Spending my days with children has caused me to contemplate the motivation to do good. In case you haven’t noticed, the ways we motivate and punish students are inane and arbitrary. Trouble makers are sent to the principal’s office or suspended for major offenses. What kind of punishment is getting to miss class? Last time I checked, most children don’t actually want to be in school.
With this in mind, I’ve been struggling to explain to my students why they should be good. It also occurs to me that many adults haven’t even grasped this concept. The goal of Christian morality is to reach a place where you are doing good simply because it is good, out of a motive of pure love. Love always looks to the good of the beloved and so, our motivation to do anything should be the good of the other. Getting to this point takes great conversion of heart and the mastery of our selfish desires and inclinations.
John 14:15 says, “if you love me, you will obey my commands.” This is just one example of the many scripture passages with a similar message: a motivation of love should be driving all that we do, especially obeying God. Sometimes we get so caught up in the rules and forget our motivation for obeying them. We also fall into a minimalistic attitude – we wonder what is the minimum we can do to please God and still go to heaven. If we really love God and want to please him, we will obey all his commands, not just some of them. Our obedience should stem from our love of God, and not be to prove our love. Because we love Him, we should desire to avoid all that will hurt our relationship with Him. If we avoid hurting those we love on Earth, how much more should we avoid wounding His Most Sacred Heart?
I recently came across a beautiful prayer originally written by St. Francis Xavier and translated into English by Gerard Manley Hopkins, about simply loving for the sake of Love.
0 GOD, I love thee, I love thee-
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails, and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake;
not to be out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.
The lines: “Not for heaven’s sake; not to be out of hell by loving thee; Not for any gains I see; But just the way that thou didst me I do love and I will love thee,” especially stuck out to me. Is our motivation for obeying God simply to avoid the fires of Hell? Recently I’ve been trying to learn more about the Jewish faith, since it informs all of Christianity. I realized that the Jewish people have no hope of heaven, and, of all people, obey God simply because He is God. They do not foresee any reward in the afterlife, since they do not believe a savior has appeared yet to open the gates of Heaven. If you have had no hope of heaven, would you still live in accordance with God’s will?
Search your heart today and don’t be afraid to examine where your true motivation lies.