One of the tasks of our novitiate days was to learn the 100 Maxims of Perfection that were part of the early documents of our founders in the 17th century. I don’t recall how many I actually committed to memory back then but only a few pop up these days in certain circumstances, most frequently the one that says, “Always interpret everything in the most favorable sense.” It doesn’t hurt that it is one of the shortest, but it is also quite helpful in those moments of teetering on the edge of negativity.
In this morning’s lectionary readings, Jesus and Paul deliver a message in practically the same words. Paul is preparing to leave, not only the town of Ephesus but the entire province of Asia, to go to Jerusalem where he is not certain of his fate. (ACTS 20:17-27) He speaks to the people about his service to the gospel, performed “in all humility…bearing witness to what I received from the Lord Jesus…not shrinking from telling them what was for their benefit” regardless of the danger to himself. In the gospel that is part of the “farewell discourse” (JN 17:1-11), Jesus is speaking to God rather than to the people, but with a similar witness. He summarizes for God (and maybe himself) his fidelity to the mission saying, “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work you gave me to do…I revealed your name to those whom you gave me…they accepted [the words] and…they have believed that you sent me.” Jesus was also on his way to Jerusalem, accepting the fate that he was to meet there.
In reading these two accounts I had the strong feeling that there were implications of a further meaning. It was as if they were each saying, “I’ve done what I was sent to do in the best way that I could. Now it’s up to you who are reading these words to take up the task.” It reminded me of our maxim: “Advance good works to near their completion and then, when it can be done without effort, step aside and let others take the credit.” It’s that last clause that is the difficult part. While it’s hard for some of us to give over a task or a ministry to someone else if we have put our heart and soul into it, even more difficult, I think, is allowing others to get the credit. We all want to be recognized – not a bad thing. The question to be asked in situations like that, perhaps, is “Am I doing this because it is something important to be done, something I care about? Or am I doing it so people (and God) will praise me for doing it?” As I continue to grow in willingness to what awaits me each day, I’m grateful for those maxims that still live in me, calling me always to more love in the manner of Jesus and St. Paul.