Bottom line: Jesus wants our lives and deeds to not only be good (agathos) but also attractive (kalos).
Today Jesus speaks about "good deeds." Greek - the language of the New Testament - has two words for "good." One is agathos which describes the quality of goodness. The other is kalos. In his commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel, William Barclay explains that kalos means that "a thing is not only good, but that it is also winsome and beautiful and attractive."* When Jesus speaks about "good deeds," the word is kalos - a goodness that is beautiful. He says that when people see our good deeds they should give glory to God.
God wants us to live and act in an attractive manner. Before talking about deeds that attract, I would like to say something about physical attractiveness. There is some confusion here because a person may think that wanting to be attractive is a form of vanity.
Once a lady came to a priest. "Father," she said, "I have a problem with vanity. I spend so much time in front of the mirror trying to get my make-up and hair just right." The priest was silent for a moment, then he looked at her with a smile. "Don't worry, sister," he said, "you need all the help you can get!"
The priest was not me. ;)
Especially as we get older, we don't have to worry a lot about vanity. It's an act of charity to do what we can to be attractive. I would, though, like to say a word to younger people, especially to girls and young ladies. If you strive for a wholesome lifestyle, you won't have to worry about being attractive. Your goal shouldn't be to turn heads, if you know what I mean. You want men to look at you not as an object, but as a daughter or a sister.
In the Bible the relationship of deepest affection is not boyfriend-girlfriend, - not even husband and wife - but brother and sister. If you work on being brother and sister to each other, you will build a relationship that will last. Although physical attraction has its place, it's hardly the same thing as love. You want something deeper. You want to attract by what you have inside - not just the outside.
That's what Jesus speaks about today. He wants our lives to be beautiful. He talks about a goodness that leads to God. That's what will last.
The great example is Blessed Mother Teresa. With her wrinkled face and fragile body, no one would mistake her for a fashion model - yet she had a beauty that cast a spell over people. When they saw Mother Teresa, they saw God. Her actions were not only good; they were attractive.
We might say, "I am no Mother Teresa." Perhaps you and I have lesser gifts, but we can still do things that are good and attractive. Let me give you an example. Like Mother Teresa, he is a twentieth century saint, but he had few natural gifts. Still, he did beautiful deeds.
His name was Bernard Francis Casey. The sixth son of ten boys and six girls, he was brought up on a farm in Wisconsin. After leaving the farm he worked as a logger, a hospital orderly and a prison guard. Through it all he felt a call to the priesthood so he entered the diocesan seminary at Milwaukee. A mediocre student, they soon dismissed him. Young Bernard kept knocking at doors and finally the Capuchins accepted him. He received the religious name, "Solanus." When he was ordained in 1904, he was considered so poorly prepared that they designated him as a "simplex priest." They limited his ministry to celebrating Mass. They did not allow him to hear confessions, to preach or even to wear the Capuchin's distinctive hood. He received a humble assignment: porter - a kind of receptionist - at the Capuchin monastery in Detroit. As porter he had the responsibility of enrolling people in the Seraphic Mass Association.
For most people, taking down names would not be an exciting job and it could easily become routine. But Fr. Solanus was different. He would talk with people and spend time praying with them and for them. People began to get answers to the prayers. As word spread, people started flocking to the "simplex priest." So many experienced miraculous interventions that his superiors told Fr. Solanus to keep a log. Here are couple of the entries:
"July 26, 1926 - Russell Jay, just 17 years old tomorrow and 49 inches tall is enrolled in the Seraphic Mass Association today. Non-catholic, he asks to 'make me grow.'...January 2, 1927 - Today Russell Jay reported he grew 4 1/2 inches - first change in 12 years - now developing normally."
"December 29, 1937 - John Charles Kulbacki - 6 years old - blind since 3 weeks old; was enrolled in the Seraphic Mass Association six weeks ago. On Christmas Day when at 'Crib' here in church, was almost frightened as he exclaimed - pointing to the lighted crib, 'Look, Mama.' Deo Gratias, thanks be to God."**
Fr. Solanus Casey had a humble job, but he made a decision. He would do more than good work; he would focus on every person who came. He took it for granted that God answers prayers and saw nothing special about his work. The people he prayed for saw things differently. When Fr. Solanus died in 1957, twenty-thousand people passed by his casket in one-and-a-half days. His cause for sainthood opened in 1982. In 1987 they exhumed his body and found it incorrupt. Pope John Paul II declared him "Venerable" and each year thousands of people many people make a pilgrimage to Detroit to pray in front of his tomb.
So, Venerable Solanus Casey shows the power of small acts done with great love. He illustrates what Jesus says today: to let one's light shine before others so that what we do will lead others to God. Let's remember that Greek word, kalos - beautiful, winsome, attractive.*** Jesus wants our lives and deeds to not only be good but to attract others to God - "that they may see your good deads and glorify your heavenly Father."
*William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 125.
**Quoted by Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints, p. 664.
***In her book, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line, Abby Johnson shows the power of good (kalos) deeds. As director of Planned Parenthood, she would see protestors outside her clinic. Some had good intentions, but were not attractive. For example, one dressed up as the Grim Reaper and another carried a sign that said "Murderers." Others, however, prayed quietly and reached out to those seeking an abortion. They also greeted and befriended Abby and other staff members. Their deeds were both good and attractive - and they played an important part in Abby's dramatic conversion.
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