An Encouraging Word 2-2-12

Shining light on the good

Before men are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Sirach 15:17

This whole column is based on a decision I made almost 10 years ago — a decision to pay attention to ordinary Catholics going about their lives and to try to find basic goodness to affirm, bless and encourage.

I was tired of those in the church who were always “mousing for vermin,” always looking for evidences of evil to condemn. The practice of paying attention, over those 10 years, has become my favorite personal spiritual discipline.

One of the things I noticed about the recent Christmas season was the tendency of local and national news organizations to step out of their routines and throw in a few “feel-good” stories of people helping people “in the spirit of the season.”

I know for a fact that people do heroic things for others all year round, but unfortunately they seem to get little attention by choice and by design.

In a world with so many options vying for our attention, many of them destructive and evil, we must develop the spiritual discipline of being able to direct our focus and concentrate our attention, rather than having it directed for us.

For good or evil, we give power to what we pay attention to. In this day and age, we absolutely must be able to direct our attention away from some options and toward others.

Our future as a society may hang on whether enough of us can learn to choose to direct our focus and concentrate our attention to what is good, what gives life, and away from what kills and destroys. Ultimately, we cannot force this onto people. They must be able to choose it for themselves.

Some say we need more prisons, more police and more laws. Unfortunately, more prisons, more police and more laws will not break this sad pattern.

What we really need is more complicated. What we really need are more convincing and effective spiritual leaders who can influence more people to move from where they are to where God wants them to be. What we really need are people who can help other people direct their focus and concentrate their attention toward good in a world of destructive options.

I am certainly not advocating a general denial of the harsh realities of our troubled world. What I am advocating is paying attention to, and shining more light on, healthy role models, hopeful situations and healing practices. For good or evil, we give power to what we pay attention to.

Dealing with reality does not always have to translate into focusing on the worst the world has to offer. Surely, dealing with reality can sometimes translate into focusing on the best the world has to offer. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes — the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Father J. Ronald Knott


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