The better-good choice

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Presence


In the Ignatian exercises, the retreatant spends a good deal of time looking not just at past choices made but how those choices were made—the underlying motives. For the Christian seeking to grow closer to God, the difficulty isn’t in choosing something good. It is in making the right choice, the better-good choice. Between our own fallen nature and Satan’s antics, we tend to navigate to the lesser-good choices; those that seem good but may not be God’s will for us.

Any easy rule of thumb to consider is (1) is the choice or action itself good (2) is it good for me to do (3) is it good for me to do at this time. Now, usually the choice or action is a good one. For example, it could be a desire to volunteer in a ministry or trying to decide to have a difficult conversation with a person who you feel is ‘wrong’ about something. In themselves, these are good things to do, so they pass test #1. 

Now looking at #2, however, one must be honest with God about what’s in their heart. Am I joining the ministry to get away from strife at home? Or because I don’t think they are running the ministry correctly? Am I wanting to correct that other person because I think they need to know they are wrong (caring about their well-being is secondary)? Just because a choice or action is good doesn’t mean it is good for ‘me’. Satan will ‘disquiet with false reasons’ (Sp. Ex. #315) that I use to talk myself into the wrong choice. St. Paul reminds us that without love, our words are like a noisy gong. So ultimately #2 is a test to find where love is in my heart vs. where focus is on me and my needs. Sometimes this can be uncovered by examining your thoughts for “I” statements like I know, I think, I’m worried, etc. God, of course, permits the struggle so that I take those needs to Him for my growth and healing. And in fact, this entire decision-making process may have been permitted precisely for that reason: it may never have been intended that I join a ministry or advise a person needing guidance but, rather, He may have wanted me to go through the process of deciding what to do in order to uncover my own needs to take to Him. Now there’s a twist to think about. 😊

Finally, #3. My intent may be other-focused and prudently virtuous. However, joining a ministry may take me away from my primary vocation. Or advising that person might be the wrong timing in their life—I don’t want to jump in front of the Holy Spirit already working in their heart. So step #3 is one of patience, keeping in mind that nothing is urgent unless it requires a 9-1-1 emergency call. 😊 Consider, however, the difference if, instead of discerning whether to join that ministry, I were to pray for the ministry daily and let God form my heart to be one with theirs; taking it to prayer not for the purpose of deciding what to do but for the practice of making prayer for others my first step. Hmm. 

St. John Cassian gave the story of Mary & Martha as an example of keeping God as our priority and “Whatever is alien to this, however great it may be, should be given the second place, or even treated as of no consequence, or perhaps as hurtful”. He explains: 

“for when Martha was performing a service that was certainly a sacred one, since she was ministering to the Lord and His disciples, and Mary being intent only on spiritual instruction was clinging close to the feet of Jesus which she kissed and anointed with the ointment of a good confession, she is shown by the Lord to have chosen the better part, and one which should not be taken away from her: for when Martha was toiling with pious care, and was cumbered about her service, seeing that of herself alone she was insufficient for such service she asks for the help of her sister from the Lord…certainly it was to no unworthy work, but to a praiseworthy service that she summoned her: and yet what does she hear from the Lord? “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but few things are needful, or only one. Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (St. John Cassian, 1st Conference, Ch. XVIII) [i]

Both Mary and Martha were making good choices, but Mary’s was the better choice for her at that time. Cassian says “all other virtues should be put in the second place, even though we admit that they are necessary, and useful, and excellent, because they are all performed for the sake of this one thing.” We forget an action can seem good but isn’t truly virtuous if God’s glory and honor are rendered second.   

It is the disposition of the heart. When the saints speak of staying in contemplation of God, that doesn’t mean we ignore our responsibilities and spend hours each day in prayer and mass. There would be no virtue in that as it lacks prudence; rather, it is spiritual gluttony. It does mean however, as we go about the day thinking thoughts and making choices, we try to do so in contemplation of the One sustaining our very breath in that moment. 

Jesus said “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” (Jn 12:27) He never took the lesser good choice and He is our benchmark. 

“All things being equal choose the hard thing. No one is going to force me to be holy. It lies in my own hands and I will be inferior, moderate or very fervent just as I choose. But one cares—Jesus Christ.” (Mother Teresa)

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊




(Image by Gui Spinardi from Pexels)


[i] Conferences of St. John Cassian 5th century



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