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

Right and Pure Intention

hat comprise a righteous act? There are three things: First is the intentionality of the act. Jesus knows well what is going on in the minds and hearts of all human beings. He said, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” I have a personal experience with my own mother. I recently had a home visit to cast my vote last month. Towards the end of my short visit, I and my mom had a disagreement over something. It was not a new thing though, there were many times already that we would clash. Before I left our house, that was a Sunday, I offered to celebrate the Sunday mass in our house together with the whole family. But you know the feeling is quite uncomfortable, when you know that you have something to iron out first with someone. I was deeply bothered. This is one experience that even if Jesus did not tell his disciples to be reconciled first with one’s brother or sister before approaching the altar it would still be gospel truth. I could not say the mass, worst is I cannot preach about love and forgiveness. My own mother would not listen to my preaching. So what did I do, I reached out to her to say I am sorry, forgive me. Only after that, I could approach the altar to offer the sacrifice of the mass.

Prayer demands that we have a right and pure intention. This is a very important reminder that external rituals or actions are not enough. Rituals are important of course but there is something that underlies all these, the disposition of our own hearts. God sees first our intentions. God is not only after appearances but God is after what is within us, in our deepest of heart, in our heart of hearts. We have an often abused Jesuit saying “Finding God in all things.” It could turn into just a lip service. How? We say we want to find God in all things, yet all too often we just stop at the things. Then, we say we beg God to grant our desires, but, unawares, we just choose the good feeling and ignore altogether God’s invitation to humble oneself and say “I am sorry.” In both cases, we get the things that we like and we feel good but lose God in the process. Because of this St Ignatius, in the Jesuit Constitutions, kept reminding about the need for "a thoroughly right and pure intention." That is the first component of a righteous act, intentionality.

Second component is action or deed. If one person is to be seen as righteous, he or she must perform righteous acts and deeds. In fact the Lord even makes a comparison to surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees who, according to traditional interpretations, represented the holiest among Jews. Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” During the time of our Lord the religious elite, the Scribes and Pharisees, did not actually have a high level of righteous living and they were much surpassable in their righteous status. How did Jesus prove his point? In the first place Jesus did not have to point it out since it is already something very obvious especially to people whose eyes were already open.

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. 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. There was once 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. What did Jesus tell to this scrupulous man? He urged him to do concrete acts like sell everything, give to the poor and then follow him. Thomas Aquinas, building on Aristotle, defines righteousness as a habit or habitus. Over time we build habits through actions.

Righteous habits should be consistent with righteous deeds. During the time of Jesus a number of Pharisees and scribes were known to do deeds that satisfy themselves instead of deeds that give glory to God. They glorified the gold in the temple rather than the temple of God that housed the gold.

Third and final component of righteousness: When Jesus summons us to follow the path of righteousness, is he asking about big and extraordinary deeds? Mother Teresa has an answer to this when she said “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us. It consists in accepting and following the will of God.” Another Jesuit saint, St Jose Maria Rubio, also said, in the same vein, about holiness as “[Doing] what God wants and [wanting] what God does." For these two saints, holiness or righteous living is available to all who simply surrender their actions to the will of God no matter how small and ordinary. Again the intentionality or the heart’s disposition is paramount. Jesus did not focus just on individual actions, God is so powerful to send a legion of angels to do righteous acts. But God seeks out your heart first—each one’s heart. God makes himself like a beggar for you to give your heart to Him. He cannot force us because the heart’s way is always through freedom. No wonder the most difficult thing to do is to change the heart of another person. But each time there is movement in the heart of just one person, the whole world moves, the perspective of that one person towards another changes. To see the world transformed, even if it seems at times hopeless already, but to a person with the heart attuned to God will find God in everything and in magnanimity. A heart full of anger towards someone can lead to insults, name calling, and even murder. Do you know the meaning of the Aramaic word “Raqa”? It was not translated in order to preserved its full impact to those who speak that language. It is like calling somebody moron or stupid.

Let me end with this prayer that we often use to start any activity: Let us pray. Direct, O Lord, we beseech you, all our actions by your holy inspirations, and carry them on by your gracious assistance, that every prayer and work of ours may begin always from you, and by you be happily ended. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. I'm happy and grateful to read your posts once again...Your personal sharings somehow mirrors my own story especially with your mother... Reaching out first with humility brings reconciliation and peace. ..I am also touched with your sharing with our Mother Mary..Lately I find myself loving her more as she also stays with me with her loving presence in my prayers...Thank you Fr. Jm! Your sharings truly inspires! Thanks be to our God! Prayers assured and halung pirmi!

    1. Thanks so much for your sharing! GBU!

    2. Special prayers for all the fathers today...Happy Father's Day Fr. JM! GBU!

    3. Kamusta na po kayo Fr. JM? I hope you are in good health...Halung pirmi!


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