By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

True and False Responses

In Chapter 4 of Called to Life, Fr. Philippe turns to how to respond to the events and situations of life. The first point that he makes is that the true response is not ready-made prior to the existence of a particular situation. Life is, of course, full of surprises that we cannot even imagine. God may surprise us in a way that changes all our usual responses and assumptions. He usually gives us a hope and gifts, including courage and fortitude, that we never imagined, a fact that is proven by how many of our fears and anxieties ultimately prove to be baseless. Recall the prophet's words:

Isaiah 55:8-9 (RSV) "8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

How do we throw away our habitual responses and reach for the true and appropriate response to a new situation?

1. "[O]ne must know one's self and listen to others who often see things more clearly" (p. 64). And, of course, read the Word and pray, activities which are the ways that we begin to know ourselves better.

2. What are the wrong paths?

It may be one's habit to blame oneself for life's problems. Or to blame others. Or to think that one must be heroic in a way that God doesn't ask. A person may have a fear of weakness, believing that he or she must always be strong. Some of us are in denial; some are always taking flight. These are paths that lead to rigidity, worry, and tension.

Philippe, p. 64.

What are some examples of such false paths? An individual may not see, because of an inferiority complex or because of false humility, that the problem may lie in the dysfunction of others and not in oneself. Individuals who are too submissive to authority may always excuse abuses of authority in order to avoid confrontation or any painful conflicts. Or a person may feel that God is asking for sacrifice to the point of irrationality--God does not ask for what is impossible for us. Either it is naturally possible, or He grants the grace to make the task possible for us. Human beings need tangible love and affection, human beings need to be respected, human beings need to maintain their dignity and privacy. If such God-implanted needs are not being met by a situation or relationship, then it is time to change the situation or relationship in positive ways. God wants us to flourish, not to wither on the vine. His will is our flourishing. Others take flight when faced with the challenge of making big decisions and commitments. They keep running away, instead of facing reality. In effect, their lives never really begin at all because of the constant state of flight from decision and commitment, sometimes waiting for a dramatic private revelation that never comes in the form they stipulate but which may have already come in a quiet, nondramatic, and very natural way. Recall the small quiet voice heard by the prophet Elijah:

1 Kings 19:11-12 (RSV) 11 And he said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

3. The difference that the Holy Spirit makes:

"The responses that come from the Spirit . . . . have the flavor of evangelical sweetness, of humility and peace, a note of simplicity and realism," not false, irrational heroism (64). Such responses "lead us out of our repetitious scenarios [such as fleeing commitment], and produce true changes" (64-65).

4. Fr. Philippe gives the example of St. Therese of Lisieux as a teenager, when, instead of bursting into tears at the exasperation of her father concerning her childish behavior, she responded to God's call in this situation and reacted with cheerfulness and boldness, instead of hypersensitivity (65). It is a small event in her life but with great ramifications for her future. We too react in repetitive ways to challenges, ways that do not lead to growth or flourishing. Too often, for example, we allow the opinions and expectations of others to determine our options and choices. By doing that, we are following the call of the crowd which really does not know us (and really does not care to know us) instead of the call of the God who knows us better than we know ourselves:

Psalm 139:1-6 (RSV) O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me! 2 Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. 3 Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. 5 Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.