A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Eleventh Commandment

I must confess that I chronically violate the Eleventh Commandment. Yes…the Eleventh Commandment, as put forth by my very wise spiritual director in two words:

Don’t Compare.

At first, one might be ready to dismiss these words of advice as being too simple….but upon reflection, the spiritual dangers of constant comparison towards our peers become apparent.

The danger in comparison arises when we look at the gifts of others, and then dwell on the fact that we don’t have those gifts. This comparison becomes worse for our spiritual life when we dwell on the fact that we don’t have those gifts… and then assume that we are somehow unworthy to contribute to God’s Kingdom.

“She knows so much Catholic apologetics than I do- why should I even bother having this totally un-intellectual blog?” or “He can draw those beautiful pictures of the Saints, and I can’t do that- what do I have to give to God?”, or “She seems so pious when she’s praying the rosary and I always “zone out”- I should just give up on saying the rosary altogether, since I’ll never be like her.”

In this instance, comparison is really masked jealousy and implicit despair, whether we realize it or not. The definition of jealousy is coveting another’s good for one’s self….and in effect, that is what we are doing when we get down on ourselves for not having another’s gift. Despair occurs when we assume that the situation is beyond all repair- which is what happens when we assume that we somehow can’t “contribute” to the Body of Christ.

Now, while we can always take voice lessons so we can sing that hymn on key and read a book to “brush up” on our apologetic skills, we sometimes need to realistically assess our own weaknesses and realize that we will never be like our peers. However, just because we don’t have a particular gift that God has granted to someone else, it is spiritually harmful to despair by telling ourselves that we can’t be a good Catholic or contribute to the Body of Christ in some other way that matches our own gifts and talents.

In order to overcome this tendency to despair, we must have hope! We must take hope in the fact that if we submit ourselves to God’s Will and stop putting pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone, He will fill us with His grace so that we may be a mirror of Christ using our own gifts and talents.

A perfect example from the Catholic Tradition of two people with differing gifts and talents is that of St. Francis and St. Dominic. Francis was very poetic and didn’t emphasize the intellectual tradition to a large extent. Moreover, he tended to operate his Order with relatively little planning, trusting that God would provide for his friars day to day. St. Dominic, on the other hand, founded his entire Order of Preachers with a heavy intellectual overtone and set up practical plans for the long-term running of his order.

What if Francis had told himself, “I’m not organized like Dominic- I should just give up on starting my Order”? However, Francis did place his trust in God, and for whatever organizational skills he lacked, God gave him the gift of charismatic love….and that love was what kept the Order together. Likewise, what if Dominic said to himself, “That Francis is so on-fire with charisma….I’m more reserved…I should just give up on this Order”? Well, let’s just say we’d have a lot more Albegensians running around today!

Putting these hypotheticals aside, the fact is that these holy men didn’t compare! They looked at their own gifts and talents, offered those talents up to God, and both turned out to be mirrors of Christ in very different but equally wonderful ways! The one similarity that united both men was that they both were on fire with love for Christ….and like them, that is hopefully the one thing that we can all have in common, despite our many gifts.

Breaking the Eleventh Commandment isn’t so much a discrete act as a habit that we get into, which makes it all the more dangerous because it is so difficult for us to end that pattern of comparison. However, we must have hope that God can break us free from this habit. First, it is vital to pray every single day against the propensity to compare yourself negatively to others. Secondly, every time that you find yourself dwelling on another person’s gift that you don’t have, try and name just one talent that God has given you. If you can’t think of any gift- which is often the case if you get down on yourself- just tell God that you want to submit yourself to His will using any talents that he might draw out of you in the future. In that regard, be patient…you might not think that you have any gifts to share with the Church now, but he will make those apparent in time. St. Therese had that problem, too….she couldn’t figure out where she fit into the Body of Christ….until she concluded “my gift is love.” Ultimately, love is the best gift that one can have and the gift towards which all our other talents should flow.

Speaking of St. Therese, I think it’s appropriate to close with an excerpt from Story of a Soul that describes perfectly the different buy equally beautiful ways in which God has created each of us:

“One day I was worried about the happiness of the blessed in Heaven. I knew that some saints are greater than other, being possessed of more glory. Well, what about the lesser saints? are they unhappy because of this? Pauline took my little thimble and a large drinking glass belonging to Papa. She filled both to the brim with water. Then, smiling into my anxious face, she told me to look closely. "Which is fuller? The thimble or the glass?" At once I understood. The little thimble represented one soul, the large glass another. Each could hold no more water than Pauline had put in it. Without any trouble I realized the example could also be applied to Heaven. Here the saints reflect just that beauty and perfection which God had decided for them. Each is "full", and there can never be any sorrow because some are little thimbles and others large glasses.”

What use would it be for the thimble to dwell on the fact that it wasn’t a wine glass? It would be better served to focus on how it can be filled to capacity. Similarly, if we follow the Eleventh Commandment, we can be assured that we too will be filled to the brim with God’s Love and Goodness.


Anonymous TheresaMF said...

Awesome. Your theoretical comparisons made me chuckle, as they are almost verbatim from my thoughts. "She knows so much more [Insert Cool Catholic Thing Here] than I do--why should I even bother having this totally un-intellectual blog?" LOL. Ah well.

The Franciscan/Dominican comparison has also been in my thoughts, as I read a highly intellectual (*cough* ;) book about Mendicant Preaching in Medieval Florence ("the Friars Preachers reinforced the hegemony of the popolo grasso"). Yes, difference is ok. Dominic is not Francis, and vice versa. Not only isn't, but shouldn't be, as you said! Or like St. Paul, pointing out that the body can't be completely composed of eyes and other "higher" members--where would they be without the feet, or those obscure muscles in your legs that hold your kneecap in place, or whatever. We all have a role in God's plan, a place in the order of the universe that adds to His glory.

It's a good reminder that we have to be faithful to what God wants for *us*, not for others.

God bless.

8:36 PM  

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