Rejoice in the Good

rejoice in the good

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Humility and Gratitude:

The virtues of humility and gratitude are closely related. Gratitude washes away pride. St. Francis of Assisi is a beautiful example here:

…his first reaction was always gratitude. He accustomed himself, in everything that happened in his life, always first and foremost to praise and to give thanks, even before he knows what it is, in fact, that he has received, even before he accepts what he receives, looks at it, and gives it shape. – from The Book of All Saints by Adrienne Von Speyr, chapter on St. Francis of Assisi

Don’t Just Be a Critic:

Once, a number of years ago, a man from out of town asked me for directions to our local church in order to spend some time in prayer. He came back later and bemoaned in some detail how much it didn’t look like a church. What he said was quite true. The church looked like a conference room at the time. But, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that they were having Eucharistic adoration when he was there.

This was an eye opening moment in my life. What he said about the church was completely true, but made irrelevant in light of how he ordered these two pieces of information: that the church was ugly and that Jesus was there. It’s so easy to get frustrated  by the details and entirely miss the big point. It taught me how very wrong you can be even when you are technically right. It’s a mis-prioritization in an overly-politicized world, which can distract us from God by keeping us in battle mode. Remember the Pharisees? They were trying to get people to carefully follow God’s law, but they ended up completely missing the point.

I have certainly been guilty of this kind of thing too. Many years ago, when my oldest was still a tot, I was complaining to my husband in the car on the way home about the priest’s homily. It really wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t all that substantial and I was feeling cranky about it. Suddenly, the stern voice of our little daughter piped up from the back seat, “Mommy, he’s doing the best he can.” God certainly can speak to you through your children.

The pleasure of criticizing takes away from us the pleasure of being moved by some very fine things – Jean de La Bruyère

Practice Looking for the Good:

In our society, many take credit themselves when things go well, but blame God when they don’t. This is a common cause of loss of faith. The solution is, in part, to remember to be grateful to God (“blame God”) for the good things.

We participate in this error when we forget to look for and celebrate signs of God’s love and goodness in the world. This includes taking the time to find peace of heart in God’s beautiful world as well as being humble and Christ-like enough to recognize him in others.

It has been rightly noted that the sometimes necessary criticism in the Church heals no wound unless it consists in an example of greater love:

“The critic without love resembles rather a man who scratches himself all the more furiously, the more fiercely he itches, a process which of course can only result in exacerbating and spreading the inflammation. The great saints were reformers of the Church but they were edifying reformers. Not all great reformers were saints, that is to say those who truly loved; many of them destroyed more than they built up.” – Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Authenticity, quoting Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Elucidations (pg. 151)

Find the Good and Build Upon It:

The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good. Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on. – Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth

Find the Good in Others:

God’s plan includes us all working together for the good. We’re not all starting individually from square one but continuing the good others have done. The good things we find – if we have eyes to see them and a heart to appreciate them – are the starting points for all kinds of other goods – like building bridges and relating to others.

It is necessary, of course, to keep learning to recognize the good. This isn’t always a simple thing.

Frodo – Well, if he was one of the enemy, he would look fairer and…well, feel fouler, if you see what I mean.

Aragorn – (laughing) While I look foul and feel fair, is that it?

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

What is the good? Contrary to an unfortunately common opinion, it is not simply something that’s “not bad”. And so, for example, a “clean” movie (that is, I suppose, one free of sex, violence and bad language) is not automatically a good movie!

Gratitude is Huge:

Gratitude is a much neglected and much needed virtue in our world today.

…we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We owe God our thanks for the good we find in the world. Sometimes that starts with remembering to look for it. How often we are too busy to breathe in the beauty that God surrounds us with? Or too caught up in politics or work or stress to recognize the good in those we encounter? Or too frustrated with an injustice or a conflict to be aware of how blessed we are?

I once had a lengthy, and fairly intense conversation with an acquaintance about hot-button issues in our world today. He was a strong proponent of abortion and birth control, but it turned out that he was also enthusiastically in favor of adoption. That was something I was able to work with and build upon.

It’s also worth noting here that we don’t want to burn bridges with others just because they haven’t figured it all out yet. I love Abby Johnson’s story of her conversion to the pro-Life movement and the Catholic Church from her former life as an abortion clinic director. A key piece of her story was the group of pro-Lifers who witnessed to her in a most loving and thoughtful fashion. Once she was ready to leave Planned Parenthood, she went straight to them and they supported in her in the complicated transition to a completely new life.

One of my favorite parts of the story is a conversation that Abby had with Shawn Carney, the director the pro-life organization that had helped Abby convert. It’s a perfect example of rejoicing in the good, meeting people where they are and trusting God to take care of the rest.

“…I’m really struggling over some of these issues. Do I really think abortion should be illegal? Well, I believe now that it is not the moral thing to do, but illegal? Should it be a crime? Will that really keep women from aborting? I know it won’t, and I know illegal abortions would just skyrocket. And what about rape and incest? Even if abortion were to become illegal, wouldn’t I still support it in those cases? I’ve got so many unresolved questions.”

Shawn looked at me for a moment, then threw his head back and laughed out loud. He wasn’t mocking me, and I knew he wasn’t belittling me. But clearly, he was amused – the last response I ever would have expected to my confession. He leaned forward again and I had no idea what was coming.

“You know, Abby, you were running an abortion clinic just two weeks ago. Two weeks! If this is Abby Johnson’s biggest struggle right now, we’re doing pretty well. We’ll get to that. It will come with time. Your life has just been flipped upside down by the Holy Spirit. You’re going to need to rethink everything you know and prayerfully discern what is true and what is a lie. That will take time and prayerful silence before God. I suggest you not rush to resolve your internal arguments but dive into prayer and allow God to finish what He has started.”

I sighed with relief, and he turned back to his computer. He grinned and then mumbled to himself, loudly enough so I could hear, “Abby Johnson is not pro-life enough for herself. I love it!” – Abby Johnson, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line