When I was writing about forming new habits for healthy, non-gluttonous eating, I remember suggesting that it was important to choose habits that you could practice every single day.
Make a list of behaviors that you can experiment with, starting with one. I really think you can do any sort of thing, but I suggest that you start with something that is clear and objective and that can be practiced proactively and at least daily. The more often you find opportunities to practice each habit, the faster it can become second nature.
We've just been given an example of good "daily" habits in Pope Francis's homilies. Let me give you some background, and then take you to the ones I mean.
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I admit that I went a bit off the rails with the concept of the "spiritual poverty" that Francis I means to attack. In the passage that I quoted when he was talking about the great "other kind of poverty" of our times, he was specifically referring to moral relativism:
There is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.
And that brings me to a second reason for my name.
Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace.
But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
I think it's particularly interesting that F1 asserts that relativism "endangers the coexistence of peoples." An awful lot of people assert that a relativistic attitude -- one that denies dogma qua dogma -- is essential for the coexistence of peoples. This must be rejected, however, because moral relativism admits the legitimacy of an every-man-for-himself, every-people-for-itself philosophy; tolerating a desire for genocide hardly promotes "coexistence."
Anyway. According to F1, the great spiritual poverty of our time is relativism which endangers the coexistence of peoples, and its opposite is a recognition of the common nature of all human beings which leads us to "[care] for the good of others, of everyone."
It's interesting how the one is a sort of flip-side, masquerading as the other. For the good intention of "coexistence" people reject the idea of absolute good or absolute truth, thinking that it is a belief in absolutes that destabilizes coexistence. And yet what is really required for coexistence is an absolute belief that other, "different" human beings are equally deserving of recognition of their humanity and a response of love and mercy. That human beings may never be used as a means to an end.
This comes largely from the legacy of John Paul II. The moral instruction of his massive work on the Theology of the Body can all be summed up in "Human beings may never be used as a means to an end."
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The sign of contradiction that today's poverty of spirit requires is a radical rejection of all that objectifies and seeks to use human persons as means to an end.
- It requires detachment from easy ways of thinking and easy ways of feeling comfortable and satisfied -- not physical comfort and satiation, but emotional comfort, self-satisfaction.
- It requires a non-judgmentalism of persons based in recognition of our common humanity, which necessarily implies admitting our common heritage of original sin and need for free gifts of grace.
Let's take a look at some of the themes that we've gone over here, of mercy, judging only by loving, and detachment.
- The means by which God judges us is identical to loving us. Which seems to teach us that the only right way to judge is to love.
- ...None of us can pat ourselves on the back for achieving whatever spiritual riches we have; ergo, even the most objectively horrible people must be reached out to with love and compassion and a recognition of "there but for the grace of God go I."
-"Living Holy Week following Jesus means learning how to go beyond ourselves... to reach out to others, to go to the outskirts of existence, to be the first to move towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation and help." That is, not just the physically repulsive but also the morally repulsive, are human too, and deserve to be treated as such.
So here are two "how do we live this every day?" suggestions from recent homilies.
On the theme of detachment: Complaining too often can distance us from Jesus, says Pope Francis
The disciples had had such high hopes that Jesus would be the one who would redeem Israel, but they thought their hopes were destroyed, he said on Wednesday.
“And they stewed, so to speak, their lives in the juice of their complaints and kept going on and on and on with the complaining,” the Pope said. “I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints.”
When all people can think of is how wrong things are going, Pope Francis said, the Lord is close, “but we don’t recognise him. He walks with us, but we don’t recognise him.”
“Complaining seems safer. It’s something certain. This is my truth: failure,” he said before adding that the Gospel story shows how very patient Jesus is with the disciples, first listening to them and then explaining things step by step, until they see him.
Complaining and griping, about others and about things in one’s own life, is harmful “because it dashes hope. Don’t get into this game of a life of complaints.”
On the theme of radical rejection of objectification: Quit gossiping and recover the value of meekness.
Christians need to recover the value of meekness, particularly when they are tempted to speak ill of one another, Pope Francis said during his early morning Mass on Tuesday.
Complaining behind each others’ backs is a temptation that comes “from the Evil One who does not want the Spirit to dwell among us and give peace, meekness to the Christian community,” the Pope said.
...The new life offered through the grace of baptism is something that Christians must work on developing; even though it “principally depends on the Spirit,” he added, it also takes effort on the part of each individual to cooperate with that grace.
He said the virtue of meekness, which is a key to harmony, has been “a bit forgotten.”
Meekness, he said, has “many enemies” and the first is gossip. “When one prefers gossiping, gossiping about another, it’s like clobbering another. This is normal, it happens to everyone, including me, it is a temptation of the Evil One.”
The struggle against such harmful chatter, he said, is something that continually sows tensions in parishes, families, neighborhoods and among friends. “But this is not the new life” promised by baptism, because when the Holy Spirit descends, “it gives birth to a new life within us, it makes us meek, charitable,” the Pope explained.
It looks like Francis is going to lead us on a sort of "little way" of detachment and of non-objectification. Really? This is what the Pope is going to tell the whole world to detach from? Griping? Really? This is the way the Pope is going to suggest that we begin loving our neighbor as ourselves? By abstaining from... gossip?
But it's utterly true.
Griping is a sign of undue attachment to an alternative "reality," something wished-for and unattainable. If we let go of what we wish would happen, and focus on what is happening, we can move forward. We should be working toward things that are and that can be, not on things that cannot be.
Gossiping is, really, using another person as a means to an end. In this case you are "using" another person as a character in a story you tell for entertainment.
These are maybe ways of starting small, of beginning at the beginning. The very fundamentals of detachment, of respecting persons as persons.
And what's great about these is that any of us can begin practicing habits of not-griping, of not-gossiping, today and every day. These are ways to begin immediately growing in the habit of truth and love.
And yet, griping and gossiping are such universal behaviours that these habits -- these new "Franciscan habits" -- appear truly radical. A radical rejection of attachment to what can't be had. A radical rejection of exploitation of persons. So radical we won't even talk about people behind our backs.