Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mercy, Me?

“But a Samaritan traveler came upon him and was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.” Luke 10: 33-34

I’m sure we’ve all heard the whole story about the “Good Samaritan”.  After several “holy” people had walked by an injured man with nary a glance or concern for him, the Samaritan (one looked down upon in society), came along and helped the hurt man and showed him mercy. It would be as if in our society a man was mugged in a city and several well-to-do pedestrians or a police officer saw him and ignored him, and then a homeless man, gang member or teen-ager was to help him.

Did the man deserve this help? Not really. Could he repay this help? Probably not. Was the Samaritan looking for reciprocation? No way! Of course, this is why what he did is called mercy. If we deserved it, then it wouldn’t be merciful. If someone demanded repayment or reciprocation then it wouldn’t be mercy.

And so in this instance, the Samaritan keenly reminds us of how we can be Christ-like in our world today. So how can you and I be Jesus to others in our world? How can we show mercy? First of all, we need to accept the mercy that God has shown us. We need to recognize His grace and love for us. It must animate us and give our lives energy. And then from this place of passion and power, we can begin to look for ways to spread it to others. And then when the Spirit moves in our hearts, we must ACT upon that movement and do the will of our Lord.

This is the message of mercy. The message of sharing Christ with others, especially if they seem not to deserve it. For none of us do. And yet we are given it anyway. And so we share this mercy with others through a gentle touch or kind word. A smile or an affirming nod of the head. By holding the door open or helping someone carry their groceries out to their car. By eating lunch with the “loner” or making friends with the person everyone else stays away from. By continuing to be respectful and loving to those that hurt us or who have been rude to us. By accepting others even when they disagree with us—even if they are wrong and don’t know it or acknowledge it.

There are so many people knocked down and hurting in life. There are so many wounds in need of bandaging. There are so many people that need to be lifted up and helped along the way. There are so many people in need of rest and recuperation. Who will go to them? Who will comfort them? Who will provide for them? Who will show them mercy? Who, if not you and me?

Dear Jesus, help me to see others and their needs and give me the grace to show Your mercy to everyone through deeds and words of compassion and kindness. Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Distressing Disguise

“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” Luke 24: 15-16

The story of Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of the most powerful, more popular stories we hear about every year during the Easter Season. It is amazing because Jesus came up to them, asked what they were talking about, walked and talked with them and the whole time they didn’t recognize Him until He broke the bread (the Eucharist).

How often in our world today does Christ draw near to you and me? Do we see Him or do we fail to recognize His presence among us? Perhaps we have a pre-conceived notion of what Christ looks like. But I think Christ comes to us each day in the most distressing of disguises. Not to fool us, but to help us to grow in humility, meekness, selflessness and charity. He is NOT what we are expecting.

He comes to us in the poor, the hurting, the sorrowful, yes. But He also comes to us in the ones that annoy us or hurt us. He comes to us in the normal, humdrum events of each day: taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, doing our homework, talking with a friend—He is there. He greets us in the morning when we look in the mirror and throughout the day in a myriad of ways. And He is with us to end our day in the silent darkness of night. He is found in drug addicts and alcoholics, prostitutes and the homeless. He is in foster care and abortion clinics, mental hospitals and day care centers. He is even in courtrooms, government buildings and castles. And if we look hard enough He can even be found on battlefields and in the midst of terrorism, violence and hatred.

So if Jesus is EVERYWHERE, how come we fail to recognize Him so often?

Perhaps because we fail to recognize Him in the Eucharist. A recent CARA poll suggests that 91% of Catholics who attend Mass every week believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. That’s the good news. The bad news is that only 23% of Catholics go to Mass every week; when you factor in monthly Mass goers or those who only attend a couple times per year, the percentage who believe in the Real Presence drops dramatically. If we really recognized the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we would be flocking to Mass and worshipping with reverence and humility. But if we aren’t recognizing Him here—in the Source and Summit of our Faith—how can expect to see Him in others? And without the grace that comes to us from the Eucharist, how can we expect to treat others the way Christ commands us?

When the disciples on the road to Emmaus finally recognized Jesus they realized that His words had been burning in the hearts and they were then inflamed to share their encounter with Jesus with others. The more we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist, the more our hearts will be engulfed by His love and the more we will desire to share about our encounter with Him to all we meet.

Dear Jesus, help me to recognize You in the Eucharist more and more, so that I can have the grace to recognize You in others and love them as You do. Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction…

“The nether world and the abyss are never satisfied; so too the eyes of men.” Proverbs 27: 20

One day it rains and people complain and wish it were sunny. Another day it is sunny, but then it is too hot. Or it is too windy. Still another day it snows and we wish it was spring, then spring and we wish it were summer, summer and we wish it were fall, etc., etc., etc.

We try to eat at home and the food takes too long to make and there are too many dishes to clean-up. We go out to eat and they don’t cook our food the right way. We go to a fast food restaurant and the food takes too long to get to us.

We go to watch our favorite team play and they play bad and lose. Or maybe they win but the tickets and concessions cost too much. Or there was no good place to park. Or the lines going into the stadium were too long and slow. We go to the movies and the people around us are talking too loud, or blinding us with the cell phones as they text the whole time. Or we rent a video but it was too long, or too violent…or not long enough or not violent enough. Or the acting just sucked. What a waste of five bucks!

We go to Mass and the homily is too long or boring…or intellectual. The music is too traditional, or too contemporary. The pews are too hard, or too narrow. The incense smells weird, the wine tastes weird; the lector has a lisp. And what’s with the nature powerpoint slides on the wall behind the altar? Besides, the people here are too holy, or too sinful, or they can’t sing, or they won’t sing. Or they flip you off in the parking lot on the way out right after consuming Jesus in the Eucharist. And what about that family with the loud kids who eat pop tarts the whole time? Or the older people who yell every time they talk? How come there aren’t any younger people…or how come there are so many teens?

Any of this sound familiar? It seems like you and I are never satisfied, are we? There is always something to complain about. We can always find fault with others. We can always be wishing for something better. Something perfect. But you know what? Good luck with that. Because this world is fallen and the people in it aren’t perfect. And one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to keep us dissatisfied with everything and everyone, especially when it comes to God, the Bible or the Church. If the devil can’t stop us from praying or believing or attending Mass, then the next best thing he can do is to keep us always finding fault and seeing all the imperfections and distractions around us. As long as we keep doing this and thinking this way, we will never really pray or worship. We will never really grow in humility and we will never really become less selfish.

Let’s try to find at least one thing each day that we can be satisfied with. Whether it is our computer, our cell phone, our home, our parents, our kids, our siblings, our friends…something, anything. If we can learn to be satisfied with what God has given us and live each day with that attitude, the world will be a better place, not only for us but for everyone around us.

Dear Jesus, I want to stop complaining and seeing all the things I don’t have or all the imperfections in other people. I want to be satisfied with all that you have given me and with all that I have, especially all the treasures of the Church. Please give me the grace to do this each day. Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

He Knew

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.” John 13: 1-5

This is part of the reading from The Mass of the Lord’s Supper celebrated on Holy Thursday each year. What strikes me the most about this particular passage is that it makes it abundantly clear that Jesus knew several things:

1.      That Judas was going to betray Him.
2.      That He was going to die a horrible and painful death.
3.      That He was the Son of God.
4.      That only He could accomplish this mission of salvation.
5.      That He had omnipotent power.
6.      That this decision to sacrifice Himself for our sake was fully His own choice.

This is astounding! And not because Jesus knew all this, nor that He is God, nor that He could’ve said no. But what is so amazing is that knowing all that He is and all that was going to happen, He got on His knees and washed the FEET of His followers. And while the focus is normally on St. Peter at this moment because of the conversation he has with Jesus, think about the absurdity of the fact that Jesus washed the feet of JUDAS as well. Of course Jesus revealed the depth of His love when He died on the cross the next day, but we should be overcome with how He knew everything and still got on His holy knees to wash the feet of the one who was going to betray Him a few hours later.

What do the actions of Jesus say to us? That no matter what we have done, no matter how far we have wandered, He loves us and He wants us back. He is not standing in the throne room of heaven waiting to condemn us and send us to hell. Rather, Jesus runs to you and me and seeks to wash our feet and put on a clean robe and kill the fatted calf for us if we would see the errors of our ways and turn back to Him.

Are you in need of new life? If Jesus could conquer pride through the humility of washing feet, if He could conquer betrayal by loving His enemies, if He could conquer torture and mockery through silent witness and if could conquer death through resurrection, then He can produce newness in your life as well. And what should this new life produce in us? A willingness to be more and more like Jesus; to cooperate with the grace He merited for us on the cross and to bring new life to others. Despite how we might normally think and act, we are not the center of the universe and the world does not revolve around you and me. But it does revolve around the cross of Christ. And the more we become humble, prayerful and less concerned for ourselves than for others, the sooner the Kingdom of God will be built up in our world through the power of Jesus living in us.

Dear Jesus, help me to humble myself as You did, to wash the feet of those around me, especially the ones I struggle with or the ones who have hurt me. Despite how hard Your way of life seems, I want to follow You, Jesus and bring new life to others. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


“Whoever clings to me I will deliver; whoever knows my name I will set on high.” Psalm 91: 14

Why do people take illegal drugs? For the high. But why do they want the high? Probably to escape from some kind of pain or stress or perhaps to feel good. Maybe they want to have a good time and lower their inhibitions or they want to mask reality. And so people begin to experiment with mind and mood altering substances in order to get to a different place than where they are at. Even legal drugs do the same things. We take them to mask our physical pain, balance our emotions or connect the synapses in our brain so that we can function in life. But while taking legal drugs is an attempt to get us back to our normal lives, taking illegal drugs is an attempt to reach somewhere outside our normal lives.

In essence, taking illegal drugs (or abusing legal drugs or alcohol) is really a rejection of the trust we should have in God. We don’t trust Him to make us happy, or to heal our pain or to give meaning to our suffering—and so we drug. We don’t trust that He can bring us out of whatever situation we are in or to deal with whatever issue we are facing—and so we drug. We don’t trust in His laws and His plan or His will and when we fail at living according to our own designs…we drug.

So many young people simply drug to feel something, anything. They are so lost in hopelessness and despair that the only way they can remember they are alive is to alter their reality with chemicals. And in the end, whether young or old, many people who begin down this path end up addicted to the “high” and live in dread of the crash and begin to do whatever it takes to get their next fix. Stealing, robbing, mugging—selling themselves. Whatever it takes. And in the end, most find themselves worse off than before they started down this path—many in jail and many others dead.

So what is the solution, what is the answer? It is Jesus. From an early age we need to learn to CLING to Him. Not simply learn about Him, but learn to cling to Him, like a baby clings to its mother. Like children cling to their parents when they are scared. With that child-like faith knowing that He will not abandon us, knowing that His plan is best, knowing that He wills happiness and all good things for us in this life and in the life to come. Knowing that even when in the midst of suffering and pain and grief, that He is there with us: crying with us, holding us and guarding us. Trusting that when we cling to Him in whatever reality life brings us instead of trying to escape into another reality, He will set us on a true high, a high that will never end, a high where we cannot be reached by the evil and despair of Satan. A high without a crash. A high where there will be no coming down, but only higher and higher to go.

Dear Jesus, help me to reach for Your name and cling to You so that my life may be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit so I can be set on high by Your love and peace. Guard me from the fear, hopelessness and distrust that can tempt me to turn away from You. Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sell Out or Sold Out?

“When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating he said, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord?’” Matthew 26: 20-22

Have you ever had anyone betray you? I mean really, truly sell you out? If so, I bet you had a hard time forgiving that person or loving that person. Or perhaps you still haven’t. Maybe you are still angry with them right now. Maybe just reading this is causing your blood to boil or your heart to beat faster as you see in your mind’s eye the betrayal and the humiliation comes flooding back into focus. I can relate.

But now ask yourself a tougher question: have you ever betrayed anyone else? Is anyone squirming yet? It’s a lot harder to look in the mirror than to point the finger.

Now ask yourself the toughest question: have you ever betrayed our Lord? I’m ashamed to admit that I have. I know that I have said those words of the Passion Story “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” too many times. And I know I need to say them each year on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. I need to acknowledge that so often by my actions I betray the One I love in my heart. The important question is whether or not we are willing to accept the mercy offered to us by the One we betray. Judas was not willing or able to accept this gift, but St. Peter was. All of us deny Jesus and betray our Lord at various times in our lives. All of us will double-cross Jesus. All of us can be tempted to sell Him out in front of our friends or co-workers, or by living and believing according to our cultural standards rather than His standards. But all the while we are selling Him out by our thoughts, words and actions, He is offering us everything. Jesus was and IS sold out for you and me. No matter how many times we sell Him out, He continues to be sold out for us. And we can either fall on our knees with our faces to the ground and accept this undeserved gift of mercy or we can try to run away from it.

This Holy Week, Jesus asks each of us, His deniers and His betrayers, “Do you love me?” And He asks it for every time we have been weak and ashamed of Him. Rather than offer us His ultimate justice (which we deserve), He offers us His life and His love and simply asks us for our love in return as gratitude for His sacrifice. The only way we will ever stop selling Jesus out is when we finally decide to be totally sold out for Him. May we use this Holy Week to stop running from His grace and fall into His arms of mercy, so that like St. Peter, we can “feed His sheep” with our lives from this day forward.

Dear Jesus, thank You for dying for me and offering me Your mercy, even when I betray and deny You. Help me to overcome my sin and weakness by humbly accepting Your mercy and love. And help me to always love You faithfully in return. Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011


“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your kind spirit guide me on ground that is level.” Psalm 143: 10

A few years ago I went to Warroad, MN to speak at a youth rally and I had to fly there. I don’t mind flying, but after I left Minneapolis, the planes I was flying in got smaller and smaller by degree with each layover. The last plane I ended up in was an 18-seat turbo-prop that had to wait for take-off until a caribou cleared the runway. Needless to say, I was a little nervous as I climbed the steps into the “cabin”. But the fun started as we were getting settled. I was sitting in one of the front seats on the right side of the plane putting on my seatbelt when a very nice, smiling, no-cares-in-the-world flight attendant came over to me and asked if I was Mr. Anthony. I replied that I was and then she proceeded to tell me very nonchalantly that they were going to have to ask me to change seats and move to the back of the plane on the left side. Innocently I asked why and she responded by telling me that they needed me to move so that the weight on the plane would be balanced and if I didn’t move we couldn’t take-off because the plane wouldn’t be able to fly level.

Gulping back my shock I just shook my head yes, grabbed my carry-on and headed to my new seat. But as I got settled and started to really look around at this small, tubular recycled soda cans with propellers, I began to sweat thinking about how it was ME who was responsible for keeping the plane level. For the next 45 minutes I was so scared I didn’t even use the bathroom because it was across from me on the right side of the plane and all I could picture was the plane going into a death spiral because I was urinating and shifting the weight of the plane. I know, I was being a little over-the-top.

But you know what? I think in life we get stressed or scared thinking that the balance we crave in our lives is solely up to us. Our lives keep swaying from level ground because of the choices we make, the things thrown at us, situations and circumstances we can’t control or simply because we are too busy. And yet the more we try to shift one part of our lives to straighten out another, the more imbalanced things seem to become. The more we try to keep our lives level the more they seem to spin out of control.

So what is the solution? Seek the will of the Lord. At all times. In all circumstances. Maybe He does want you to volunteer at school or your parish. Or maybe He wants you to spend more time with your family. Maybe He wants you to take that new job and the raise and move to another state. Or maybe He wants you to stay where you are and be content. Maybe He wants you to attend that certain college away from home. Or maybe He wants you to keep close to your family for a few more years. Just because something seems good, or feels right or is even morally neutral (or good) does not mean it is God’s will for you. Perhaps the reason why so many of us can feel so imbalanced is that we are trying to do what others (or even ourselves) think is right, but we’ve never asked God whether it is right for us.

Jesus ALWAYS did the will of His Father. If we want to live lives of greatness, we need to follow the will of the Father as well. Then, and only then, can we be confident that we are not doing more or less than what He desires us to do. And in this reality we find peace, balance and lives lived on level ground.

Dear Jesus, help me to do ONLY Your will in my life. I want to walk on the level ground of Your perfect plan. Stop me from chasing after things that are not of You and allow my intentions to always be pure and holy. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Praise You in the Storm

“In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril, Hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled. They rejoiced that the sea grew calm, that God brought them to the harbor they longed for.” Psalm 107: 28-30

Been through any storms lately? Are you in one now? I’m not talking about thunderstorms or tornadoes or blizzards. I’m talking about when the floor of life just drops from under you and you go into a free fall. You don’t know up from down or what is real. You are tossed and thrown about by anger, pain, grief, sorrow or some other emotion brought on by circumstances you didn’t create, want or can control. Life happened and you got stuck in the middle of the perfect storm.

And perhaps you feel like you are sinking. Maybe you are wondering where God is at? As the situation enfolds around you and you are bent low emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually by the force of your suffering, you might see only wind and waves and rain and lightning. You look around frantically looking for a lighthouse, or rescue boat or life ring to save you, but you see none.

And yet God IS there. Not sending you light from the shore, or throwing a flotation device from a boat. He is right there, SO close, that you might not even see Him. Like when you bring your finger up to the bridge of your nose. It is there, but so close that your eyes can’t see it. When we are in the storm, that is where Jesus is at and that is when He is the closest to us. He is not coming to us, because He is already holding us up, carrying us, keeping our heads above water. He is closer to us in this moment than at any other in our lives.

Can we trust that He is there? Can we know His presence even when we can’t feel it or see Him? Because in the end, He does hear our cries and He does steer us through the storm to safe harbors. Little by little, day by day. Sometimes so imperceptible we don’t even realize it and at other times like the calm of the eye during a hurricane. So let us praise the Lord in the storm, knowing He is with us and that He loves us.

Dear Jesus, I know You are here in the midst of my storm, even if I can’t see You or feel Your presence. Grant me consolation and peace and give me the grace to praise You in the midst of this storm even as I trust You more and more. Amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Out of Control

“In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Galatians 5: 22-23

Have you ever seen a little kid lose it? I mean really, truly become out of control? They are screaming, crying, rolling around…and they can’t stop themselves. They can’t even necessarily remember what set them off they are so far gone. Or maybe we can still lose control as a teen-ager or an adult: screaming, yelling, cursing. Doing things we don’t want to do, blaming others, hurting the ones we love the most. Or not being able to stop ourselves from getting on facebook, texting, looking at pornography, taking drugs or alcohol. And you know the most difficult thing to deal with when we lose control? The sense of spinning, surging, reckless chaos that clouds our minds and floods our emotions that leaves us feeling so fearful and helpless.

Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the identifiers of a Christian living in tune with the promptings of the Spirit. And the key to it is letting go. Letting go of the lie that tries to convince us we actually have control over our lives. Because somewhere deep down, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we know we have very little control over most things in our lives. We can’t control the future or the past. We can’t control when we die or how. We can’t control the weather, natural disasters or the stock market. We can’t control our boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, mother, father, children or friends. We can’t control whether people will accept us or like us…et cetera, et cetera. I could go on and on.

But if we let go to the power of the Holy Spirit, He can give us the grace to surrender our lack of self-control to the order and peace that comes from God alone. The self-control of God is the antidote to the meaningless chaos that rules so many lives. Self-control is living in authentic freedom instead of the “freedom-without-restraint” lie so prominent in our world today. Self-control is living without fear, without helplessness, without the reckless anarchy that comes from being out of control. We let go through prayer, through sacrifice, through not catering to every whim and desire of our hearts and by putting others’ needs before our own.

Ultimately, by giving our lives and all that we cannot control, to the One who is in control, allows us to live in the joy, peace and freedom of His Spirit. Like an out-of-control child held in the strong, loving arms of their father, so we surrender ourselves to the will of our Father in heaven and trust in His plan and providence for us.

Dear Jesus, help me to live in right relationship with You by surrendering all that I am and all that I have to the authority and control of Your Spirit. And through this surrender, may I come to be fully embraced by the loving arms of the Father and dwell in the peace of His protection. Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can You Imagine?

“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. “ Ephesians 3: 20-21

Our imaginations are powerful. With them we can make ourselves feel scared, or happy, doubting or confident. How many people reading this have ever been in a situation where what you imagined was far worse or better than the reality? I know I have. I remember being in a cemetery with a group of friends during high school. We were walking and talking on the road weaving through the grounds on a moonlit night in October when we passed into a grove of trees. Instantly we got quiet and then we began to “hear” people around us, whispering, breaking twigs in the forest as they got closer to us. We began to get scared as we pictured the worst. And then we ran! Afterwards when nothing happened, we laughed and laughed about how our imaginations got the better of us.

Or how about the young freshman girl who dreams about going to prom? For years she looks at prom dresses on-line. When she goes to the department store she spends hours just trying on dresses that she will never wear. She imagines in great detail how wonderful the night will be dancing it away with the right guy in her arms. And then when junior year comes and she goes it seems somehow less special than she had dreamed of for all those years and she leaves feeling a little disappointed.

Motivational speakers even urge people to imagine themselves winning the award or making the team or losing the weight. Using mental images they encourage people to reach for what they see in their minds and then do whatever it takes to achieve this success.

But you know what? Our imaginations are only as good as what we have put into our minds. Our imaginations can only bring to the front of our minds what we have stored in the back of our brains. And we input things into our brains all the time: conversations with people, seeing others who have what we want, magazines, movies, TV shows, advertisements, books—all of these things and more add to the memory reserves that our imaginations can draw from.

Perhaps this is why we have such a hard time yearning for heaven: because we can’t even imagine what it is like. Perhaps this is why people can get bored with God or the Church: because we can’t really imagine what God is like. The problem is that when our imagination fails us in these instances, we often fall back into what we can imagine instead of realizing that we can’t imagine what God and heaven are like because they are beyond our imaginations and far better than what we can imagine. God is so great and loving and heaven so beautiful and fulfilling that our imaginations are not adequate to the task. Nothing in our experience is enough to allow us to imagine the greatness of God and our final home.

And yet, if we open our hearts and seek His face, our hearts and souls and minds will begin to yearn for that which is beyond our imaginations with such intensity as we have never experienced. Far from relying on the limited experiences our imaginations draw from, with the gift of faith we will yearn for more than we can imagine. And how glorious is that?

Dear Jesus, cleanse and purify my imagination from anything that is not of You and help me to fill my mind with only that which is beautiful and true, so that my heart will be free to desire only You and my eternal home. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Perfectly Imperfect

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5: 48

Jesus can be tough sometimes can’t He? I mean, He doesn’t give any leeway here, does He? He calls us to be perfect like God the Father. Jesus doesn’t give us any slack. He doesn’t afford us the option of slacking off in our spiritual lives. He doesn’t say we can be easy on ourselves. And so as His followers trying to obey Him and imitate Him and heed His words and His commands, we strive for perfection…and fail miserably.  But then what happens?

Well, in my experience, people do one of two things: they either become slaves to perfectionism, locked in a daily struggle of grief and anger, spending all of their time judging themselves and others harshly until they become like Pharisees, living only for the letter of the law. These people think they have to achieve perfection from within.

Or they give up and don’t even try anymore. Because the more they try and fail, the more they feel guilty. And so instead of continuing in this vicious cycle of failure and guilt, they stop trying and they don’t have to feel guilty. But in the end people who take this route become even more isolated and bitter then the people who become perfectionists, because these people have decided that they can’t live a life of greatness and instead settle for far less than what they were created for. These people fail to see the mercy of God.

I think most of us have probably dabbled in both of these extremes from one time to another in our lives. But doesn’t Jesus’ call to perfection have to end in one of these two ways? How else are we to deal with something that we are called to be that is impossible to become?

The solution to both extremes is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Going to this sacrament of mercy on a regular basis guards us from either giving up or becoming perfectionists. Those tempted to perfectionism will be reminded that the source of their power and strength comes from God, not from themselves. They will also be reminded to be easy on others and will receive the insights (especially from a regular confessor) to know when they are being too hard on themselves as well. For those who are tempted to give up completely, the sacrament allows them to be assured of God’s mercy and their guilt is removed so they can live in peace while still continuing to strive for that perfection Jesus calls us to.

With the remaining days of this Lenten season, why not head to the confessional and receive God’s mercy? Let go of the unrealistic expectations of perfectionism and the lifeless cycle of failure and guilt that tempts you to give up on trying for holiness. Allow God’s healing grace to wash over you and guard your heart, so that you can strive for perfection from a place of balance and peace.

Dear Jesus, I want to be perfect as the Father is perfect. Grant me the grace to accept when I fail and return to You in the sacrament of mercy so that I do not become a perfectionist or give up entirely. Amen.