“CAN YOU LET YOUR SHADOW TAKE THE CREDIT?” (Mt 23:1-12): 19 February 2008 (Tueday)

“CAN YOU LET YOUR SHADOW TAKE THE CREDIT?”  (Mt 23:1-12):  19 February 2008 (Tueday)

Today’s Readings

There is an ancient story about a man who was so good that the angels asked God to give him the gift of miracles.  God wisely told his angels to ask the man first if that was what he wanted.

So one day the angels visited this holy man and offered him the gift of healing by hands.  But the saint—for that was what he was—refused.   Then they offered him the gift of converting souls.  Once again the good man refused.  Finally, they offered him the gift of granting virtues.  The good man smiled politely, but again he turned the angels down.  The angels insisted that he choose a gift or they would choose one for him.

“Very well,” he replied.  “I ask that I may do good to others without ever knowing it.”

The angels were perplexed.  They held a meeting among themselves to discuss the good man’s unconventional request until they finally reached a consensus:  They would ask God to give this man a holy shadow.  Every time the saint’s shadow fell behind him, it would have the power to cure disease, ease pain, and comfort sorrow.  And so every time the saint’s shadow trailed behind him, it acquired this gift of miracles:  His shadow made arid land green.  It caused withered plants to bloom.  It brought forth clear running water to dried-up brooks.  It restored sick and pale children back to health.  And finally it gave joy to men and women who were in sorrow.

The saint simply went about his daily life bringing about good the way stars give out light without ever being aware of it.  The people respected his humility and followed behind him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles.  The saint began to be known as the “Holy Shadow.”

In the gospel reading today, the Lord criticizes the Pharisees and scribes for not practicing what they preach, as well as for loving the limelight.  They are the exact opposite of the Holy Shadow in the story, a man both holy and humble.  The Holy Shadow was so holy and humble, in fact, that he accepted the angels’ gift if and only if he would never know that he was doing good to others.

Talk about pure motivation!  We often do good with at best a mixture of motivations–some of them good, others a bit selfish.  It’s really quite human.  I remember a conversation I had with a priest when I was in high school.  I asked him, “If I have both good and selfish motivations for helping someone, should I still do it?”  The priest quipped, “If it’s good, just do it!  But change your motivation!”

The Holy Shadow didn’t have that problem.  He wanted to be able to do goodwithout even the benefit of knowing it.  He was willing to let his shadow take the credit for it!  That’s true humility–and holiness!

It seems that humility and holiness tend to go together.  Maybe we can even say that the best measure of holiness is one’s humility.  And the Lord was exactly like that.  The 13th-century visionary Juliana of Norwich described the Christ in her visions as loving and “courteous”–i.e., one who extends courtesy.  In other words, humble.  Teresa of Avila was struck by the same qualities of the Lord.  She counsels that when we pray, we should imagine Christ looking at us with great love and great humility.

I think the day we are willing not to take the credit for our good works, the day we are free to give it up, that’s a sign that we may have acquired the true humility and holiness embodied by the Lord.

Here’s a Quick Question for you today:  “How important is recognition for you when you do something good?”  In other words, are you willing to ‘let your shadow take the credit’?  Can you do good freely–free, that is, from the desire for recognition and reward.  Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.

(image: from benra.typepad.com)

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