Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between
These song lyrics were written in 1944 by Johnny Mercer for the movie, Here Come the Waves. I’ve never seen the movie and was not familiar with the song until the television show, Homefront, came out in 1991.
I can imagine the popularity of it though, considering the original release occurred during WWII. And on the whole, it’s a great attitude for life in general.
But I was reminded during my study of St. Benedict’s Rule this morning, that in terms of what he called Instruments of Good Works, the exact opposite is needed. In order to mature spiritually, you need to focus on the negative…in terms of virtue. Concentrate on those things that are stumbling blocks for you.
It reminded me of the story in Luke 18 of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
How easy it is for us to focus on those things we do well, only to skim over or completely ignore those things that need our attention the most. To justify or excuse a behavior or lack of one, by saying, “at least I’m not like him/her!” And remember, the things that we excel at are due to God’s gifts of love and mercy working in and through us, and not of our own volition.
Time and time again in scripture, Jesus tells the people, through parables, to focus on their own deficiencies and personal growth, rather than the shortcomings of others. The more we focus on others, the more disillusioned we can become. That makes it easy for resentment to set in. “This person will never change,” we might think, after they have annoyed or hurt us again. And maybe they won’t…but it doesn’t mean that they can’t. Focusing on what we can do in our own lives helps us realize our own inadequacies and helps us to see the other person as they are: a child of God, struggling the same as we are.
The worst thing we can do is to lie to ourselves, as though we have “arrived”. By reading from The Rule daily, I’m reminded of the little steps I’ve taken, the many times I’ve faltered, and just how incredibly far I have to go. It’s humbling to evaluate yourself daily and see where you have faltered. Most times, it’s the same thing I struggled with the day before…and the day before that.
There is a prayer that we pray at the beginning of Mass.
I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have gravely sinned. In my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. Through my fault – through my fault – through my most grievous fault. Therefore, I ask blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God. Amen.
I love this prayer, because it reminds me that my in-actions can be just as damaging to others as my actions. I think of the story of the Good Samaritan and those that passed by the injured man. They neither robbed nor beat the man, but their lack of action to care for him is just as glaring.
Other people can change…just look at Paul. The very man who persecuted Christians died for Christ. But whether or not others change is not the point. How can I change? Where did I fail to love God and others today? What are the areas I need to work on? The surest way to find out is to pray.
The end of this morning’s reading from The Rule says this: To attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good one sees in oneself, but to recognize always the evil is one’s own doing, and to impute it to oneself.
Most changes don’t come easy or naturally, but we do have the answer at our fingertips. From Philippians 4: have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.