Why Do I Do The Things I Do?

Although I discontinued my subscription to many of the things that come into my e-mail inbox daily before I left for my Camino pilgrimage, among the things I continue to daily receive are the daily meditations of Richard Rohr from the Center for Action and Contemplation. I often find them challenging, as well as thought-provoking.

One day last week the reflection, adapted from Rohr’s Francis: Turning World on its Head, Subverting the Honor/Shame System, addressed our motivation for performing religious actions, taking as its starting point Jesus’ admonition in Matthew’s Gospel to give alms, fast and pray secretly. Rohr observes

Whenever you perform a religious action publicly, it enhances your image as a good, moral person and has a strong social payoff. Jesus’ constant emphasis is on interior religiosity, on purifying motivation and intention. He tells us to clean the inside of the dish instead of being so preoccupied with cleaning the outside, with looking good (Matthew 23:25-26). The purifying of our intention and motivation is the basic way that we unite our inner and our outer worlds. (Please read that twice!)

All through the spiritual journey, we should be asking ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Am I really doing this for God, for truth, or for others? Or am I doing it for hidden reasons?” The spiritual journey could be seen as a constant purification of motive until I can finally say, “I have no other reason to do anything except love of God and love of neighbor. And I don’t even need people to know this.” When I can say this I have total and full freedom.

While some of us are susceptible to scrupulosity, most of us could benefit from greater self-examination of our motives. Do I do what I do for love of God and love of neighbor? Or do it do it out of a desire to look good? Or out of fear of consequences of not doing so?

I was reminded when I read Rohr’s reflection of something Shane Claiborne wrote in his wonderful book titled The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Claiborne quotes his teacher Tony Campolo as asking, “Even if there were no heaven and there were no hell, would you still follow Jesus? Would you follow him for the life, joy, and fulfillment he gives you right now?” Claiborne writes, “I am more and more convinced each day,” he says, “that I would.” In the words of St. Paul, “The love of Christ impels me.”

Is it the love of God and others that impels you, or something else? A question for all of us.