doing the right thing for the right reason

“oh the ultimate treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason”

this quote from t.s. eliot/thomas moore captures a wonderful bit of spiritual wisdom. it is classic moral theology that the act PLUS right intention is the ideal for which we strive. of course it is very difficult to judge people’s intentions. the act-intention is most effective when it is done as self examination since we ourselves have the most control only over our own actions. of course, each of us has various reasons and intentions for doing what we do. sometimes we know the intentions and sometimes we just act.

so, allow me to reflect on a personal pet peeve. it comes at the expense of being judgmental since indeed i really do not know others’ intentions–my interpretations can be very wrong. people often show others a good work that they have done. in our digital age this is done instantly in facebook as well as other platforms. the good work might be volunteering at an event, giving food/money to someone in need, etc. we see the act/result but usually we do not know intentions.

was that $10,000 donated because of pure generosity or because the charitable donations deadline for taxes is almost here?

the “good works” facebook post will get all sorts of thumbs up reactions and various comments of how generous/thoughtful/kind the act was. the person who posted it feels good about all the positive affirmations. i have done this myself! for some, this might be the primary reason to do the good work: praise from others.

i have always liked the gospel reading that is proclaimed at liturgy on ash wednesday from matthew 6 that speaks to this spiritual dynamic:

“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

“oh the ultimate treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason”

indeed, the act is what we see and good works are preferable to sin. we ought to give thanks for the good things that people are doing all the time! but right intention purifies the act. and like all moral actions, we are being shaped in the process. of course, all of this is formation by the Holy Spirit of the individual. when we are open to the Spirit’s guidance and promptings, our intentions and acts come closer to the christian ideal. being shaped in this fashion shapes us in the virtue of humility. praise from others is good but as a primary motivation is just a spiritual stroking of one’s ego– under the guise of good works

i hope that the Spirit inspires us to all sorts of good works according to our various gifts. may we respond to those in need receive compassion and mercy from us. may jesus’ mandate of love given in the example of the washing of feet (john 13) be our motivation to love.

i pray these graces for you and me that we may all grow in the humble service of love

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