05 November 2007

Of The Road To Hell.


From the November parish newsletter:

The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. I have no shortage of good intentions; indeed, each time I approach the Sacrament, following the words of the Prayer Book, I make a firm intention (at least I intend to make a firm intention), “to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and [to walk] from henceforth in his holy ways.” But now it’s Monday morning, I’m under-caffeinated, my intentions are inconvenient, and hell looms on the horizon. Good intentions abound, but how to make the transition from intention to actual obedience? Too often, knowing what we ought to do is not the problem; rather, lack of motivation is.

Love is the answer, and those great spiritual directors Tom Petty and St. Paul tell us how it works. In “The Waiting,” Petty croons about the change that came when, after having had lots of mere girlfriends, he found his true love – a change that transformed intention into action. To that love he sings, “but you’re the only one who has ever known how/ to make me want to live like I want to live.” A noble and good life had been a nice idea, a fine theory, a good intention. But now, love has changed him, there is someone to be good for, someone to whom to offer a good life.

Is not this what the Gospel – “the power of God unto salvation” – does in and through us? Again, as St. Paul argues in the first chapters of Romans, ignorance of life’s “oughts” is not the problem, “for what the law requires is written on [our] hearts” (2.15). But the Gospel enters love into the equation, love which brings life. Having been loved beyond our knowing or worthiness – “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (3.21) – now there is Someone for whom to live well, Someone to whom offer one’s life in love and gratitude. Love changes everything. “Therefore,” says Paul, “in view of the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (12.1).

Though it may be true in theory that virtue is its own reward, being good just to be good can be a bother. Or, as someone else has said, “discipline without desire is drudgery.” But love is a motivating force that trumps drudgery by arousing desire; it makes me “want to live like I want to live,” to offer my body as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.”

 

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