Thursday, May 5, 2011

A More Excellent Way

The question arose last night at our young adults meeting of whether we can be held accountable for not following the most excellent way. It wasn't a question of accountability for doing right or wrong, because the answer to that is obvious.

Rather, will God hold it against us if we do not follow the most excellent/beautiful/illumined way in our everyday lives? For example, if we pass a bum on the street, is it enough to say a prayer for him/give him a dollar, or should we strive for more -- such as engaging him (or her) in conversation about Christ, or preparing a sandwich ahead of time just in case we meet someone who is hungry? What about five sandwiches?

It's an interesting question. I dare say we would know the answer if the judge were someone else besides God -- our boss, for example, or our friends. Analogy is always a good way to test a hypothesis. Would we give our best friend an excellent gift for their birthday, or just a mediocre one? Do we perform our utmost best at our jobs, or do we go to work thinking, "I'll just give half effort today"?

No doubt the answers to these questions depends a lot on circumstances. How well we slept the night before influences our energy level at work. How much free time we have (and money in the bank) determines how excellent a gift our friends get on their birthdays. Some of us can just barely fit in a trip to Target; others can browse antique stores or craft markets for that absolutely perfect item.

Perhaps the more pressing question is: Do we want to give our best? Do we desire the most excellent way? Would we like to give our best friend a new car for their birthday? Surely all of us will answer "yes." In fact, God has designed us in such a way that we cannot answer otherwise. His imprint upon our souls is unchangeable. We long for Him, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him, said St. Augustine. He is our Absolute, and therefore we desire the absolute in everything we do.

Whether we can execute the absolute every day of our lives is another matter. Even though our hearts long for the most excellent, our minds and bodies are broken, fallible and incapable of delivering. But if we tap into the divine wellspring in our hearts each day through quiet prayer, and ask God to bless our efforts to bring Him glory, then I have the feeling that even on days when our best ends in failure, He will transform it into glory and praise to Himself in ways we cannot even imagine.

Mother Teresa said it best: "God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God, results are not important. Faithfulness is what is important."

The rest is up to Him. What we are answerable for is to not stop trying.