INSTRUMENTS OR OBSTACLES?
I recently read Soren Kierkegaard's famous story about the clown and the burning village. The story goes like this:
"Once upon a time, a circus in Denmark was burning down. The director of the circus sent a clown (who was dressed up and prepared to perform) to the neighboring village to ask for help, because there was danger that the flames could even spread to the village, consuming the dry fields and the entire harvest in their wake. The clown ran to the village and asked its inhabitants to go with haste to the circus to extinguish the fire. But the villagers believed that this was only an excellent trick designed to get them to attend the performance in large numbers. They applauded and even cried with laughter. But the clown wanted to cry more than to laugh. In vain he tried to persuade them and explain to them that it was neither a trick nor a joke, that he had to be taken seriously, and that the circus was really on fire. His pleas only increased the laughter; the villagers believed that he was giving the performance of a lifetime. This continued until finally the flames reached the village. Help came too late, and both the circus and the village were consumed by the flames."
The word coherent comes from the Latin word cohaerere, which means "to be united." Therefore, if I say one thing and do another, I am not coherent. My words and actions are not "united." The reaction of the villagers in the story was normal. A clown is a comedian, a joker, and what he was saying, although it was true, seemed like a joke because it came from a clown. If a man from the village, a person known to be reliable, had said the same thing, would people have reacted in the same way?
It is important to keep in mind the fact that our actions have eternal consequences. Many souls depend on my "yes" to God and what He asks of me, or on my "no" to God. We must examine our conscience and ask ourselves if we are being coherent with what we believe and if we want to live in coherence with what we say. Are we being instruments or obstacles for those around us? Are we leading souls to God or driving them away from Him? Are we perhaps leading them to ourselves?
The opposite of coherent is confusing, vague, meaningless, incoherent, disconnected, illogical. Do I or my way of life fall into this group of adjectives? If we speak of modesty and do not dress modestly, this is confusing and contradictory to those who hear us. If we talk about God without spending time in silent prayer with Him, letting Him speak to us, we become nothing more than someone who only gives empty speeches. We cannot encourage others to look to God if we are looking elsewhere. We cannot talk about helping poor, hungry, children while throwing away food. We cannot go to Sunday Mass or daily Mass and then participate in certain conversations, watch certain programs, or do certain things that we know do not please God, even though they please me. We cannot give lessons in mortification and discipline if we are unable to control ourselves when chocolate is put in front of us. It can happen to us like the clown in the story, who, even if what is said is true, will not be convincing precisely because he who says it is not living what he preaches.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "If the world is as it is, it is because I am as I am.” Those who help change the world are the authentic witnesses, the consistent witnesses - not "clowns" but genuine instruments. An instrument is something or someone that can be used to achieve an end. An obstacle is a person or thing that hinders movement. In our case, we can allow God to use us to help save souls.
Is my lack of coherence an obstacle to others? Is my testimony sterile? Am I giving witness of a false Christ rather than the authentic Jesus? We are called to bear fruit and in abundance, but this is impossible if we are not faithful and coherent, if our actions, our way of being, our way of dressing, do not go hand in hand with what we say.
We often wonder if this or that food is healthy for us. But, do we ask ourselves, “Is my current life helping or hindering to advance the Gospel?” (cf. Phil 1:12) To ask this question is spiritually healthy for the soul, because it helps us to reflect, to pray to change, and therefore to grow.
Our Blessed Mother Mary reveals herself to us as an instrument of God's redeeming love. Let us look at her, and ask her to teach us how to be docile instruments in the hands of her Son.
Sr. Clare Crockett, SHM
HM Magazine nº 158. January-February 2011