After giving the full vision of blessedness in the beatitudes and encouraging his followers to put them in practice and so become light and salt for the world, Jesus warns against the danger of being content with just an outward show of holiness, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Our faith must go deeper than the surface. If we wish to have purity of heart, it must go beyond not committing adultery, but also be pure in thought. If we want to be poor in spirit, we must go beyond not committing murder, but also abstain from thoughts of anger. If we wish to be peacemakers, we need to go beyond the avoidance of cursing others, but also make peace with the one who has anything against us. Living consistently in actions and in thoughts is true righteousness.
But sometimes it happens that as time passes, we begin to look back and forget the Lord’s words, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62). We begin to coast and backslide. Nobody gets into a relationship aiming to do the minimum. Nobody exchanges vows saying, “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health until I don’t feel like continuing anymore.” But it sometimes happens that we begin to be lazy and what started with generosity can end in selfishness. And it’s not beautiful. How do we keep our relationships with God and others beautiful?
When I was university chaplain, I encouraged students to be healthy in body, mind and spirit. I tried to live what I preached so I jogged occasionally. Rachel, a competitive athlete who has won many races, invited me for a run. Being an amateur, I hesitantly agreed. After our run, we stopped at a coffee bar for a drink. I took advantage of Rachel’s expertise and asked, “Sometimes when I run, I develop a slight itch in my legs and it travels up to my stomach and intensifies to the point of making me want to stop, but I usually slow down or take a rest. What can I do to minimize or get rid of it?” Rachel answered, “Father, you aren’t unique. This is normal and happens to many runners. My advice, run past the itch, run past the pain; it will eventually go away. In fact, that’s my mindset in races. When I feel pain in my legs, it is very likely that my competitors feel the same pain and like them, I’m tempted to slow down. Pain is my signal not to slow down, but to speed up.” Ordinariness and greatness are defined at these moments. The spiritual life can be like a race, moments of temptation are a danger and an opportunity. Pope Benedict xvi once said, “We were made not for comfort, but for greatness.” It’s another way of saying, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” This is righteousness. This is beautiful.
*Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington
By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb *