Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

Un-self-conscious Holiness

Today we reflect on un-self-conscious holiness or what the Gospels call “love.”

In today’s Gospel, those who inherit the kingdom of heaven ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”  The Lord replies, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”  We are living in the kingdom of heaven when we act without self-consciousness, when we do things selflessly.  This may seem nearly impossible, because we are always doing things because of self-interest.  Still, it is quite possible.  There is a story called “The Unself-conscious Saint” that captures, I believe, the essence of today’s Gospel story and shows us how we might put today’s message into practice.

 “There once lived a man so godly that even the angels rejoiced at the sight of him.  But, in spite of his great holiness, he had not notion that he was holy.  He just went about his humdrum tasks, diffusing goodness the way flowers unself-consciously diffuse their fragrance and streetlights their glo

His holiness lay in this - that he forgot each person's past and looked at them as they were now, and he looked beyond each person's appearance to the very center of their being, where they were innocent and blameless and too ignorant to know what they were doing.  Thus he loved and forgave everyone he met - and he saw nothing extraordinary in this, for it was the result of his way of looking at people.

One day an angel said to him, ‘I have been sent to you by God.  Ask for anything you wish and it will be given to you.  Would you wish to have the gift of healing?’

‘No,’ said the man.  ‘I'd rather God did the healing himself.’

‘Would you want to bring sinners back to the path of righteousness?’

‘No,’ he said, ‘it's not for me to touch human hearts.  That is the work of angels.’

‘Would you like to be such a model of virtue that people will be drawn to imitate you?’

‘No,’ said the saint, ‘for that would make me the center of attention.’

‘What then do you wish for?’ asked the angel.

‘The grace of God,’ was the man's reply.  ‘Having that, I have all I desire.’

‘No, you must ask for some miracle,’ said the angel, ‘or one will be forced on you.’

‘Well, then I shall ask for this: let good be done through me without my being aware of it.’

So it was decreed that the holy man's shadow would be endowed with healing properties whenever it fell behind him.  So everywhere his shadow fell - provided he had his back to it - the sick were healed, the land became fertile, fountains sprang to life, and color returned to the faces of those who were weighed down by life's sorrow.

But the saint knew nothing of this because the attention people was so centered on the shadow that they forgot about the man.  And so his wish that good be done through him and he forgotten was abundantly fulfilled.”

The saints reduce all our spiritual practices down to one, namely, self-forgetfulness.  Jesus says, quite directly, “deny yourself…lose your life” (Mark 8:34-35).  The unself-conscious saint lives this self-forgetfulness.  I think they key to the story is when the angel, maybe with a note of exasperation, asks, “What then do you wish for?”  The saint replies, “The grace of God…Having that, I have all I desire.”  Self-forgetfulness happens as we center on God.  All we truly need, the only necessary reality in each one of our lives, is the infinite mercy of God.  Having this, we need nothing else. 

With God’s grace, we are free of needing anything or anyone to be ultimately happy.  Centered in the divine, we discover all our happiness in God alone, and so do not demand that anyone else fulfill us in an absolute sense.  This, simultaneously, frees us from being a demanding person or heaping unreasonable expectations on those around us.  Then, in God, we simply act.  This kind of action becomes divine for being centered in God we spread the mercy of God in all we do.  It is like the way flowers give off their wonderful smells or the way lamps simply light up the world.  Love is our life.