She would ask, “What did you do that was wrong?”
“I was mean to my sister.”
“Are you sorry?”
What will do differently next time?
“I’ll be nice to my sister.”
Mom would end with, “OK. Now go tell your sister you love her.”
After which I would go to my sister’s room and say from the doorway, “Mom says to tell you I love you.”
If you have been following the readings from this past week, and taking in all that is currently take place in our divisive world, you may be feeling what is often referred to as “Catholic guilt.”
The readings for the last week have been focused on do’s and don’ts, sin and forgiveness. We were offered, among others, the following scripture themes:
Love your enemies, stop judging, and be merciful.
We heard more of the same today. Sirach reminded us that God remembers our sins in detail. He urged us to cease from sin; to forgive our neighbor’s injustice and overlook their faults.
Matthew’s gospel told us to forgive our brother from our heart and went so far as to say we should be willing to do this seventy-seven times.
All of these readings put tremendous responsibility on our shoulders. They call on us to avoid sinfulness and choose the good; yet forgive and embrace others that are sinful and do not choose the good.
The readings speak to current events as well.
As political races heat up there is an uncomfortable divisiveness. Many people, some of whom we know and trust, have different political and world views than we do. When should we speak and when should we hold our tongue? Should we confront them? If so, is our only motivation the desire to be right?
There are demonstrations and marches – some sparking violence – taking place across the country. They bring to the surface additional divisive issues – social justice concerns, racism, and privilege.
Things we never believed could happen in our country are happening. Things we have never questioned are being questioned. We are being forced out of our comfort zone and the Church is pointing a finger at us to fix it. Why are we being made to feel guilty for the problems of the world?
Why is the Church calling on us to pray for an end to racism when we are not racists? Why are we being asked to welcome people that believe differently than we do or forgive people that have offended our sensibilities? How is all of this our problem?
The Church places a heavy burden on us. How can we be expected to do all that is being asked of us? Love our enemies, withhold judgment, forgive others, avoid sin, overlook faults, and more.
Here is a spoiler alert: The work of discipleship will never be complete.
Recall the parable of the rich young man that approached Jesus. He asked Jesus how he could gain eternal life. Jesus told him, “Follow the commandments.”
The young man was pleased and responded, “I have done that since my youth.”
Then, we hear Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said, “Now, go sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor. Then, come and follow me.”
The story goes on to say that the man went away sad, for he had many possessions. He went away sad because he thought his work was done; he thought he had done all that was required of him.
However, the cross of discipleship is that our work is never done. So the Church will continue to point a finger at us and ask, “What are you going to do about this?”
However, this should offer some comfort: We are not being asked to go to the public square and declare our sinfulness to the townspeople. We are not being asked to wear sackcloth and sit in ashes beating our breasts in repentance. Our God is not a vengeful God trying to “catch us” in our sinfulness.
Listen to these words we heard sung in the Responsorial Psalm just moments ago.
The Lord is kind and merciful. He comforts our sorrows, redeems our lives and crowns us with his kindness. Merciful and gracious is our God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness. The Lord is kind and merciful.
The Church is not saying, “Wait until your father gets home!”
Instead, the Church is asking us to be still – to “go to our rooms” if you will – and think about what we have done…or not done. What has our role been in what is happening in the world?
As a child, I was incapable of this type of self-reflection. However, as an adult it is possible.
Self-reflection is not a demeaning process of listing all of our faults and beating ourselves up over them. Rather, we are to take an honest look at the whole of our life experiences. We have done good things and should take comfort it that and affirm ourselves.
However, an honest look in the mirror will reveal all truth and lead us to some challenging questions:
Do our actions reveal the best we have to offer? Have are actions toward others shown us to be kind, compassionate, welcoming, loving, considerate, empathetic, and merciful human beings; or has our inaction left others feeling alone? Do we accept things as they are without consideration for how they should be? Do we choose to feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in self-pity, or do we courageously pick up the cross of discipleship?
We are a work in progress. Self-reflection is not a one-time thing and we cannot expect to carry our cross the entire way to Calvary overnight. It is ongoing and we will struggle. Remember, Jesus fell three times while carrying his cross.
Self-reflection is very much like my Mom’s questions:
- “What did you do – or not do – that was wrong?”
- “Are you sorry?”
- “What will do differently next time?”
And when we have answered these questions, God, who is kind and merciful, will say, “OK. Now go show your brothers and sisters that you love them.”