Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
DN 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
DN 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
JN 8: 31-42
Catholic guilt often compels me to make things harder on myself than they need to be, which is funny, because I’m not even Catholic. As a confirmed and baptized Methodist though, I’ve learned from the best after 8 years at Jesuit/Catholic institutions.
That feeling that I MUST be doing one thing or another, or it makes me a bad Christian, magnifies during the Lenten season. Our pursuit of piety becomes a weekly self-imposed berating for not being “good enough”. How many of you have fried up some bacon for breakfast, or had a roast beef sandwich for lunch and then realize that it happens to be Friday? I skate by on my Methodist laurels and just gobble up all the pork and beef all y’all Catholics are so committed to not eating. Even so, the guilt or pang of making a mistake is still there.
As students at Saint Louis University, Catholics, and people IN the world, we hold ourselves to a higher standard, which is too our credit. But where does that shame, that feeling of less-than-ness come from when we fail? Why do I feel terrible when I forget that I gave up chocolate and pop a Hershey’s kiss into my mouth? Why does a pit grow in my stomach when I realize that I didn’t do something absolutely perfectly? That feeling is useful in small does and from the right perspective. But that feeling can twist around in our gut until we don’t have the heart to do anything. I have felt so bad about missing church, or skipping out on choir practice, that I just haven’t gone to church. Avoided the problem altogether.
That is most assuredly not God’s desire for us.
I’m reminded of our “set-apartness” and our constant guilt trip, when I read the scripture from today: the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was my good luck that this classic from the Old Testament, just happened to be the reading for today. They too were held to a higher standard, both as people of Israel and their God, Jehovah, and as King Nebuchadnezzar’s select elite. And just like the world today, they were split between what God asked of them, and what their King, or their society asked of them. Those two priorities can never coexist, for no one “can serve two masters”. If only I could be like them! If only I could stand up so bravely to the things in life that pull me away from God.I am blessed to not face a burning furnace, but misplaced priorities can burn us in other ways.
We can be so tied up in doing everything just right, that we get burned for doing nothing at all. Or, we’re so worried about getting it wrong, that we never try in the first place. Lent is not a time to beat up on ourselves for forgetting a promise, or sinning, as we are so prone to do. Lent is about making room for the word of God among us, setting aside the trivial and putting God’s word and kingdom first.
A simple way that I look at it is simply this: do I need it, or do I want it? Will it give me life, or take life from me? Will it ease my worries, or generate them? Will it further God’s will, or does it further mine?
I don’t think Jesus can free us from the guilt of our mistakes or our sins, but he does free us from sin itself: “if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free”. So, I’m free huh? That’s funny, Jesus. It really is, because I’ve got a sinking feeling in my stomach and loans from Fannie Mae that say otherwise. What Jesus talks about is being truly free. In the battles that matter, God has already won. In the places that matter, you’re already free. It just takes the eyes to see it. It takes shifting your gaze to what truly matters, to embrace the Lenten season. In a world and in a season where I often am so hard on myself, that is a very comforting thought.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to eat the fish on Friday.