I was asked the following questions when I applied to join my religious community, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, “Why do you want to be a religious? Why do you want to be a religious priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary?” I wondered then why I was being asked those questions. Was the community not satisfied with my desire to leave everything and join them?
Looking back now, I appreciate those questions more than ever. Those questions helped me at the onset of my vocation journey to clarify my motives for seeking to be a religious priest in the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. It is not enough to say I want to join a religious community. I also must be in touch with my true motive and be as clear about it as possible. I have had to ask myself the same questions many times and clarify them more over the years. I have learned that unless we examine our motives and be clear and honest about them, we cannot serve God and others faithfully and fruitfully.
Jesus spoke very bluntly about the scribes and pharisees who had received the authority to teach but exercised this authority with very bad motives. They were seeking personal gain and advantage over others. Because of their bad motives, they were blind to the many discrepancies between their words and their actions, “For they preach but they do not practice.” They became frauds whose only goal was to be esteemed and respected as righteous men, “They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and the salutation, ‘Rabbi.’”
They obviously cared more about their external appearance visible to others while caring nothing about what God saw in their hearts. While grasping for the prominent seats in civil and religious gatherings, they did nothing to help those in need of good example and encouragement, “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” Because they persisted in their bad motives, they rendered themselves unfit for emulation and following by others, “Do not follow their example” (Mt 23:1-12). God’s flock are too precious for Him to allow them to be led by religious leaders whose scandalized the faithful through their warped motives.
Jesus also highlights two motives that must be uppermost in our minds and hearts as we seek to do anything in the love and service of God. Our first motive must be Christ-centered because “we have only one master, the Christ.” We labor to bring all things and all persons under the lordship of Christ because we love Him who has first loved us.
Our second motive must be apostolic. We want to serve our brothers and sisters out of love for the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not use others in any way, ignore them, or try to lord it over them because “we have but one teacher and we are all brothers.” We serve them and help them to also submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and so share in the glorious life that He offers to us. Listen to the apostolic motivation of St. Paul in these words, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you, not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well” (1Thes 2:7-9).
Imagine the spiritually fruitful life that we shall live when we have these two motives in all that we do. We will not be afraid of anything because we do not depend on ourselves but on Jesus, our only Lord, for everything. We can do and endure difficult and unpleasant things in this life because we are doing them to please Jesus and not ourselves. We can serve Jesus in all the conditions and situations of our lives because we are not serving Him for what we can get or benefit. We do not quit on our vocational commitments, but we persevere in them because we are doing them for the Lord and not for ourselves.
We can sacrifice all for Him because we know that He will surely reward us abundantly in this life and in the next. We will not be discouraged by our sinfulness or limitations because we are not self-conscious or preoccupied with our sanctity or comfort. We do not get distraught when others do not appreciate us or our efforts because we know that we are doing them primarily for Jesus. Lastly, we can practice what we preach because we are doing both preaching and acting out of love for the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how we become authentic witnesses and not scandalous disciples.
When we reflect on the many scandalous behaviors in the Church and in the world, we find a lack of clarity and purity in the motives of many people. Many people think that simply doing good is enough. They are oblivious of their true inner motives. They ignore their selfish and self-seeking motives. They pretend that they have good intentions. They are so focused on their actions visible to others but ignore what God sees in their hearts. Little wonder that they cannot resist temptations, endure sufferings, or persevere in their commitments to the very end.
As children of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can turn to her in those moments when our motives are so self-centered or even ambiguous. Mary had a pure motive in everything, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She also renewed and deepened this motive till the moment that she stood at the foot of the cross with Jesus on the cross. She totally adopted the perfect motive of her Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Surely, she can help us to do the same as we seek to serve Jesus like she did.
With Mary as our model and help, let us frequently examine our motives for all that we do in this life. God will provide many opportunities for us to reflect on our motives for serving Him and others. Most of them will be moments of pain, failure, rejection, or disappointment. Some of those moments will be moments of intimacy with the Lord when we feel Him inviting us to do His will for the good of others.
We can use those precious moments to examine, clarify, renew, purify, and deepen our motives. When our motives become more Christ-centered and apostolic, we will serve God and others fruitfully and faithfully, just like Mama Mary did.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!