Positivity! Being positive! The importance of being positive in life! Throughout my life, day after day, I have heard these sterling clichés or life mottos, if you want. While being positive is undoubtedly important, is it really essential?
And here comes the million-dollar question: In our life, what really counts; is it just a matter of being positive or is there something much deeper than that, of which positivity is simply its natural consequence? If we want to be honest, we have to acknowledge that, in our society, even with economic growth moving steadily ahead, there are still many people who feel sad. In looking at the faces of others and ourselves, we arrive at the answer. Yes! We have to admit it! We are becoming sad! As a lady once told me, “How come I am sad? I have everything I need. I have all the comforts I can ever imagine. I have not just what I need but much and much more! However, and besides all this, I feel sad”. In front of such a heartache comment, may I ask, once again, the pertinent question myself: Why are we so sad?
This agonizing existential question, which, from time to time, hits me personally, makes me kneel down and pray. Yes! It gives me the courage to just be in God’s presence and there I resolutely stay. What a correlation, and please not just an occasional rhythmic stance, between pray and stay! This pray-stay connection with God reminds me of a powerful verb Jesus uses in the Gospel of John, the verb abide. Thus, Jesus says: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:4).
It is interesting that in this verse the verb abide is used twice. Obviously to stress the invaluable relevance of abiding in Jesus! The idea of abiding in God is not at all something alien in the Bible. If we look at the famous Psalm 63, one already notices how essential it is to dwell in the house of the Lord, the temple, where God’s presence is. This very down-to-earth psalm, which has much to say to us and our times, starts with these incisive words that literally diagnose our way of being and living today: O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is (Psalm 63:1).
Who can deny that all of us, in one way or another, are we not seeking something that can assuage the thirst our souls are suffering from? Who of us is not looking for something that sustains our flesh that is continually fainting by all sorts of diseases and viruses? Are we not feeling dry and weary because the land, where we live, has been tarnished by the violent and aggressive way we treat each other? And, if there is all this dryness and weariness around us, is this same existential devastation not calling us to nourish ourselves with fresh water? But where is this fresh water precisely to be found?
Thousands of years ago, when living in the same situation as we do, the psalmist was wise enough to go to God’s temple. Life has taught him that it was only there that he could get that fresh water of hope, joy and peace his thirsty, fainting, dry and weary soul was desperately looking for. Thus, his reply, was not simply by applying some psychological technique that left him more hungry than before since it could not give him that innate peace and integrity he was searching for. No! The only answer for the psalmist was to visit God’s temple so that there he can find the solace he direly needed.
Hence, the Psalm champions the psalmist’s wise choice when it says textually: So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory (Ps 63:2). And what were the benefits of staying or, to be more exact, abiding in God’s temple? The psalmist goes on by saying: Because thy steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3). From his personal life experiences of failure and suffering the psalmist knew far too well that he could be strong not in himself but solely in God. That is why, in other times within the same book of psalms, the psalmist says: In thee do I take refuge (Ps 7:1), In the Lord I take refuge (Ps 11:1), Preserve me, O God, for in thee I take refuge (Ps 16:1), The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge (Ps 18:2), and the list goes on and on! It is so curious that, in all these foundational assertions of faith, they are all placed at the beginning of each psalm. The reason being that, no matter the troubling waters the psalmist had to swim in, and coupled of course with the emotions with which he had to confront himself with, only the living (and not just notional) belief that God is with him was really was going to make the difference in his troubling life— in the long run.
How beautiful is the comment offered on this Psalm by the great Pope St. John Paul II, when, in his weekly catechesis of Wednesday, 10 November 2004, he said: “The gentle words of Psalm 62 have just resounded; it is a hymn of trust that opens with what appears to be an antiphon, repeated halfway through the text. It is like a peaceful and strong ejaculatory prayer, an invocation that also becomes a programme of life: ‘In God alone is my soul at rest; my help comes from him. He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress: I stand firm’ (vv. 2-3, 6-7)”
From God, in Christ, who is love (see 1 John 4:8. 16), we really learn not just how to be positive but, and most of all, how to be holy. In other words, loving. As the same letter says: So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16). That love, which the letter to the Ephesians so beautifully explicates to us: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4: 31-32). Yes! Holiness means loving by God’s love! Because only holiness, understood as love, and not positivity per se, can really forgive, be kind to the malicious and be fruitfully operative in front of the bitterness, wrath and anger that comes across it.
In concluding our reflection on positivity, we must mention what Pope Francis classifies as a “good” homily in his apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium, precisely in number 159:
“Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better. In any case, if it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, lest it remain mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches. Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity. How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!”
How wise is this observation by our Argentinian Pope! After all, Jesus draws us to himself not by his justice but by his unfathomable Divine Mercy! A great life-transforming power emerges not simply from his positivity, but rather, from his infinitely holy and sweetest love!
FR MARIO ATTARD OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke’s Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master’s Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. Currently, he is one of the six chaplains working at Mater Dei Hospital. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ and hosts radio programmes about the spiritual care of the sick.