The praise of an elder, the mission director or of the whole governance team for a service or talk given. It is upbuilding, so brotherly and caring. Both applause and praise have their innate goodness and purpose in our service to the Lord. However, they are not always to be expected.
When the Lord called all of us simply in the Great Commission, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” we knew of the deep commitment it requires, but sparingly have we prepared for it.
We need to emulate the experience of St. Paul with his ‘thorn in the flesh’ needing to know that it will take a little bit more, an extra mile in spiritual maturity to serve the Lord up to the finish line. Very often the newness of mission work, the adventure, the camaraderie and purpose that we attach to it are enough for us to gloss over the inconveniences we encounter. We do not like to hear the phrase “although a thousand may fall” … but many brothers and sisters do fall by the wayside because of these false expectations.
Many have chosen to temper, or even taper, their service based on the consensus or support of the chapter or its leaders. At the outset one would say, “What is wrong with that, that’s how the world goes anyway?”
Not so! Francis Fernandez, in his book In Conversation With God, defines what he terms false prudence.
“Prudence would not be true prudence if, having given due consideration to the facts, it chose the cowardly way of not making a decision that involved risk, or caused us to avoid facing up squarely to a problem.”
True prudence, as defined by Fernandez, means not shunning the boldness of giving oneself and daring to become involved in the Lord’s work. He says that the attitude of the person who allows himself to be led by human respect in the apostolate to the point where he lets opportunities slip by while he waits for other opportunities that never come, is what St. Paul calls “false virtue – prudence of the flesh.” He believes that it is this false virtue that asks for more reasons and considerations before giving God what He asks of us personally, that causes us to worry excessively about the future, and leads us to find excuses for not committing ourselves fully.
He points out that despite the Apostles’ weaknesses and fears, they constantly sought the quickest way of spreading the Master’s teaching “even though those ways sometimes led them into plenty of trouble and caused them countless tribulations – and even martyrdom.”
Many times in the service of the Lord, we find ourselves at odds with our leaders, bereft of the applause and praise that we look for as a sign that we are proceeding correctly. Sometimes we may be faced with a certain direction from the Lord that is a bitter pill for the community to swallow, or a difficult teaching that must be given and followed. These are not popular nor will they pass the test of consensus. Do they need to be done?
Sometimes the answer is not even there immediately for the convenience and comfort of all concerned. At all times we must judge each decision “by its (spiritual) fruits”. And as time drags on, relationships get strained and even placed on the line. Brother is pitted against brother; sharp criticism and unexpected opposition arise where least expects; defenses are down on all sides. This is when the Christian Community is really tested.
I believe the call is for us to be aware that this is the Christian’s road less traveled – outside of the comfort zone, of the approval of Christian peers, outside of consensus, applause and praise. Only one thing matters, the Lord must be loved and obeyed without compromise.
In the Lord’s call to commitment and commissioning we must be prepared to admit that the Lord may ask of us more than we are prepared to give. He is the model of total self-donation, of unconditional love. This is the courtyard of true love. This is the challenge of discipleship.
Fernandez continues, “Following Our Lord means living a life of small and great acts of madness, as is always the case where true love is concerned. When Our Lord asks more of us – and He always asks for more – we cannot draw back with a false prudence, the prudence of the world. We must not be swayed by the judgment of those who do not feel themselves called, and who see everything through a merely human … earthly outlook, an outlook that prevents them even getting off the ground.” He points out that no one would ever have given themselves to God or initiated any supernatural undertaking if they had followed that false prudence, or prudence of the flesh.
We need to look to Jesus for the example of true prudence or as Fernandez calls it “supernatural prudence”. Jesus could have been less rigorous in his teaching, he could have compromised with the Pharisees. Just a few words would have been sufficient for him, who was eternal Wisdom, to obtain his freedom at Pilate’s hands.
“Supernatural prudence shows us at each moment the quickest and most direct way to reach Christ … bringing with us many friends, relatives and colleagues.”
Should we serve because of the rewards, because of the admiration of fellow servants, their praise and applause? Neither. For as the Lord said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul responds, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak than I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7-10)
Overwhelming? Not when we see the Lord as the holder of the greatest plan for our life. He sees us in the light of what we can be in the fullness of life. He is not afraid to stretch and challenge us. He does not see our limitations. And when we choose to follow the Lord’s plan despite the obstacles, pain, hurt and frustrations, we can be the best we can ever be – for His glory!
Reprinted from KAPATIRAN, September 2003.