October 19, 2011
The Virtue of Respect
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
The Meaning of Respect
Sometimes words are used so often they lose their meaning. In our society, “respect” is one of those words. It seems everyone wants and demands respect. Woody Allen, in one of his movies, describes a man with these words: “This man is an utter fake, is lazy, stubborn and not worth the time of day.” Then he adds, “I say that with all due respect.”
If you look at the origin of the word “respect,” you’ll find that it comes from two Latin words, re, meaning “back” and spicere, meaning to “to look at.” Respect means that we “stand back and look at a person as he is.” The opposite of respect is “manipulate.” That comes from the Latin words “hand” and “to join or put together.” As we use the word “manipulate” in our language, it means to mold or influence a person into something he or she is not, much like molding or manipulating something out of a piece of clay.
Isn’t that what advertising is really about—making people think they need something when in fact they do not? Advertising is not about suggesting you give the product a try. It's about convincing you that you can’t live without it. I heard on TV the other day that, when you shop, advisors suggest not taking the kids because they want everything. The other suggestion I heard was to shop as much as you can using cash, because it's easy to charge $100 on your credit card. But to hand over a $100 or five 20s is difficult. That’s because a bill is real money and a credit card is invisible money.
God Has Ultimate Respect for Us
When we speak of respect, think of it as an aspect of charity and justice. There is no one who respects us more than God. He created all of us out of love and made us in his image and likeness. That means he made us free and able to think and reflect. Of course, we are aware from our own experiences that our will is weak. Yet, with the knowledge and freedom we have, humanity can do unbelievably marvelous acts and deeds. A man may lay down his life for his neighbor. At the same time a man may also take an innocent person’s life. Wars and all moral evils are man-made. Evil cannot come from God, who is the source of all good.
But doesn’t God run the universe? We say that God is in charge and that nothing happens without his consent. Those statements are true, but we have to understand them from God’s wisdom and power. We have to realize that no human being can truly understand the Creator of the universe. Many people try to do exactly that. For example, people will say, “But if God knows someone is going to reject him, why does he create such a person?”
First of all, God does not create people to reject him. He creates human beings whom he wants with him for all eternity. God will not force anyone, but, in order to create humans with freedom which allows them to say, “I love,” God must also give them the choice of saying, “I hate you.” To be forced to say “I love you, Lord” would really mean that we are not free and that we are merely robots compelled by God’s will. If someone rejects God, it is that person’s choice, not God’s. But why doesn’t God create all good people? He did exactly that at the time of creation with our first parents.
But God also gave them free will, which they used to disobey him and rebel against him. We have what we know as human’s “fall” from grace. Why doesn’t God prevent people from sinning? It would make God a manipulator. God will not force anyone to love even though it is his will that they do so. In our world, where there seem to be no secrets, we see evil all around us. The good that people do tends to be more hidden and not make headlines. But good is all around. Because we are made in God’s image, we are also inclined to do good acts.
Yes, God runs the world, but he does not force people to do anything they don't want to do. He gives grace, but God’s grace is not in any way like twisting someone’s arm. Mary’s choice to become the mother of the Jesus, the Messiah, was a free act. Jesus’ prayer of, “Yes, Father, your will be done,” in the Garden of Gethsemane was also free. Even the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross were free; the religious leaders who tried Jesus unjustly were free.
God Providence and Care Are a Mystery
Of course, there is the mystery of God’s providence and care. There are six and a half billion people on earth at the present time. God cares for each of them with an infinite love. God can and does guide, but never at the expense of a person’s free will. The choices people make are their own.
Only God has the power and the freedom to stand back and allow every person to make his or her choices in life. Yet God guides humankind within the circumstances of each person’s life and free choices. We want to say, “But how?” And that’s where we simply must stand back and humbly admit that we are too limited to understand how all that happens. After all, we have difficulty figuring out our own choices and their consequences let alone the dynamics of billions of interacting people. What is truly amazing is that, given all the evil decisions in the world, God can bring about so much good.
The greatest example is, of course, Jesus’ own death. He was crucified not because God planned that terrible end for him. It was Jesus’ enemies who acted freely, albeit with hate in their hearts. We can imagine Satan jumping up and down with glee, knowing Jesus was defeated. But he was wrong. We know that terrible act resulted in the world being redeemed by Jesus’ death.
We all experience manipulation in our lives by those around us, by those in power, by advertisers, politicians and even preachers. But we probably have to admit that, in our own weakness, we have manipulated others also. The reason it happens is because humanity is wounded and often is self-seeking. To get what one wants, sometimes others have to be manipulated or used.
In a world of manipulation, we, as followers of Jesus, live and ideals need to be respectful of those around us as much as possible. We experience personality and temperament differences among people we live and work with and being respectful is sometimes difficult. We can be biased and prejudiced toward certain groups and classes. Actually, that was exactly what Jesus experienced in his own earthly journey.
Remember, he was a called a sinner, a blasphemer, an imposter and even one who used the power of Satan to cast out demons. But through it all, Jesus showed his respect for the least and the weakest. He walked with and showed friendship to sinners, outcasts and lepers. And talk about the ultimate example of respect for others. Remember what he said from the cross on behalf of those who were laughing, chiding and spitting at him? “Father, forgive them for they just don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).
Dear Kitty, Joris (old friend) and Dorothy: I sense contemplative gifts in all of you—and that there is great contemplative potential in all readers of this column. May God continue to reveal to all of us the vastness of his being and of his love! Thanks to our immense and “living” God—Father, Son and Spirit! Amen. Friar Jack
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