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Different People, Different Expectations

February 21, 2011

A brother questioned an old man saying, ‘What good work should I do so that I may live?’ The old man said, ‘God knows what is good. I have heard it said that one of the Fathers asked Abba Misterus the Great, the friend of Abba Anthony, and said to him, “What good work is there that I could do?” He said to him, “Are not all actions equal? Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him. David was humble, and God was with him. Elias loved interior peace and God was with him. So, do whatever you see your soul desires according to God and guard your heart.’ “[1]

We have all been given different tasks to accomplish in life. We are expected to do different things, work on different virtues. We should not criticize people if their work in life differs from ours. We should not tell them their work is unimportant, or that they don’t care about what is important if their work and focus differs from ours. God has made us different, and placed different desires in our hearts, and as long as we follow what God has placed in our heart, we do well.

When trying to find our place in the world, it is good to look to the examples of the saints and see how they found their calling and how they accomplished it. The saints are examples of holiness, and so their lives, and their insights, can and do offer us much needed guidance. However, we must not confuse their calling with our own. Each saint is a saint because they followed God and did what he bid them to do with their lives. We are told that we, too, are called by God in the same way. If we want to know what we should be doing in life, we should examine ourselves, and find out what holy desires have been placed in our hearts.

Of course, once we have determined what it is that God has placed in our hearts, once we know what it is we are called to do, we must guard our hearts, that is, we must make sure that we follow through with our desire in a proper fashion. It is one thing to know our lot in life, it is another to properly live it out. We can easily try to find shortcuts to make our life easier – and this is where temptation comes into play.

Temptation presents to us the goods and goals we desire, and then suggests ways to get them which are not exactly proper or just. Temptation tells us that the end justifies the means. However, if we follow temptation to its proper end, we do not even get what it is we desired, but an imitation of it, a simulacra which does not satisfy because it does not have the essential qualities needed for it to be right. Satan tempted Jesus in this fashion. Each of his temptations had something good presented to Jesus (food, protection, possession of the world) but how he was told he should have them was through a means which was not worthy of the Son of God.

We must therefore come to proper understanding of ourselves, and that requires us to cleanse ourselves of all undue influences upon our lives. And, as St Anthony the Great wrote, once we know our calling, we must pursue it with all diligence, making sure what we do is actually helping us accomplish our goals:

Truly, my children, I think it is no great wonder, if you neglect yourselves and do not discern your works, that you should fall into the hands of the devil, when you think you are near to God, and that in your expectation of the light, darkness should overtake you.[2]

Throughout our life, to guard our hearts properly, we must continuously educate our conscience and work to keep it pure. If we do so, we will be able to confront our temptations and overcome them. There is no salvation without such a struggle. We must wrestle with God, praying, fasting, taking the sacraments so that with the grace given to us, we will be able to live the life God has intended us to have. We know this is something which is possible because the saints have done so. We also know our path in life can be, and will be, different, than the path God has others to follow. We can learn from the experiences of others, especially the saints; but in the end, we must come to know ourselves and live based the person God has made us to be, not the person God has made out of others. The virtues are good for all to practice, but which ones are we called out to live in our own lives, to make our own? That we will have to find out for ourselves. The kingdom of God is within you (cf. Luke 17:21).


[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 154.

[2] St. Antony, Letter VI in The Letters of St. Antony the Great. Trans. Derwas J. Chitty (Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press, 1991), 23.

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24 Comments
  1. February 21, 2011 11:20 am

    “we must make sure that we follow through with our desire in a proper fashion.”

    Boy I am telling you, the devil is always in the details.

  2. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    February 21, 2011 12:01 pm

    Fair enough, there is plenty of need to workers in the vineyard. But is there not a hierarchy of good works, just as there is in the natural order?

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the folks that want to put out the fire in the vintner’s barn or fix the gaping hole in the vineyard wall to claim priority compared to others focused on the what is the fairest price to pay for seed varieties.

    Laws permitting and even subsidizing the killing of 1,000,000+ human beings each year in one’s country ought to demand a higher sense of urgency than, say immigration or free trade agreements.

    The devil is indeed in the details, but we have a guide.

    • February 21, 2011 2:59 pm

      Let me ask you Bruce, in the 40 some odd years fighting the pro-life battle, how much success have you to show for the efforts of so many?

      You answer will not look good, but let me inform you I am not suggesting that millions of babies do not have a significant value. They in fact do.

      What I am suggesting is there is a way to reduce these deaths but at the same time, attack many of the evils of society, many of which have been neglected by the myopic focus of the pro-life movement.

      You said you have a guide, well I am hoping that is not the pro-life movement or the GOP because so far you have been enriching both your guides while you goal grew further away from you, and in the process, your alliances may have helped give us an unjust war that killed quite a few innocents itself.

      One last thing, I have no earthly idea why you launched on your screed at Henry over his beautiful post other than some sort of myopia fueled projection, as Henry wasn’t really talking about any single issue, as much as he was addressing each of us as adults and how we decide what our callings are.You know adults? The things many ignore that a fetus grows into once it gets outside of the female’s womb.

  3. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    February 22, 2011 9:09 am

    I was addressing adults, friend. The guide is Jesus and His Church, not a political party or .

    I don’t see terms like “Fair enough” as screed, nor “There is plenty of need for workers in the vineyard” as myopic.

    With all due respect, “gisher”, you do not know me. I have more than a few friends (US and Iraqi) who have lost lives and limbs in these wars. I am not a member of the GOP. My wife and I are raising ten children, two of which are bi-racial and one of which is severely disabled. I agree that ignoring what “a fetus grows into once ‘it’ (sic) gets outside of the female’s womb” is a big problem, but it’s a problem that can not be addressed if the fetus is murdered there. By the millions.

    Henry’s post is a fine post. But there is yet a hierarchy of good works. The barn is on fire, whether you call it screed or myopic or whatever.

    Sorry to have so offended you.

    • February 22, 2011 9:41 am

      You have clarified a few things but still stood upon your position that all else must be dropped to pursue what you view as the the only clear path.

      a) You are not a God nor even a Pope

      b) Your clear path is littered with failure.

      c) You are seemingly unable to acknowledge this failure.

      But let’s go a tad further. If we are going to use the old “some of my friends” are black defense, would you then clearly state that you agree with both the current and prior Pope that the Iraq war was unjust? If so did you vehemently protest against the war by whatever means available? How are you on the rights of Union workers? Do you support them as your church does?

      Again, Henry’s post was about one’s life calling. While you can spend your life protesting abortions that does not put food on the table to feed all of the children that were either adopted or came out of your wife’s womb.

      Try if you can to separate the idea of a cause from a day job, and then once you have done that, try and realize that some of us recognize not only that there is more than one way to fight against abortions, but that the pro-life cause has been an abject failure and a tremendous waste of our energy.

  4. February 22, 2011 9:13 am

    One thing I find interesting (and I am not saying this is true of Bruce, but with others, like Michael Voris): it will be suggested that the way of Mary is better than Martha, when social justice is mentioned; but when abortion is mentioned, all hell is breaking loose and no one is allowed to be a Mary in such a situation. Something tells me that this is wrong.

    • February 22, 2011 3:55 pm

      The thing I keep reminding myself is that Voris is not alone. He is a face and a voice for many and that scares me far more than what comes out of his mouth. If aliens abducted Voris today, someone else would step in to exploit the void.

      This, as well as social justice itself, is something I would like to see the Vatican become far more vocal about than they are now.

      I do understand that this is a political thing for them as I have read everything Pope Benedict wrote as a cardinal and I am quite certain he feels strongly about these items.

      Understanding the sensitivities and all of the other major issues they are dealing with now, I still feel these are areas that are crying out for the voice of the Church to speak loudly and prominentaly.

      As for Voris, he has found a way to become a Catholic preacher (no typo there) and milk both souls and money way from the church. Trust me, I am not finished with him. Nowhere near it.

      • February 22, 2011 4:15 pm

        I’ve written a few posts on Voris, or on this thought, when he started to show some popularity on the net:

        http://vox-nova.com/2010/01/29/virtual-polemical-videos-not-real-catholic-tv/

        http://vox-nova.com/2010/11/20/st-athanasius-and-detraction/

        http://vox-nova.com/2010/02/13/chesterton-must-be-an-anti-christian-socialist/

        He certainly is not alone, as you said, otherwise he would not be popular. And though someone might fill in the void, there is something about his style which attracts people, and so I am not sure someone who is not following his presentation style would get as much an audience. He knows the media and how to manipulate it, unlike many others who have similar views.

        And yes, I think the Vatican needs to become vocal about people like him, who try to go against the Church’s social justice by acting like the USCCB is somehow going against the Vatican. This is where he should be addressed.

        • February 22, 2011 4:32 pm

          I had read Virtual Polemical Videos, Not Real Catholic TV and Chesterton Must Be an Anti-Christian Socialist!

          (used both for research on Voris)

          but not St Athanasius and Detraction—- My how history repeats itself.

          Between his slanders of the Bishops, his calls for dictators, and his direct challenge of the Church’s global warming policy, he has I think, done more than enough to merit being tossed under Peter’s bones, but that isn’t my call. I mean heavens, this guy is just a parishioner, where is thy leather whip?

          Thanks for Athanasius and Detraction, that was perfect and I missed it somehow.

        • February 22, 2011 5:32 pm

          Yes, Athanasius and Detraction I thought was easy to get “lost.” Although of course, it was written to discuss more than Voris, he follows the whole “we are Athanasius against the world” mentality, one which ignores the real Athanasius. So many like to use history without knowing it!

  5. Paul DuBois permalink
    February 22, 2011 1:06 pm

    I started reading Vox-Nova because I saw its contributors as being both fiercely Orthodox Catholic and understanding the social justice teaching of the Church. As I have read the posts over the last year or so I have seen many beautiful posts that have brought me closer to the Church and to God. There have also been many divisive comments and posts that did not encourage the unity asked for by Christ, the apostles, the epistles of Paul the early Church fathers and the current Pope and Bishops. I find this deeply troubling.
    I do not understanding those who speak of the divisions between those in the Church who are pro-life and those who support social justice causes. There can be no Christians who do not support social justice causes. Jesus left no doubt of that. God left no doubt of that in the Old Testament; this is evident in the Law, in the Historical Books and in the Prophets. The details are many and I do not intend to quote them here. We all can quote the lines from the Gospels where Jesus leaves no doubt of his standing on social justice issues. You cannot gain entry into the Kingdom of God unless you treat the least of his brothers with love and respect. Since his apostles wanted to limit who they loved as much as possible (don’t we all), He also went to great lengths to explain that all men were his brothers. This is the consistent teaching of the Church from the earliest writings to today. You can not be a Catholic without being a Social Justice Catholic.
    The most basic issue of social justice is the right to life. We cannot claim to be good Christians and not respect the right all people have to live their lives. This important right certainly contains more than the right to be born, but has at its core the right to be born. Every Catholic is required to support his basic right. I have argued with many that the definition of passage through the birth canal as a start of life is patently absurd, the vast majority has agreed and assured me there must be some other acceptable definition besides conception. None have provided a clear line though, even the viability argument falls to any close scrutiny.
    My point is I would like you to please stop dividing my Church. Henry wrote a wonderful post that asks us all to find a way that we can best build up Christ’s Church. It is a call to me to examine my heart and see what I need to do to help those most in need. To use this post to argue about how all must work solely to end abortion at the lost of all else, or to argue that those who work to end abortion are forgetting all other teachings serves only to divide the Church. Even if we decide ending abortion is not our calling, we must admit that ending it is a worthy goal and that our actions do not work against that. If we are called to work to end abortion, we must acknowledge that the teaching of the Bishops is that it is the most important of the social issues, but not the only one. We cannot let our work to end abortion allow torture to exist, or allow the poor to be neglected. We must be vigilant that we are not aiding any evil.

    • February 22, 2011 1:38 pm

      Paul

      Agreed – seeking to end abortion is good, and indeed, those who are called to that work, are called into a great effort. The only caveat I would add is that those who are called to this work must seek to find out the proper way to deal with it, in prudence, and to respect those who have a calling to other work. Those who do not have a calling to work on abortion, of course, must respect those who do. Both, of course, are free to call the other out if they see the other is not doing their calling justice (but it must be done in respect).

  6. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    February 22, 2011 1:29 pm

    Oh my.

    So your position is that there is no hierarchy of good works. Okay.

    And I’ll go ahead and admit it. I am not a god. Please disregard all of my comments in which I claim this.

    I am also not a pope. Ditto with my comments to that effect.

    And, depending on how you look at it, I would have to agree and acknowledge that the way is littered with failure.

    I recommend taking the way anyhow, which you might take as my inability to acknowledge the failures.

    John Milton famously said they also serve who only stand and wait. This is certainly true. If I give the impression I think everyone must be a Martha and no one is allowed to be a Mary, then I am wrong and a poor communicator of what I believe. The Church needs the contemplative John as well as the active Peter. On this I hope we might agree.

    But I do think there’s a difference between the position that everyone neglect their day job to go protest abortion, and the position that some good works are of a more serious nature than others.

    The point I am so poorly trying to make is that there are a few most catastrophic problems – working towards solutions of which are of a higher urgency than others. I’m not sure if that means “better” or not.

    And something tells me that characterizing those involved in the pro-life effort as abject failures and a tremendous waste of energy doesn’t seem quite right either.

    I don’t think my point is much different than the distinction between venial and mortal sin. Just as some bad acts are more grave than others, some good acts are more serious than others.

    I obviously disagree that efforts to pray and fight for the unborn as object failures. Even the “eaches” of the examples of individual conversions are fruitful works in the Lord’s vineyard.

    As to the wars: geo-politically and strategically the concept of pre-emptive warfare without violating the principles “jus ad bellum” seems incredulous to me as it does to most people I know. However, at the tactical and operational level, I believe the US has largely followed the principles of “jus in bello” and prosecuted violations in a highly visible way.

    Perhaps a Vox Novan would begin a post asking whether the current wave of democratic protests in the Middle East were in any tiniest remotest way made more likely by the removal of Saddam Husse from power in Iraq, even if one agrees it was the wrong thing to do at the time.

    P.S. Papal infallibility aside, but in order to address gisher’s concerns, I did not protest, but served in the war, as I believed at the time that it was a just continuation of the 1991 Gulf War, which is another long discussion, I’m afraid. I do support workers rights to collectively bargain with management and think the Wisconsin governor’s approach to dealing with the bankruptcy of his state’s government is wrong. I was not trying to use the “some of my best friends are black” approach, but trying to make clear that I am a real person, not a two-dimensional cartoon character.

    The mistake of applying simple solutions to complex problems exists in human afairs, from invading countries to humble commboxes.

    And I might be completely wrong.

    • February 22, 2011 2:25 pm

      Bruce,

      Do you think someone who is passionately committed to the cause of preventing cruelty to animals to the point that he or she pays little or no attention to pro-lifers is misguided? Or someone who works to help the homeless exclusively? Even granting that there is a hierarchy of good works, not everyone has to devote himself or herself to the top item in the hierarchy, or even pay attention to it. If I go off to work as a volunteer for Doctors without Borders in Malawi, must I fly home for every election to vote for pro-life candidates?

      • Bruce in Kansas permalink
        February 22, 2011 4:27 pm

        I would agree with you that not everyone has to devote himself to the top item on the hierarchy. I find it difficult to understand why it would be acceptable to not even pay attention to it. It seems that even the most passionate specialist ought to pay attention to the most urgent problem – mention it in their prayers now and then or something.

        If you’re the Medicines Sans Frontiers guy in Malawi, you can vote absentee or not, depending on if you’re familiar with the options.

    • February 22, 2011 3:01 pm

      I might also add that I do not consider you or anyone else to be a cartoon character. I have a habit of forcing people out into the light so I can see exactly what they really think.

      Sometimes people masquerade sometimes communication is the issue that can conceal the whole person. To your credit, you really do not try to conceal who or what you are, and that sort of honesty does tend to impress me even if the argument of the individual does not.

      I sir wish to lower abortions, and work very hard to do so. I would not be here on VN if I did not care about this and a host of other issues that are currently drifting in the tide. I also value adult life sir, just as much.

  7. February 22, 2011 2:13 pm

    That was a tremendous amount of verbiage but, let’s whittle it down a bit.

    Again you are confusing an excellent post on choosing one’s calling in life with your idea of what battles should be prioritized. One can both have a job and fight for whatever causes they choose. No kidding. Only this post by Henry wasn’t telling you to knock abortion down below picking up trash off a highway. You flew off the handle and took it there yourself.

    As for your comment on Wars, it appears that not only are you still attempting to say the U.S. was justified by going into Iraq. It also appears that you will not stand by your Pope on this issue.

    Then you go further without any supporting evidence (and in fact displaying a total lack of knowledge on the motivating factors for the Egyptian unrest) and attempt to justify Iraq post effort. Could you blow a bigger kiss to George Bush and the GOP? Then you admit that you did not protest and that you served in the war even though you might have had a case for conscientious objection. Well thank you for serving sir, but I wish you had stood by your Pope for multiple reasons.

    Thank goodness you support the Wisconsin workers or I would have assumed your were a gun toting, pro business Evangelical.

    As it were, this Catholic confusion I see sort of explains why you refuse to confront the reality that pro-life is and has been a failure. Sounds like a case of Cafeteria-itis. That said, if you ever wish to learn why pro-life has failed and would like to learn other ways you can help lower abortions just ask.

    Let me close by assuring you again that Henry’s post is not suggesting you just forget about dead babies and frolic your way to the dream job of being a clairvoyant. Not only not close, not really advisable either.

    • Bruce in Kansas permalink
      February 22, 2011 5:02 pm

      I think we might be closer than either of us wants to admit on a few things.

      I aplogize for my ignorance, although a total lack of knowledge might be a bit too muich. I admit to a lack of breadth and depth in understanding some Church teachings, which is one reason I try to check this and other internet sources.

      I think I miscommunicated about the war as well. Far from blowing kisses to GWB, I believe the al-Jazeera effect blossomed on an anti-Bush branch and that very same, very real AJ effect enabled hope, disabled tyranny, and provided a global lens for the peole’s protests over injustice (which has been present in Egypt and other places for years) to finally succeed. Let’s pray.

      War is hell. War always has been hell and continues to be hell. It’s the failure of mankind to find the right (or even lesser wrong) path. But, using Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule, the USA broke it in 1991 and when you broke it, you bought it. And by this point, now 20 years hence, I know too many of my Iraqi friends who desperately asked why we waited those 12 years to finish the job as well as so many more who suffered, died, and are maimed for me to be objective about “whether or not” we should have gone, or whether we should have walked away after the al-Askari mosque bombing in Samarra in 2006, five years ago yesterday. So there’s that.

      And in my current environment and home country, a legally protected slaughter continues on a scale I find difficult to bear thinking about.

      I’d just close with an apology for so poorly presenting my question about a hierachy of good works. It was not intended to detract from Henry’s very nice post, but perhaps awkwardly to build on it. Sorry to muff it so badly.

      • February 22, 2011 5:41 pm

        You and I are closer than many would think but we have a big sticking point on the Church position on unjust wars, and on the causes of what is happening now in the ME.

        I do agree that we broke Iraq and we had to fix it and I do appreciate your service.

        I also appreciate you coming around to what Henry was writing about. It is a beautiful post. Henry isn’t normally as provocative as some of these other (ahem) gentlemen try (and succeed) to be, but his pieces require digestion and percolation and usually wind up being very brilliant works, and just as worthy as any other postings here.

        So you turn out to be a decent guy who needs a little more reading. That is something we can fix. Some folks trotting through here there is no help for.

        A pleasure to meet you and stick around. I’ll try to if my brain does not explode.

  8. Jimmy Mac permalink
    February 22, 2011 4:50 pm

    From one who puts it much better than can I:

    “I find that all abortion arguments break down on the lack of shared premises. I personally know two and a half answers to the question “what ought one to do?” They are (1) One ought to do what the evidence suggests will be best for everybody in the long run. (2) One ought to do what God tells us to do. And (3) I don’t want to go to jail. (That’s the half-answer. In practice, it makes almost all other speculations about moral questions superfluous.)

    Abortion debates often fall apart because one side is trying to derive principles from “utilitarian” arguments and the other side insists on the primacy of divine revelation. Sometimes, people try to sideline the difficulty by agreeing to proceed from the premise that God wants us to do what is good for “society in general.”

    We Catholics are stuck in an untenable position because the Church teaches that in the case of abortion, we can know the answer by natural reason. But the Magisterium adamantly refuses to show us that proof. Probably they don’t even know it themselves, but only that it exists. So we get stuck in a position of insisting that we know there exists a proof that this Truth can be known by natural reason, because Divine Revelation tells us such a truth exists. Then we’re surprised when both secularists and evangelicals laugh at us. To make matters worse, the Church excludes any argument from premise (1) ahead of time, by prohibiting “utilitarianism” in moral questions.”

    Felapton on July 16th, 2010 http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=9098#comments

    • February 22, 2011 5:16 pm

      Being orthodox myself, the old “do as it is written” tends to work for me. That said, I have numerous issues starting with the idea that I cannot debate the matter, all the way through to execution. Then you toss dealing with the 1st amendment on top and it becomes a quagmire.

      That said, ask almost anyone if they like the idea of abortion and you usually get a resounding no. As I repeatedly have stated on VN, I have always felt that the tactics of the pro-life movement are corrupt and misguided.

      I do not however think our hands are tied on this matter. I do think if we focus on the root causes of the environment that breeds abortions as well as a host of other social ills, we can make a dramatic impact on abortion as well as improve the quality of life overall.

      The biggest obstacles to this happening are avarice, the clout of the abortion lobby (both pro and con) and the inability of many to lift their heads up from the battle to see they have wandered into the ocean.

      I think those who oppose abortion would find needed allies on the other side to make this happen with the right approach, but I do not think the political consultants (chiefly on the right) would appreciate anyone taking away their gold plated wedge issue.

  9. grega permalink
    February 22, 2011 5:04 pm

    I disagree Gisher -In my view the overall debate has most certainly shifted a bit in favor of a sensitive pro life position. In a democracy it is however never all or nothing thus chances are a solid majority of the populance will attempt to reserve the legal rights for abortions under special circumstances like rape incest and for health related issues. Still chances are high that Roe vs. Wade will be repealed pretty soon the way the supreme court is currently stacked.
    In my view unfortunately than we will see the dreadful day when most of the real big mouth right wingers who currently scream bloody murder at the mention of pro choice will turn on a dime and be all for social type of abortions for certain rapidly rising populations groups. In some ways this whole abortion related song and dance is indeed a farce on both extreme ends of the spectra.
    I personally find the german approach very good – a hard limit at 12 weeks – mandatory counseling of women that consider an abortion for social reasons – followed by a brief waiting period to let the emotional turmoil settle and allow for a rationale decision. Obviously a compromise – yet most have learned to live with that set of laws and regulations – including secretly the majority of catholics.
    Life is always a huge compromise.

    • February 22, 2011 5:31 pm

      Your little scenario overlooks that even if the group of 9 idiots overrules abortion, it then becomes a state battle, and anyone who gets stuck in a state where it is not legal just trots across the border. Doesn’t stop it. Frankly it was pretty widespread when it was illegal.

      I will not (ahem) agree or disagree with your wonderful view of right wingers screaming for say Latinos to get abortions. I might giggle for a moment and then scold myself.

      The biggest problem with your idea is not that it too relies on politics to be the end all, in a system where divisions mean hard cold cash, but the real problem is it is still looking at stopping abortions as the goal.

      All that is doing is giving a cough drop to a guy with a lung infection. Look further upstream man, you need a bigger goal.

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