Reflection: Third Monday of Advent

Mass, Monday, December 14, 2009
Reading: Numbers 24:7, 15-17A
Responsorial: Psalm 25: 4-5AB, 6 and 7BC, 8-9
Gospel: Matthew 21:23-27

There are many slang words that seem to have opposite connotations. For example, “bad” (good), “sick” (amazing); “beast” (mastery). Although not necessarily part of slang jargon, the word “authority” also can be classified in a similar manner.

Authority can have opposite connotations: in a positive way—respect, bestowed on one by others by virtue of talent, gifts and leadership; in a negative way—a presence that changes behavior (slow down while driving).

Regardless of which definition comes to mind first, “authority” is something that compels us to action.

So, what were some thoughts that came to mind when answering the question posed this morning: “How does the authority of our vows compel us to act on our faith?”

The first idea to keep in mind is that whenever we act on our faith, it is the Holy Spirit that prompts our actions.

With that idea in mind, it is important to also look at each of the vows in terms of both its letter and spirit. As Chaminade, himself, warned in his letter to the retreat masters of 1839, “The letter kills but the spirit quickens.” In other words, if we only live by the bounds of the letter of the vows, we will miss out on the richness of what the spirit of the vows truly are meant to teach us.

The spirit of the vow of poverty: not just what we can’t have, but learning to share all of our possessions—money, time and talent—with others and that all of God’s creation must be respected and cared for.

The spirit of the vow of chastity: not about all of the hot dates that we’ll miss, but embracing the life-long lesson of giving and receiving unconditional love.

The spirit of the vow of obedience: not being forced to do something we don’t want, but promising to listen and dialog with each other, discerning God’s will as a community of faith, not an individual.

The spirit of the vow of stability: not that there is no way out if it goes bad, but participating wholeheartedly and giving one’s entire life to the mission.

Like Jesus was asked in today’s Gospel, “By what authority do you do these things?”, perhaps we can answer that is it the spirit of the vows that compel us to action. There are many practical ways to act on our faith—and it doesn’t always have to be something big; the little things also can have significant impact on others.

Here is a practical list, used at the end of the day, to examine our interaction with others. Keep in mind that this list isn’t meant to be checked off and forgotten, but to as a way to examine how we can, in many practical ways, use the authority of our vows to act on our faith:

At the end of your day, ask yourself, “Today, have I…”

  • Greeted someone by his/her first name?
  • Smiled at someone?
  • Hugged someone?
  • Complimented someone?
  • Affirmed someone?
  • Thanked someone?
  • Laughed with someone?
  • Offered a potentially-helpful suggestion to someone?
  • Listened attentively and patiently to someone?
  • Offered to help someone?
  • Actually helped someon?
  • Given someone some of my valuable time?
  • Shown patience with someone who frustrates me or whom I dislike?
  • Tried to cheer-up someone?
  • Prayed for someone?
  • (adapted from a list developed by Brother Jerome Matz, S.M., Ph.D.)

As we gather around the altar, let’s take the time to reflect on these because, after a long day in professional ministry building up God’s reign, we are reminded that when we come home, we are called to continue our ministry by building community with one another as brothers who share a common vocation as Marianists.

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