"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

The Good Works: Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting


Eugène Delacroix 1798 – 1863
The Good Samaritan (1849)

In Judaism, there are three righteous or just deeds that our Lord, who is a Jew, often acknowledged in his preaching. These are almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Allow me to share three considerations for a deeper reflection. If we take a quick survey of where, in the ladder of virtues, righteous and just actions or deeds are located, they are found at the top most level. Once there was a young Jew who approached and asked Jesus what to do to be perfect in God's eyes. This young man acknowledged that he has done the prescribed righteous acts of following all the commandments which any Jew knows by heart. Now Jesus upped the ante for this scrupulous man by inviting him to sell everything and give to the poor and follow him. Thomas Aquinas, building on Aristotle, defines justice or righteousness as "a habit whereby a man [or woman] renders to each one his [or her] due by a constant and perpetual will" (2-2.58.1). Jesus challenged his disciples saying, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:20). The rich young man went away sad upon realizing that he simply could not attain righteousness like what the Lord has invited him to do (Mk 10:17-31). Universally speaking all righteous deeds in life comprise the true essence of being human and of being fully alive with meaning and purpose. Even our past misdeeds, when lamented, felt remorse for and undergone repentance or change of heart, could prepare, in a manner of speaking, the soil where God could plant again the seeds of righteousness in one's heart. There is that play by Shakespeare that goes "All's well that ends well." St Paul knows about the bottom of both good and bad things when he said, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Righteous or just deeds are like seeds sown into the ground. They thrive especially when planted in the good soil, with ample amount of sunlight and rain and with the needed personal care from the sower.

Second consideration is the fruitfulness of good or just works and deeds. We can see this point in St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, “Brothers and sisters, consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do… without sadness or compulsion… so that in all things… you may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).  The very nature of good works is that it is fruitful. There is something that comes out or is produced. Recall all of the good things that you have done and I am very sure they all produced some fruits no matter how small. Those who gave all out also reaped bountifully. Those who withheld something also reaped very sparingly. This is the reason why St Paul said “God loves a cheerful giver” to encourage the various Churches or communities to be generous. The fact that he needed to encourage them meant that there were those who were keeping things to themselves. They were not all out in their righteous deeds. But there is a warning that Jesus gives against parading good works: "they should be known only to our Father in heaven." What is that which should be known to the Father alone? They are the fruits of every good work. There is a very thin line of distinction between the good fruits and the bad fruits. Jesus enumerates how something good like almsgiving, prayer, and fasting could result into rotten effects when there are impure motivations or intentions, that can spoil, in a manner of speaking, the good works. Like when a righteous act of almsgiving is being paraded for self-promotion towards sanctity. Jesus says those who do such things already get what they wanted. Secondly, on the good work of praying and conversing with God. That too tremendously loses its worth when it becomes lip service, praying without a heart and it makes the just act of praying to God reverting to "just talk." Did you have a similar experience like that? You started doing something with a noble intention then after some time the fruits get spoiled by selfish or impure motives. It would be good if the person realizes it early on in contrast to someone who has no awareness of one’s hidden agenda. It can be tricky sometimes and we are encouraged to cultivate St Ignatius’s spiritual tool of discernment of spirits at all times.

For our third and final consideration, let us ask where is God in our good works? God could easily be forgotten most especially when we are successful in performing and doing a lot of good works. In the first place, we must ask "Who made it possible for us to do all those good things? Who is the source? Do these come from just our own good will alone?" The clear and resounding answer to that is this: No, because God is the only one who is righteous among us. God alone is just, holy and perfect. It was the prophet Jeremiah who said that the name of the Messiah will be: “The Lord is our Righteousness." While God is just, we are not just, because we do not have any righteousness in our own terms. If we begin looking at righteousness as something that is personally produced, the fruits become infested with pests and disaster often happens. But once we acknowledge that everything has been received from God and that we can do nothing except through the grace of God who initiates then we are able to save the fruits of our good works and these become all the more enduring and produce abundant fruits. This is the point of St Paul when, in his letter, he quoted from Scripture, "As it is written: He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:9-11).

Most of all God is generous despite how all of us have fallen short of our righteousness. We are truly blessed because we have a just God who does not keep things to himself rather he is a God who is all out in giving and forgiving, and God does it cheerfully. That is called mercy of God who never tires of giving and forgiving. He knows and "loves the cheerful giver" among us. We become the cheerful giver whenever we show mercy towards others too. Indeed, after God has already given, he likewise teaches us how to be a sharer of God's justice and righteousness. When God gives he teaches us how to give as well. How are you responding to such an invitation to be God’s sharer of his righteousness to others? How do you participate in the righteousness and mercy of God in your unique way? Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments


  1. Pagtinanim na,kailangan inaalagaan...hindi hinahayaan... Pag inalagaan ng mabuti... Nagbubunga ng maganda at marami...nagbibigay ligaya sa nag-aani...Maraming salamat, Fr. JM. Nawa`y mamunga ang kabutihan ginawa ng
    Diyos sa atin sa ating mga gawa. Pagpalain tayo ng Maykapal.👏👏👏

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maraming salamat sa pagbabahagi. Naway pagpalain tayo ngayon at magpakailanman.

      Delete
  2. Thank you very much po, Fr. JM.. Indeed, in everything that we do, we must have a clear resonance of our motivation and conscience... For at the end it is not what we do that matters, but moreover how our works pleased God... He sees everything...

    I read one story that Pope John Paul I wrote about a cook called John, allow me to share it here...
    He slaughtered a calf and threw the entrails into the yard where some dogs ate them, and said: 'He's a good cook; he cooks well.' Some time after that, John was shelling peas, peeling onions; he threw the husks into the yard and the dogs rushed over again, but, sniffing scornfully, they said: 'The cook is spoiled; he's worthless now.' John, however, was not upset by this opinion; he said, 'It is the master who must eat and enjoy my meals, not the dogs. The master's appreciation is enough for me'."

    God bless you always..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your little fable! The cook has applied what Jesus once said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." GBU!

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much as well po, Fr..
      Yes, very true... And it's like... "You cannot serve both God and Mammon" which implies then that you cannot please everybody and therefore you shall please Him alone... Again, He sees everything that's in there - in my ❤️...

      Amping.. :)
      GBU!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Thank you for your interest in the above post. When you make a comment, I would personally read it first before it gets published with my response.