KEEPING OUR SENSE OF BALANCE
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
February 14, 2010
One of Maslow’s so-called “self-actualizing characteristics” that separate the men from the boys, the mature from the immature, has to do with a sense of interior stability that makes a person stand his ground, as it were, and resist the sway of external influences.
Said mature character trait enables a person to retain his “sense of inner truth,” his personal conviction, despite the powerful suggestions that come from the environment around him or her. Such a person, to use the famous Biblical phrase, at the risk of reducing its meaning somewhat, is one comparable to a “house built, not on sand, but on rock.” Without in any way being rigidly fanatic, the mature, flexible person knows his or her boundaries, or limits. Said limits are not like a cut and dried “demarcation line” like the Berlin wall of old, but a permeable area of flexibility and balance between two extreme poles, without rigidly staying in one or the other. The struggling Christian could use a little more reflection in this regard and could learn a lesson or two from this important self-actualizing trait of a mature person.
The psychologically mature person lives in a “frontier” world. He or she knows that sometimes, there is need to veer more towards the left, and times when the situation calls for one to veer more towards the right, depending on the prevailing situation and the call of the greater individual or common good.
Classical Christian philosophy and theology refer to this trait as the virtue of prudence. The prudent man or woman, like the self-actualizing person of Maslow, knows when to stand one’s ground and when to allow oneself to be sort of carried away by the prevailing culture, up to a certain extent. The prudent person, owing to a lot of practice and interior personal discipline, that includes prayer, reflection and the seeking of counsel, lives a life marked by a delicate, though difficult, act of balancing. Such a sense of balance is the essence of what it means to live a life of paradox.
The Scriptures describe this capacity for paradoxical living, this ability to combine apparently contradictory elements and, the sagacity to put together two polar realities and integrate them in one’s life, as WISDOM. Today’s scriptural readings refer to the blessedness attached to this ability to transcend seemingly extreme situations placed alongside one another: trust in human beings versus trust in the Lord; counsel from sinners versus delight in the law of the Lord; the way of the just, versus the way of the wicked; being poor versus being rich; being hungry versus being satisfied; being hated by society versus being rewarded greatly in heaven … The big wonder and “scandal” to most people is the fact that the Lord unmistakably and definitely declares those who are on one side of the equation as blessed: the poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, the scorned and hated on account of Him.
At first blush, there seems to be something wrong here. There seems to be something not quite logical … something that taxes our ability to understand the “wisdom” behind it all. Or so we think. Or so does society think… What does the rest of the world think? Just look at what Hollywood films portray; what all infomercials sell; what every would-be car-buyer is led to believe. Just look at all that mainstream mass media of communications tell us … Happiness is having a big house preferably by the sea (or up on all our diminishing mountains!). Success is partly driving the latest SUV replete with GPS technology and built-in entertainment systems (read: IPod ready). Just listen to what every car insurance representative tells us: the first rule is, do not admit fault under any circumstances! Just think about what the current craze in all continents – Reality TV – portrays: the obsession to be number one, to win at all costs, to be this year’s “American idol” (or “star in a million” or “starstruck” in the Philippine setting), never mind the demeaning humiliation one stands to face before the cameras (and the less-than-politically-correct jurors!).
Let’s face it. The world does not value poverty, suffering, hatred from other people, insult, denunciation, and exclusion. No, not even for the sake of God! The culture of the present world keeps a steady onslaught on the value-systems of everyone, including those who claim to follow Christ.
Even the Church is not spared this seeping political culture marked by the oppositional spirit of “conflictuality.” Liberals rant and rave against conservatives, and conservatives keep on picking on the liberals. Meanwhile, the so-called “soft-liberals” in our midst, who happen to be holding important pastoral responsibilities, do not help any by being wishy-washy about any official pronouncement that comes from the Vatican or the diocesan authorities, looking at such documents many a time with quiet disdain and downright ridicule. (I know of at least two theological faculties who seem to specialize in “disturbing” the simple faith of common folk by treating the papal encyclicals as a laughing matter!)
A seeping and disturbing New Age culture, under the guise of openness and being up-to-date or contemporary, continues to make in-roads to the Catholic liturgy thus effectively reducing the sacraments to a mere set of symbols and rituals, colorful and chic, to be sure, but devoid of mystery and depth. Maslow’s “resistance to enculturation” referred to above, that represents one’s psychological and human sense of stability and balance, might as well refer also, and be applied to both clergy and laity’s theological maturity and sound pastoral responsibility. In this complex and increasingly complicated world marked by pluralism and individual freedom, the looming challenge for all of us is how to maintain our sense of balance in a church that is rapidly being co-opted by the culture of extreme polarization.
I am personally saddened to see so many people being misled by overzealous preachers who frighten and dissuade pious and simple catholics from receiving communion from “communion ministers” (known before as Eucharistic ministers) and who dutifully kneel on the pavement while receiving communion, on the one hand, and by pastors who reduce their preaching to a pious reading of “chicken soup for the soul,” reducing the liturgy to a very horizontal celebration not unlike the communion service of Lutherans and other denominations, on the other.
I am personally saddened to see the Blessed Virgin Mary effectively being “kicked out” of the Church in many subtle ways, for fear of offending some parishioners.
The first reading from Jeremiah puts before us an important choice: to trust in human beings or to trust in the Lord. His choice is clear: the latter choice is life-giving … “He is like a tree planted beside the waters.” The response further confirms the idea: the man who delights in the law of the Lord is “like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade.”
All this seems to support the idea that wisdom, that ability to transcend the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts we face in the world, that sense of stability and balance can only come from an intimate union with a living God. The Gospel beatitudes gives us the ultimate in this search for a sense of balance and wisdom. It tells us to take a second look at what the world considers as a list of woes: poverty, sorrow, hunger, hatred and rejection from others.
Given the pull of the world’s culture and sense of values, it is easy for anyone to declare them as absolute woes, indeed. In actuality and in all honesty, they are. But the Lord declared them to be beatitudes, and they become so, only and only on account of the Lord, because when looked at from a different vantage point, that is, from the vantage point of a God who loves the poor and the downtrodden, these beatitudes lead us closer to Him who is the source of wisdom and perfect happiness. Only then would we be like him planted close to running waters.
To appreciate the Beatitudes, we literally need to stand on our head and see the world and events happening in it through the eyes of the world’s greatest lover!