This week’s “Ask a Priest” question concerns popular methods of self-improvement:
What does the Church teach regarding where a person takes advice from when it comes to everyday life? (For example, self-help books and media that offer life solutions and advice that may not necessarily be faith-based.)
“God helps those who help themselves” is one of those proverbial expressions that can be found nowhere in the Bible. In fact, it is in many ways contrary to the Gospel. The ancient heresy of Pelagianism, for example, argued that human beings can achieve salvation through their own efforts, and both the Fall of Adam and the Redemption of Christ affected us by their good or bad example rather than by changing our inner orientation to God. Grace is not necessarily needed for salvation.
St. Paul probably puts the orthodox case most clearly in Romans 5:6-8:
“For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” [Emphasis added.]
Or in his letter to Titus (3:4-5): “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit….” St. John likewise explains God’s initiative in our salvation: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
St. Augustine had his own way of expressing this same thought. He taught that it is not so much that God looked upon humanity and saw how these good people were struggling and so sought to give them a helping hand; rather, he saw how miserable and lost humanity was and came to save them from themselves!
All this is to say that God is faithful and loving towards us even when we are unfaithful and unloving towards Him. We can’t do anything to earn His love – it is simply waiting there to be received. But if we reject it, we are unable to become the people He has made us to be.
Which brings me back to the question which sparked this reflection: For practical advice about day-to-day living, there are many resources (including family and friends), faith-based or not, which can be helpful. But it is must be admitted that the lives and writings of the saints (e.g., Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux) are rich in their reflections on how to deal with the more trying aspects of our relationships, and the Bible itself has much to say about family life and friendship (see Proverbs and Sirach, for example, the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37-50, or the story of King David in 1 & 2 Samuel).
But regarding questions of our fundamental identity and ultimate purpose, a lot of what is out there is Pelagian, neo-pagan, or grounded in a baseless sense of personal autonomy, in which “freedom” is simply a cover to do whatever we wish without consideration of its effects on others.
Sometimes, however, we cannot accept God’s love because of emotional and spiritual wounds we have received in the past, perhaps through a broken relationship or childhood trauma. In those cases, a competent (preferably Christian) therapist, spiritual guide, or even books can help bring healing to these wounds and allow our hearts to open themselves to the gift of God’s love. But it should be clear by now that this is not “self-help”; rather, it is allowing oneself to be brought into deeper relationship with others, and ultimately with the One Who can give our lives true purpose and meaning.
Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal: Last week, we presented a video message from Bishop Estévez at all Masses. This week, we are participating in Follow-Up Weekend for any parishioners who may not have been here with us last week. We hope you will make a prayerful decision to pledge a gift to the 2018 Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal. If you have not made a pledge to the Appeal, we invite you to participate in this worthy mission by making a pledge in-pew, by mail, or online at www.dosafl.com/bishopsappeal today. For a limited time, donations can also be made to BASA via a secure connection by clicking the BASA icon in the MyParish App. Your participation truly makes a difference.
Don’t forget to join our Men’s Club as they provide Holy Family with the Best Fish Fry in Town! This Friday, February 23rd, from 4:00-8:00 pm in the Parish Life Center.
I have been overwhelmed by all the expressions of love and support I have received since I announced my impending departure from Holy Family.
My successor will likely be appointed in the next month or so, but at this point I am hoping to stay on until the end of July before heading to Catholic University. I will miss this parish tremendously. This community is truly a family, and it’s heart-wrenching to leave a treasure like this behind, even when the Lord is calling me to new challenges in service to His Church.
What is the virtue of temperance?
Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. (Paragraph 1809)