21 February, Monday — God does NOT help those that help themselves

21 Feb – Memorial for St. Peter Damian, bishop and doctor

St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) was the youngest child in a large family. When he was orphaned, he was sent to live with a brother where he was mistreated and forced to work as a swine-herd. He cared for another brother, a priest in Ravenna, Italy. He was well educated in Faenza and Parma, and became a professor, but lived a life of strict austerity.

He gave up his teaching to become a Benedictine monk. His health suffered, especially when he tried to replace sleep with prayer. He founded a hermitage. He was occasionally called on by the Vatican to make peace between arguing monastic houses, clergymen, and government officials, etc. He was made Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, and he fought simony.

He tried to restore primitive discipline among priests and religious who were becoming more and more of the world. He was a prolific correspondent, and he also wrote dozens of sermons, seven biographies (including one of St. Romuald), and poetry, including some of the best Latin of the time. He tried to retire being a monk, but was routinely recalled as a papal legate.

He died on Feb 22, 1072 of fever at Ravenna while surrounded by brother monks reciting the Divine Office. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1828.

  • Patron Saint Index

Jas 3:13-18
Mk 9:14-29

But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.”    

Remember this wise old adage from time immemorial which goes, “God helps those who help themselves”? I bet each and every single one of us, bar none, has used that phrase at one point of time in our lives. And in most likelihood, as a justification for certain actions we have taken, such as little acts of selfishness or deceitfulness or arrogance or unkind judgement on others. Or for inaction such as when we see those in poverty or failure, and refusing to help them or show compassion. Oh, how good it felt. How justified and sanctified we thought ourselves to be. After all, it’s in the Bible and hence, God himself that says so. Right?

Sorry to burst your bubble. That phrase? It’s BS. This phrase does NOT exist in the Bible. It exists only in the minds and the vocabulary of men. As an invention of popular, secular culture. Invented probably by someone who precisely needed an excuse to behave selfishly, without compassion and indifferently. And whilst he was at it — let’s just say it came from the Bible as well. Yeah…why not? And over the centuries, we have all merrily gone along with it. Perhaps this is one tiny example of how the world secularizes us — and uses religion to do so, moreover.

At the core of our faith, we encounter a God that totally embraces our every weakness and need. Our every frailty and inadequacy. Our every failure and woundedness. Our every folly and stupidity. Our every hopelessness and despair. Our every dependency and helplessness. Our God does not tell us to help ourselves. It is the exact opposite — He tells us to let Him help us. To depend on Him and Him alone. Totally, in everything and at all times. 

When finances run down to the last packet of instant noodles, when even the fare for a bus ride is out of reach, when a child lies dying in a cancer ward, when a child no longer believes in God or in the family, when a friendship ends in disappointment, when a marriage vow is irreparably broken by betrayal, when loneliness and abandonment becomes debilitating, when suicide becomes an option out of life’s pain, disappointment and desolation. In such moments, do we still try to help ourselves? Does God expect us to? Does he stand up there in heaven, watching and waiting to see if we have expended our every last ounce of energy and faith and hope, in futility, and only when we have gone under the water, that He decides to stretch out His hand to help us? Is this the God we have in our mind? This is a question for which you will need to draw your own conclusions.

To those who still insist that God helps those who help themselves, I say this to you — God does not help those who help themselves. He helps those who have the wisdom to realise that they are no longer able to help themselves. And who have the humility and faith to ask Him to save them. Our God seeks out these and not those who think they are sufficient, powerful.

It is God who seeks, who knocks, who asks…it is He who is constantly looking for us. So why can’t he find us, you may ask? Because it is we who keep moving our goalposts. We keep making plans outside His plan for us. We keeping straying from the path He has laid for us and get ourselves lost and confused. And He needs to constantly come looking for us when that happens.

Our role in faith is instead, to bring our needs before God, seek the guidance, help and direction of His Spirit and to co-operate with the Spirit to allow God to take over and bring to fruition His will in our lives, through its many challenging circumstances. Our role is not to usurp God’s role and to take over.

We can’t save ourselves. Only God can save us.

It’s as simple as that.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. Save us from the arrogance and fragility of this sinful world and ourselves. Forgive us for the times that we fool ourselves into thinking that have all the answers. That our ways are better than your ways. That we are our own saviours and not Jesus.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For showing us the way to truth and to light. To see that in our weakness, is your Almighty power. That in our helplessness, do we find your boundless mercy. That Jesus is our saviour.

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