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Life of Virtue & Righteousness (5)

Pope Shenouda III | 8 August 2010

 Almost everybody agrees concerning the good aim, but we may differ concerning the means leading to it. This may be due to the difference in thoughts, in views and degrees of intelligence, and in nature and surroundings, all of which result in different conclusions and judgments.

 
 Some people's intentions may be good, yet their means are not.  
 
   The means to realize the goal may differ from one person to another, causing controversies in teamwork whether in church, in societies, committees, or other organizations. It may only be a kind of variation, yet it may turn into differences and controversy. We do not object to variation, for it can be a source of rich thoughts and experience, but differences often lead to divisions and struggles, and perhaps to personal controversy or enmity.  
 
  Correction for instance is the desire of everybody, but the way to realize it differs from one person to another.
 
   Some would see that the proper spiritual way is prayer and fasting, leaving God to interfere and correct everything, while others think that patience and longsuffering are more suitable, for the Scripture says, "In your patience possess your souls." (Lk 21: 19) "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!" (Ps 27: 14) Wisdom, prudent thinking, and understanding may be the way according to others. On the other hand some think that the way to correction is violence, through sever criticism, written material, hurting, and defaming, thinking that only way to correct the erroneous is harsh treatment. Some others yet see that the best way for correction is meekness and calmness with humbleness, so that we might not lose our spirituality or our relations with the others, for the Scripture says, "Let all that you do be done with love." (1 Cor 16: 14)
 
   The way of Habib Guirgis in correction no doubt was a distinguished one, for it depended on edification and positive action.
 
   If you cooperate with somebody in doing some work or good thing, both of you ought to have the same goal and purpose and also the same way and means, lest being different may cause problems and controversy. 
 
   Strange indeed that some people follow the principle of Machiavelli, that the end justifies the means! 
 
   With this principle, some people in the name of holy zeal for instance would use violence in church, shouting, rebuking, insulting, and perhaps taking legal procedures. When blamed they pretend that they obey the words of the Psalm, "Zeal for Your house has eaten me up." (Ps 69: 9)
 
   Actually holy zeal requires holy means.
 
   Another example is a father who, under the pretext of disciplining, treats his son with the utmost cruelty, causing him complex! The purpose is good, but the means is wrong. A husband who locks his wife up at home, laying restrictions on her movement and her talk under the pretext of protecting her is another example! A mother who interferes in the marital life of her daughter under the pretext of protecting her and seeking her peace and dignity may cause separation between her daughter and her husband! 
 
   Wrong means may even destroy relations. Someone for instance seeks to reconcile with someone else, a good aim indeed, but he takes the way of blaming! Even in blaming, some people may recall the old pains and hurts in a way that causes trouble to the others, and the matter ends worse than before due to the wrong way of blaming. On the contrary, one can win the other even through blaming, but in a way that makes the other understands and apologizes, and the matter ends with restoring friendship.
 
   Blaming is the means in the two cases, but to some people it is acceptable and fruitful, and to others troublesome and hurting!
 
   Somebody blames calmly, with love, to reach reconciliation, while another blames angrily, with malice and spirit of avenging to prove to the other party that he was wrong and deserves what happened! 
 
   For instance, three persons join the Church Board intending to serve the church, but because they follow different ways, they cannot work together. One prefers to cooperate with the father priests, while the other thinks that church management is the responsibility of the board members whereas the father priest is only concerned with the spiritual ministry and has nothing to do with projects, finance, management, and architecture! This leads to clashes with the clergy and with the other members who follow a different way of cooperation rather than domination.
 
 The Lay Councils are another example:
 
   Lay Councils exist since a hundred years ago, with the same laws and functions, and with the same way of elections. However, in the past struggles, divisions and legal proceedings often happened, but now they cooperate with the clergy. This is due to the change in the tendency of both the clergy and the councils.

  Everybody desires attachment to God, but the means may differ.  
 
   Some may take the way of monasticism, others the way of priesthood, others the way of consecration, others the way of lay ministry in a stable marital life through which they can build the community and bring up a new spiritual generation. Here is variation, not difference. Difference may only happen when some suppose that their way is the only sound way, and criticize the other ways or try to destroy them! There can be found harmony and integration among the various means that lead to one goal, for conflict happens only in case of contradiction. 
 
  Upbringing children is another example, for everybody wants to up-bring his children in a sound way, but the means may differ. 
 
   Some parents give their children complete freedom as in the West. Their purpose is to make them independent and subject to no pressures. When these children grow up they refuse the parents' authority over them. Other parents are very stern, not allowing them even to make friends with anyone, or to join a club or an activity without their permission! This way causes suppression and has bad impact in future.
 
   However, there is a middle way far from unrestraint and from stress and restrictions. It is a way by which a father becomes the friend of his child, teaching, convincing, and discussing with him. Convincing, though it takes a long time, creates an incentive within, which is far better than commands imposing outer pressures.
 
   The same applies to dealing with the erroneous, for all of us hate wrongdoing and may take an opposing stand against them. The goal is the same, but the means may vary. Some would avoid such people, others would resist them, retaliate, or hold them accountable for every fault, yet others would try to correct and win them by love, patience, and convincing, aiming at leading them to God, to the proper way, to win their souls.
 
   Furthermore, the means often turns into a goal!
 
   The sole spiritual goal is God, whereas prayer, fasting, reading, meditation, and solitariness are mere means leading to this goal. Virtues likewise are mere means leading to God, but, regrettably, they may turn into goals.
 
   When a person reads the Holy Scriptures or spiritual books, the purpose is to attain God's love and steadfastness in Him, yet reading may turn into a goal, without understanding, meditation, or spiritual exercises. Sometimes the spiritual goal may change on the way, when a person seeks through reading to become a scholar or a teacher, to appear well informed and capable of handling any subject! Where is God here? God disappears and the ego appears showing off through knowledge!
 
   As reading may turn into a goal in itself, so also solitariness may turn into a goal.
 
   It is supposed that a person seeks solitude to have a calm time to sit with God, otherwise the true spiritual aim will disappear and solitariness become a goal in itself, even if a person in such a time is sleeping or bored or fought with thoughts! 
 
   The goal of solitariness may change to serve the ego.
 
   Someone may seek solitariness merely to gain fame or titles as a solitary, not for God's sake! Solitude may give a person a chance to receive people and become a guide or a blessing-giver to those who seek him! Therefore, one should make sure of the soundness and spirituality of the goal, to avoid deviating to another goal, and make sure of the soundness of the means leading to the spiritual, lest the means turn into a goal.
 
   The same may apply to silence.
 
   Silence should be a means for avoiding tongue faults and providing an opportunity for prayer and meditation. Yet, silence without inner spiritual work will not realize the desired goal. Some may keep silent but express what they want with signals! This is the same as talking, especially if the faults desired to be avoided continue and merely turn into wrong thoughts. What is the benefit of silence in this case? If silence was to avoid judging others or uttering angry words, but a person still judges others with his mind, or anger remains in his heart, it means that the spiritual aim is not realized.
 
   We say the same concerning fasting. Why do we fast? Is fasting a goal in itself, or a means to have a spiritual time that helps us attain to God? We deprive ourselves of whatever we desire so that we may get used to have control over our will, preventing ourselves from doing wrong or from eating. 
 
   We ought to fast not as a goal but as a spiritual means so that fasting may be fruitful.   
 
   Prayer likewise should be to enjoy communion with God and conversing with Him, not as a mere duty. If our prayers are without spirit, fervency, emotion, depth, love, or feeling that one is in God's presence, what will it benefit us? Prayer is a mere means leading to the goal for which we have to struggle spiritually to attain. The same applies to the Psalms and the hymns. If we read or recite them in haste, our understanding of them will be less and we will not go into the depth of the words. The hymn or the reciting will become the goal!
 
 
   Would that we realize within our hearts and minds the spiritual goal for which the Psalms and hymns and praises were given! Would that we pray with fervency, emotion, meditation, and understanding? Would that our interest be in the depth rather than in the quantity!

 

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