Today’s first reading seems to be answering the questions:
“What does a Christian look like?”
“How does a Christian act?”
“How does one recognize a follower of Christ?”
Whether young or old, female or male, we hear a description of the “ideal Christian”. The best news is the last sentence, which begins with these words: “For the grace of God has appeared….” We tend to get caught up in the earlier descriptions of conduct, examining our own behavior, wondering how we measure up. “I’m pretty good at this; that’s one of my faults; I always struggle with that.” We miss the good news here. The behavior and attitudes, the external changes, are a result of the transformation we have experienced in opening our hearts and welcoming God’s grace; they are the outcome of the internal changes. How did we get this message turned around? We focus on our behavior and berate ourselves for mis-steps and faults, always trying to “fix” the outside, to re-shape ourselves to fit the ideal image, to make sure we “measure up”, rather than allowing God’s grace to continually permeate us, transforming us from the inside.
The Gospel reading further develops this truth. The good that we do, the ways we serve each other, all the ways we give of ourselves and our gifts – we do this not in expectation of some reward, but because this is now our nature. This is who we are, transformed in Christ! Again, somewhere along the way we turned this around to thinking we will like ourselves better, and feel better about ourselves, if we act in the ways that get us the rewards of recognition, praise, status, a raise, or whatever else we think motivates us. Our transformed life is the reward! It is not external to us, not a fleeting feeling or transient title or trophy.
As a quilter, one of the things I have learned is that my quilting is much more accurate if I keep my eye on where I want the needle to go, not on the needle, as fascinating as that is to watch as those perfectly formed stitches are laid down. This same principle is true in marksmanship … you keep your eye on the target, not the bullet or the arrow. It is the same in the spiritual life. The Saints, like St. Frances Xavier Cabrini whose life we celebrate today, kept their eyes on God, not their own successes and failure. It is that kind of focus that allows us to continue, day after day through the challenges of life and not be discouraged, but be continually converted and transformed. As we hold our gaze on Christ, not our own footsteps, our hearts are also transformed.