Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday in the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Backing the Right Candidate

Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10; Psalm 89:20, 21-22, 25-26; Mark 3:22-30

I’ve been reading CNN online and, of course, much of the news centers on the recently completed primaries in South Carolina. One thing I find striking about the videos and photos from those stories is the passionate enthusiasm with which some people support their chosen candidate. In one photo a woman is depicted braving winter temperatures, standing by the side of a street, holding up a sign with her candidate’s name on it. And then of course there is all the shouting and cheering and dancing when the candidate actually wins and makes his/ her acceptance speech. What, I wonder, makes people so sure that they are backing the right candidate?

Something similar seems to be happening in the first reading today. It begins with all the tribes of Israel enthusiastically acknowledging David as their king. And their choice turns out to be a wise one. David proves himself a worthy king. Not only does he lead their armies to victory over the stronghold of Zion, but he also ushers in a golden age in the history of Israel. Don’t we have here a classic example of backing the right candidate? But, once again, we might well wonder how the people come to choose rightly.

And it’s not just in the political sphere that we can observe the importance of backing the right candidate. Everyday we are faced with elections of a perhaps more mundane but no less significant sort. We need to choose from different points of view regarding how we want to live our lives. More or less consciously, we are faced with decisions regarding how we wish to relate with others, how to raise our children, what careers to choose, which friends to keep… How sure are we that we’re backing the right candidate?

Perhaps more than anything else, the readings offer us a spiritual perspective on the question. Consider how the people of Israel come to be convinced that David is the right candidate. From a plain reading of the text, the people do two things. In the days past… it was you who led the children of Israel out and brought them back. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel…’ Attending carefully to David’s conduct thus far the people conclude that God has chosen him to be their king. What we have here is an example of spiritual discernment carried out on a national scale.

But it’s not always easy to discern God’s wishes. In the gospel, for example, although Jesus has been attracting huge crowds, the scribes reject him as one who relies on diabolical powers. Through his ministry, Jesus – not unlike David – has been bringing the children of Israel back to their heavenly Father. Yet the scribes somehow misinterpret his efforts. They accuse him of being possessed by Beelzebul. What seems to be lacking in the scribes is the crucial disposition for spiritual discernment, something that St. Ignatius of Loyola refers to as indifference. Part of this disposition is the resolve not to prejudge an issue but to be open to the truth wherever it may lead. Without indifference, we remain trapped by our own prejudices, unable to recognize what is right. Consequently, as long as we remain so trapped, we may end up not only backing the wrong candidate but even committing an everlasting sin.

What do we need from God in order to back the right candidate today?

1 comment:

  1. In my job, I deal with a wide spectrum of people: subordinates, peers and superiors. Over the years, I have cultivated this knack of 'sizing up' people within several minutes of the first encounter. Needless to say, I'm not always right, but I dare say that I am 75% of the time.

    I have always asked myself when assessing an individual: do I look at his/her track record? Emotional Quotient (EQ)? Character? Vision? Capacity to motivate/lead others? All of the above?

    Spiritual discernment is far more tricky because many nebulous factors come into play. For one, the person discerning may not be "in tune" with matters of the Spirit, or may not be sufficiently grounded in the Faith to make a judgement call. Then s/he may be distracted by other non-spiritual considerations (God's ways are not our ways; His thoughts are way above our thoughts). In short, spiritual discernment is multi-dimensional.

    Many years ago, a good priest gave me this advice for spiritual discernment: by the fruits you can judge if the tree is good or bad. It is a maxim that holds true for me even today.

    Deo gracias.