminars and conferences (See below, St Basil).
From the Homilies of St Basil the Great
(On Charity, 3,6)
Imitate the earth; produce fruit like her, so that you will not seem inferior to inanimate matter. For the earth has nourished her crops with no intention of enjoying them herself but to serve you. But whatever fruit of charity you may produce, you harvest for yourself, for the grace and reward of good works return to those who do them. You have given to the hungry, and what you gave becomes yours, and it returns to you with interest. As the corn which falls upon the earth yields a reward to the sower, so in the same way the bread given to a hungry man will bring you much reward hereafter. Therefore in your case, let the end of agriculture be the beginning of the heavenly sowing: 'Sow for yourselves with an eye to righteousness.'
Now you are going to leave your money behind you here whether you like it or not, but on the other hand you will be taking with you to the Lord the credit obtained for your good works. All who are standing round the judge of all men will hail you helper and generous benefactor, and will use of you all the names that imply kindness and humanity. Don't you see those men who lavish their wealth on theatrical shows or boxing and wrestling contests, or mimes or shows where men fight with wild beasts, things one would disdain even to look at, and all for short-lived honours, for the shouts and applause of the people. And will you be stingy in spending money when so great a glory will be your reward?
God will give you his approval, the angels will join in praising you, all those who have lived since the foundation of the world will proclaim you blessed; glory eternal, a crown of righteousness, a heavenly kingdom you will receive as a reward of corruptible things rightly dispensed. You pay no heed to all this, you who despise these good things which are stored up in hope, because you are so wrapped up in the things of the present. Come then, scatter abroad your riches, be liberal and magnanimous in giving to the poor. Let it be said of you too; 'He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor, his righteousness endures for ever.'
How deeply grateful you ought to be to the generous benefactor, how cheerful you should show yourself, how glad on account of the honour which is being conferred on you, that you will not keep knocking at the doors of others but that others will stand at yours. Now indeed you show yourself sullen, and access to you is scarcely possible, while you refuse to meet anyone for fear you might compelled to let even a scrap slip through your fingers. You only know one phrase: 'I'm a poor man, I've nothing to give.' Yes, you really are a poor man, without riches of any sort; poor in affection, poor in humanity, poor in faith in God, poor in eternal hope!
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your Spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
That all my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me that every person I come in Contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus.
Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as You shine;
So to shine as to be a light to others:
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you, none of it will be mine.
It will be You shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You in the way You love best:
By shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my Example, by the catching force,
the sympathetic influence of What I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears
to You, Amen.
(Cardinal John Henry Newman).
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