One of the great tasks in our spiritual and moral life is to fix our point of reference. Simply put, is Jesus Christ our point of reference, or is our reference point where we stand viz a viz others?

Many, today, in order to assess their moral state, consider their position in relation to the vast numbers of people that surround them. Perhaps they will consider that there are some who are surely holier than they are. Yes, surely internationally known figures (like Mother Theresa was), surely they  rank up there way above us. Perhaps too in a more local way, many will see the holy ones who attend daily Mass or frequent Eucharistic Adoration or other devotions, and conclude that these sorts of people rank ahead of them in holiness and moral excellence.

But then comes the dark side of such relative moral ranking. For many of the same folks will also think of others as behind them and with relief say, “Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I am not like that drug dealer over there, or that prostitute, or that corrupt businessman or politician.”

And thus, most of us who use this point of reference will rank ourselves somewhere in the middle, and feel reasonably content. But this sort of contentedness is not the sort of assessment that helps us to be zealous to grow in holiness. And, more problematically, how I rank among others is not a valid standard, or meaningful assessment.

For indeed, we must find and fix our true point of reference on Jesus. He is the Way we must walk, he is the Truth to whom we must conform, He is the Life we must live. Jesus must be our moral reference, our moral compass.

Someone say, “Lord have mercy!” For now the standard shifts from a mediocre, middle of the pack, “at least I’m not as bad as so and so” reference point, to the very person of Jesus who also added: “You must be perfect, as the heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:43).

Thus, when Jesus is our standard and point of reference, we can rightly and with true humility and hope cry out “Lord, have mercy!” For with our sights fixed on Jesus, pride cannot long endure, and true humility begins to flourish.

For looking to Jesus, we know it is going to take boatloads of grace and mercy to ever close the gap between his holiness and our present unseemly state. Only grace and mercy will help us meet the standard that is Jesus himself.

To illustrate, go with me to the upper room, to the Last Supper. And as Mark’s gospel relates,

As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely it is not I?” (Mark 14:18-19)

“Surely it is not I?” And thus we see, none of us can be certain of our innocence in the presence of Jesus, in the presence of holiness Himself. Yes, in the presence of Innocence Himself, none of us are sure of our own innocence. Somehow, when Christ is our reference point, we see our truer state, and in a salutary grief and sober awareness of our capacity for sin, we simply and sincerely cry out: Kyrie, eleison! Lord, have mercy!

But now you see that we are thus equipped to trust Him, and to learn to depend on his mercy. He is not just the one who gets up over the top, or supplies what we lack. He is the one who has brought us back to life when we were dead in our sins! He is the one on whom we must wholly depend.

Too easily and smugly we rank ourselves among others, and too easily we falsely justify ourselves in this way. We grade ourselves on a kind of “moral curve” and thus become so easily prideful, self assured, and lacking in gratitude.

But when Jesus is our reference point, as He should be, we know our need to be saved. And perhaps we cry out the words of an old gospel hymn: “It’s me Oh Lord, Standin’ in the need of prayer!”

And looking to Him in this way, we may feel grieved, or overwhelmed, but in the end these are salutary, for they set the stage for, and usher in a kind of joyful humility and an immense gratitude, for what Jesus has done for us.

Knowing our unfathomable need for grace and mercy, how grateful we are to receive it! And being grateful, we are changed, we are different. Gratitude is a kind of joy. And when gratitude rushes into our chastened hearts, an awful lot of poison goes away. Anger, fear, resentment, ingratitude, greed, disappointment, desire for revenge, envy, jealously and so many other poisons, begin to vanish. And the joy of gratitude begins to usher in serenity, peace, love, generosity, forgiveness, mercy, contentment, and so many other gifts.

Yes, look to Jesus! Your neighbor is not the standard, not the point of reference, Jesus is. And while this look may bewilder at first, is is also a look that will save and bless us. Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

14 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Monsignor, I have made this mistake for most of my life. It is only now that I have been through a devastating divorce that I can better see the truth of my life in relation to Christ.

    Thank you for posting.

    • Suzana Malavasic says:

      Dear Jennifer, I too went through a devastating divorce after 31 years of marriage. I literally lost my mind; all the while thinking that I was clinging to Jesus. My dear friend who sponsored me as I became a Catholic kept telling me, “Your life is like a ball of yarn that has fallen and caused the yarn to get all tangled and knotted. So you hand it over to Jesus to take care of… but as soon as you have given it up to Him… you grab it back and try to fix it yourself.” Sadly, I was too depressed by my circumstances to really take her advice. So, one terrible night I broke into my husband’s new home to try and convince him that he was wrong in wanting a new wife. I ended up in jail, arrested for domestic violence (a felony) and when on bail, spent two weeks in a psychiatric ward. I kept praying and crying through it all… but I doubt that I had learned to keep my eyes focused on Jesus. It happened one day, however, as I was working at my ‘community service’ that I saw people I knew watching me. Immediately my pride welled up and I began to pity myself for being falsely accused and mistreated.
      Then the LORD spoke to me, “Do you not see me… being judged and sentenced… tortured and carrying a cross on which I died … for you.”
      That is what changed my life… and finally… still a long way off… I began to walk toward Him…my hand in His wounded hand.

  2. Molly Simmons says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful piece. Indeed, we should fix our eyes only on Jesus–the author and finisher of our faith.

  3. Matt says:

    Thanks. I needed that.

  4. momofsix says:

    Another great article; thank you!

  5. Plain Catholic says:

    Thank you for the encouragement to continue to keep our eyes on the prize which is Jesus; and to resist the relativistic opinionating of secular neighbors.

  6. Peter Wolczuk says:

    “Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I am not like that drug dealer over there, or that prostitute, or that corrupt businessman or politician.”
    But that’s so much more comfortable. However, if I’m a long way from either the north, or south, pole I can still use them as a more accurate point of reference for my entire journey, as in a life journey. Sure I need the local landmarks and reference points but, forgetting to keep the ultimate reference in mind will be disasterous as I move to other places with other reference points – some of which I don’t know about.
    I look back at my metaphor, in reference to the wonderous parables of the New Testament, and find it lacking but I can only move toward that wonderous goal by continuing to accept the uncomfortable lessons, as well as the comfortable ones.
    Very tempted to look at my progress over the last ten years (from taking on uncomfortable lessons as well as the comfortable) and pat myself on the back so that I can plateau here but; using only myself as a comparison is so much more isolating and lonely than the one which has been described above.
    Yet, if I compare myself to other people by saying that; even though I’m not as close to holy as this person or that person; I’m better than others the road to pecking order and its vicarious revenge opens. If someone in a late model luxury vehicle cuts me off in traffic then I may suppress anger (the driver may have influence to cause me to get traffic tickets – unfounded judgement) until I see someone driving a “beater” vehicle and cause that person grief.
    Assumed judgement about that person’s unworthyness to hide from my cowardice? What if that person is driving a beater because of great sacrifice to be a good provider as a single parent? But, what if I don’t forgive the person in the luxury person? Wouldn’t I be rejecting an uncomfortable lesson from the Saving Grace of the Cross; “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”?
    I find myself sorely tempted to plateau with the progress of the last ten years of uncomfortable lessons but, the Infinite potential calls me, even as I fear it and the discomforts and the necessity for humility involved. This morning’s bible reading took me to Numbers 12:3 where it is stated that Moses was the most humble man on earth and, although there’s a temptation to compare myself to him there’s also a challenge to compare myself to a greater Humble Heart, as in Matthew 11:29.
    To avoid hijacking the lessons in the main article I feel obliged to state that the main article was an inspiration to bring these previously disjointed thoughts together.
    And the conclusion, “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
    For reasons, which are mysterious to me, the compassion for a close friend who has been suffering from cancer, and may have died, a thought came to me. He may have died and been freed from the pain but, I’ve been unable to confirm reports of this yet however, I recalled the long ago time when his wife asked me (seemingly “out of the blue”) if I had seen any pictures of the Body of Christ lately. A bit later I told him how, in the previous day or two, I had been reading up on a painting of the Body after removal from the Cross. It was of historical note because it used a lot of perspective, including foreshortening, which was new at the time of the painting.
    This immediately led to a thought of how we celebrate the Nativity shortly after soltice. A good time for a celebration as the days grow longer; especially in most of history when home heating and lighting was done by the “sweat of the brow” before our recent modern detachmet when we flip a light switch or turn a thermostat.
    Some historians however, have looked to the shepherds watching the flocks by night and said that they only stayed up through the night when the ewes were giving birth; in case some needed help with difficulties or had calcium shortage from supporting the fetus. So, if He was born during this time – how appropriate it seems to me. When would be a better time for the Lamb of God to be born than during the lambing season? God’s plan is perfect and all the parts fit – from the smallest part to the greatest part. However, every day is good for being grateful for the Nativity.

    • Gitanjali says:

      God bless you, Bro Peter! I loved reading you and felt tears welling in my eyes.
      Gita – Chennai – India.

  7. one anonymous says:

    I was just reading St. Teresa of Avila yesterday and she was writing that we are like water in a glass, that if we look at the water absent of the sun (Son) shining into it, it looks clear and clean but when the sun (Son) comes to shine into the water we can see there is dust and particles and much murkiness in the water. I like that!! She goes on to say, “In this stage true humility is gained so that the soul doesn’t care at all about saying good things of itself, nor that others say them.”

    St. Teresa of Avila, “The Book Of Her Life” – Chap. 20, (at the very end, last page of Chap. 20 contains this and so much more good.)

  8. Gitanjali says:

    Blessings upon you, Msgr. Pope for this wonderful piece.

    Surely, Christ is the centre that holds together all that is. Vat Council II summarized centuries of Christian prayers and reflectionon Him, both inspired and inspiring, thus: “For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings.(25) He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: “To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth” (Eph. 11:10). (Gaudium et Spes, No 45).

    Yet it is a fact that certain segments of Chistianity itself have arrogantly thrown a sort of dark cloak on Jesus’ shining face and upmounted other secondary stuff as dolatry down the centuries.

    I am fortunate to live in a time when unicity, uniqueness and centrality of Christ ares once again strongly practised daily and…boldly preached from the most visible pulpits.

    Gitanjali – Chennai – India.

  9. RichardGTC . says:

    Amen. That is a good point about the Apostles. At least, they knew they didn’t know themselves. St. Peter thought he knew himself when he said that he would always stand by Jesus. We all know how that turned out. St. Augustine said something like, God let me know you that I may know myself. Here is one thing he learned about himself, and about us, by learning about God:

    “Thou therefore, Lord, madest them; who art beautiful, for they are beautiful; who art good, for they are good; who art, for they are; yet are they not beautiful nor good, nor are they, as Thou their Creator art; compared with Whom, they are neither beautiful, nor good, nor are. This we know, thanks be to Thee. And our knowledge, compared with Thy knowledge, is ignorance.” –St. Augustine from Book XI of the Confessions.

  10. Don says:

    Amen! I needed this reminder.

  11. Robbie J says:

    Thank you again, Msgr. Pope.That part about gratitude is especially poignant. No one can be proud and grateful at the same time. For it takes humility to be truly grateful; and humility is the starting point for real conversion. And even if we were to attain a certain level of holiness, it would only be because of Divine help, for we could not do it on our own strength. God bless you.
    Robbie J – Singapore

  12. Peter Wolczuk says:

    But, what about those who don’t like some presented idea and, instead of bringing facts or logic to dispute that something, react by totally negating that which they don’t like by comparing it unfavourably with the best. “What does it matter in the grand scheme of things?” or some such.
    The result is a lopsided, and therefore false, version of the truth. If, somehow, this is brought to bear on their cherished ideas then there’s always, “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!” Isaiah 22:13 and
    “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 1 Corinthians 15:32, as some (many) suppress evidence to the contrary.

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