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Spiritual Optimism

As we journey towards God who is our ultimate goal and a happy end of life, there are many obstacles that lay on the path of perfection. One of the most common obstacles especially for those committed to the life of faith is called discouragement, a loss of confidence or enthusiasm, maybe even doubt that the path which I have undertaken can ever be completed by me. Discouragement usually comes as a result of a problem with our vision. The more we see our own brokenness, sinfulness, inability to overcome certain weaknesses in our spiritual life, the more discouraged we may become. How, then, can we overcome discouragement? The common misconception is that we have to overcome our sinfulness in order not to be discouraged by its effects in our lives. This may be easier said than done, simply because overcoming sinfulness and growing in holiness while at the same time being weighed down by discouragement may be too big a task for most. There must be a way of lifting discouragement even in our sin afflicted reality in order to move towards holiness with confidence and enthusiasm. How can we do that? Simply by adjusting our vision to be in line with the vision of God.

Have you ever reflected on God's vision? Have you ever wondered about God looking at me, at you, at every human person? What does He look at? What does He see? What does He focus on? Surely God sees all things, all the good and all the bad that exists. When he looks at me, though, what does God see? I'm sure he sees everything, the good that is within me and the bad that is in me. God sees all things. But what does God focus on as he looks at me? Is there a focus that God has? I think that there is. I think that God looks at the good that is within us in order to encourage us and help us move forward. I would like to use 2 examples from Sacred Scripture to illustrate this.

The first example comes from the book of Job. The story of Job begins with God and the devil having a discussion about a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. We are told at the beginning of the book that Job was a good man, faithful to God and kind to his family and neighbours. God is proud of Job and chooses to point him out to the devil as an example of a good human being. The devil, on the other hand, keeps coming up with excuses why Job has not failed God yet. The entire book of Job deals with the problem of pain and suffering and faithfulness to God especially in moments of difficulty and doubt. The point I want to make here is one of comparison between the way God looks at Job and the way the devil looks at Job. God looks at Job and chooses to focus his vision on the goodness that is in Job. The devil, on the other hand, chooses to focus his vision on the bad.

In the Gospel readings Jesus looked at Nathaniel, who dismissed Jesus based on the place of his origin by saying: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”, and Jesus spoke of him: “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. Jesus chooses to look at Nathaniel with a positive view, assuming the best about him and not the worst. Jesus could have easily called Nathaniel a know it all, one who speaks without thinking of the consequences. After all,

Nathaniel really said what everyone else was thinking: “Can the Messiah come from Nazareth, a place of no great reputation”. Jesus chooses to see the good in Nathaniel, He chooses to focus on the good and to build on it. And this is the greatness of God.

God sees all things, and yet when it comes to looking at us, God chooses to focus on the good. God wants to encourage, strengthen, heal, and have us believe that we can go and sin no more. He speaks these words to every person he heals, he encourages them by giving them hope. Jesus does not dismiss sin by looking at goodness, on the contrary, he makes people believe that they can overcome sin, that sin does not have to rule over them, that sin does not have to discourage them.

In our spiritual life we always have a choice of vision, where to place our focus. The reality of those of us who have not yet achieved perfect union with God is this, we are a mixture of good and bad actions. Focus on the good, and try to increase the good by growing in virtue and you will slowly see that the bad will dissipate on its own. Just as two opposite realities such as light and darkness, life and death, heat and cold cannot coexist with each other but one always overcomes the other, so is the case with the good and the bad within us. If we allow the good to grow, the bad will slowly be overwhelmed. As we grow in virtues sins cannot remain. A person who struggles with greed and who chooses to share his/her material goods with the poor on a regular basis will soon discover that greed has given way to generosity in his/her heart. A person who struggles with lust and chooses to look at every human person with chaste love of God will soon discover that lust has been replaced by chastity and charity. A person who is easily discouraged by their sins and chooses to focus on the good things in his/her life, on the joy of serving God and on the mercy that God chooses to offer us will soon realize how blessed he/she is and will find encouragement in his/her journey towards God who looks at us with love.

It is common that when we commit a sin we are often discouraged. When we are made aware of our sins it is then that we should humble ourselves with joy before the Lord and give thanks for His mercy. Focus on the positive, on forgiveness, on yet another lesson in humility and poverty, and move forward with joy that God has not given up on you. Be encouraged and stay positive, and God will be closer to you than you may imagine

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