Tantum quantum: A balancing act

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Jonjee C. Sumpaico, S.J. (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2012 - 12:00am

A good friend of mine once said to me that life will always have its tensions as we grow — that it has to be there for us to move on. He asked me if I had seen an image of a person who walks on a single line of rope. When I said “yes,” he talked of a tightrope walker doing his craft.

He asked me to contemplate how the person must be feeling as he was crossing the line’s distance. Was it easy for him or did he have to concentrate on what he was doing? He also asked me to describe how the rope looked like. Was it held taut or was it loose? “Of course it was pulled tight,” I said, “that’s why you call the person a ‘tightrope’ walker.”

Then he told me a learning that I will always remember. The tightrope walker can only cross if the line he is walking on had tension. If it did not have the strain, it would not be able to bear the load of the person trying to cross its distance. Oftentimes, we rant about the strain that we feel in life. We complain how it is not of our liking and often unfair. But little do we appreciate that these tensions are the moments when we develop our character and begin to chart our steps forward in life.

The next important factor would that be of the walker. As he balances his footing, he also has to choose on what side he should lean towards in order to maintain his balance. It is a constant movement of small motions of the person which may not be observable on the outside but is very much present within.

This image of the tightrope walker best prepares us to understand the Gospel reading of today. The students of Jesus come to him complaining about others who use their Teacher’s name to drive away demons. Jesus tells them that he has no problem with that because they are of the same mission of freeing people to what holds them back. He makes them realize that though they may have different positions on the matter at hand, but they share in the same value that bonds them together in Christ.

Then Jesus teaches his disciples a lesson to focus on their own selves — to cut off those things which are stumbling blocks in their relationship to God. Though the Gospel mentions that we are to cut off our hands and feet and pluck out our eyes if these causes us to sin, a literal translation of this teaching may most likely make the population of the world maimed and blind. But would these actions take away the things that we have sentiments that we have in our selves — in our very core? Selfish desires as well as our inordinate attachments to power, riches, and fame usually become the main stumbling blocks to our relationship to God. By using the image of cutting off one’s hands and feet and the like, it stress the point that there ought to be a radical acceptance of God’s call that involves the mind, heart and will of the person.

Jesus asks his disciples to do that balancing act of discernment and take the next step forward in their journey of life. This is where the spiritual exercise comes into play. And in matters of the spirit, the real battle is found deep within.

St. Ignatius of Loyola describes this discernment on how to use our God-given faculties towards our goals by employing an attitude of tantum quantum. “We are to use them in so far as [tantum quantum] they lead us to our last end, and be rid of them in so far as [tantum quantum] they hinder us in the pursuit of the end for which we were created.”

By keeping the end in mind, we engage in the daily endeavor of looking into our actions and seeing where the Spirit of God calls us to. There may be moments of calm and also moments of storm; moments to let go and moments to hold fast. The most important thing however is to always keep our hearts and minds and actions focused as this practice makes us Christ’s present-day learners in matters that may be of great worth or day-to-day things.

The simple things oftentimes make sense. Let us try to balance our lives by keeping our relationship with God at our core. May we have that felt knowledge which reassures that God is with us as we walk our tightropes in life.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

— An excerpt from the prayer, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”

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