By whose standard?
We tend to start each new year with good intentions for changing our flaws and imperfections. The everyday battle, though, can be overwhelming and we too easily find ourselves waving the white flag of surrender. We are fighting the enemy we know and see, but it may be that which is unknown and unseen that pulls us under. This is the time of year to take a hard look at the standards we have set in our lives and by whose banner we live under: God’s or Satan’s.
Through St. Ignatius of Loyola, God has given us many teachings by which His Spirit brings clarity and conviction. One of those teachings is on the Two Standards and Two Value Systems in which He gives us surety and understanding about Jesus’ standard and that of the devil’s. Contrary to this, the secular world wants us to believe in a fuzzy sort of good and evil that exist on a continuum. In that value system, morality is relative (thus, no true morals exist) and standards non-existent or ever-changing.
Early in the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius has us ask ourselves: what have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ? After a time of purging sin and developing a trusting relationship with God, Ignatius leads us into a hard look at ourselves, both past and present. We begin by imagining what pure hatred looks like—the devil. We see him on his throne in Babylon instructing all his evil minions and sending them throughout the whole world. He tells them:
“[H]e tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches — as he is accustomed to do in most cases — that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.” (Sp. Ex. 142)
Then we consider Jesus’ standard and values. In the beautiful region of Jerusalem, He chooses many people of every ability and rank to spread His gospel throughout the world. Rather than spitting fire and spewing hatred, Jesus tells them to heal the sick and love the forlorn. They are to live as if everything is gift (because it is).
“[Jesus is] recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and — if His Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them — no less to actual poverty; the second is to be of contumely and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contumely or contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them induce to all the other virtues.” (Sp. Ex. 146)
Rather than existing on a continuum in which we can pick and choose that which is right and wrong, we can see that good and evil are in clear opposition of one another.
Finally, we take an honest look at the worldly things that capture our fancy and with which we build an identity. In prayer, we are led to consider materialism and all the ‘stuff’ in our life from the honest perspective of how we see ourselves with that stuff. In the materials written by Fr. Joseph Tetlow for this meditation, he coins it as: look at this stuff, look at me with this stuff, look at me. Digging a little deeper into this:
- Look at what I have! (The accumulation of possessions which, although grateful for, become a need, a dependency. This leads to the desire for others to see you differently based upon possessions, status, etc.)
- Look at me and this stuff! (As focus shifts onto you, the ownership or possession of these things is moving its way into your identity)
- Look at me! (Now your perceived identity is based upon these things of the world. Phrases like “I deserve” and “I have a right to…” have crept into your vocabulary. Both a sense of self-importance and of entitlement often form.)
Having allowed worldly illusions to mold us, we lose sight of our God-given identity. Along with this, our values become compromised. While this example is based on materialism, any of our attachments can be assessed in this way: attitudes, opinions, attachment to knowledge, etc. As we begin to discuss with God about our numerous attachments from this ‘angle’, we can then open up as to the needs hoping to be met through these things, and take those needs directly to Him instead.
There is an old saying, “Evil is as evil does”. Just as love causes us to desire sharing love with others, evil causes us to bring others along with us into its dark abyss. People living in grave sin, or Christians caught up in secular thinking, are easily tempted by sinful pleasures. But for Christians seeking to grow in their relationship with God, Satan will try to confuse us with things that seem, or objectively are, good. This tactic is the lesser of two good choices. He will draw us towards the lesser good choice knowing that the better good choice most glorifies God. He tempts us into desiring things we don’t need and deceives us into thinking we are ‘doing good’. In no short time, despite all of our good and philanthropic acts, the enemy of human nature has molded us into the “look at me!”.
Perhaps before finalizing any New Years resolutions, consider taking this meditation to prayer each night and examining your day based on these two standards (and the values they represent). Our loving Lord will open your eyes to the real resolutions that need to be made. And if you continue to have those honest conversations with Him in silent prayer, He will give you every grace and aid to keep them. All for the greater glory of God. 😊
(Image by RosaryTeam, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)
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