Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lent and the battle of guilt vs conscience

So, today, through one thing and another, I am continually reminded of my weakness. Well, not just today, but shall I say, especially today.

  Of course, Lent tends to expose my weaknesses as I try to reign them in and become more disciplined. It reminds me of cleaning closets. The more I dig in the closets, the more forgotten items come out into the light, and are now looking me in the face; forcing me to make decisions on their future. Some of these are from a time when I lived very differently than I do now. But I remember those times with gratitude, and quite a bit of awe at how God has worked.

 I am almost 11 years a Catholic, this Easter. The several years leading up to my conversion, and the first several years in, were full of grace, and a steep learning curve. I was still such a newbie, and having come from the Evangelical world, I hadn't met our friend, Catholic Guilt yet, nor even his nicer relative, Well Formed Conscience. So, as I blundered towards God, I was blissfully unaware of my foibles. I am not going to enumerate them all here. Neither you or I have that kind of time. But when I look back at that time, a few of the many positives that stand out were that I was earnest and unafraid. I did make mistakes, but I made them in the context of growth. It is my feeling that God was pleased, as a parent would be pleased at the progress of a child. The mistakes are expected and part of the growing. When children are learning to walk, they occasionally fall. When  learning to eat, they make a mess. When learning to speak,  unintelligible for a little while.

As a parent, we find all of these things endearing and kind of treasure them, as we know they will pass quickly, and our little ones will very soon grow up.

 Even as they become teens and young adults, sometimes we must stand and watch as they make larger mistakes. Maybe we aren't grinning at this point, but we are there to offer support and guidance, and of course, prayer. We have to entrust them to that same God who saw us through our own rough times.

 And so,here in the Lent of 2014, I am doing my little sacrifices and extra reading, going to confession, and just generally attempting to be more aware of God and of myself in relation to Him. As I mentioned about the cluttered closet, along with many gifts and graces, I can't help but see the junk a little clearer too. But now, folks, our buddy Catholic Guilt has caught up to me, as much as I try to ignore him and just focus on Well Formed Conscience, CG is kind of a loudmouth and not easily brushed aside.

There is always something I have not done enough of, or in the best way possible, or with the best attitude in the whole world, et cetera. I am trying to remember, that even though I have 11 years under my belt, I am not "there" yet, and still in a growing process, and will be until my last day on Earth. And remembering some of that fresh enthusiasm and delight from the earlier days, I think that maybe it is okay to forge ahead without expecting from myself immediate perfection in every circumstance. Maybe a little trust that God, in His wisdom, has laid out my path in a way that I, a garden variety sinner, can grow in holiness a little each day.

In January, I did Jen Fulwiler's Saint Generator, to choose a Saint (or have one pick me) to pray to especially this year. Truth be told, I forgot about it till now. But, I remember at the time, being pretty blown away at having gotten Saint Mary Magdalene. It came back to me today, as I am remembering a time when I was a little closer to the start, and the flood of Grace was still fresh. The amazement that God was with me in my little life, sticking in there while I blundered around, sometimes really badly, and bringing me step by tiny step, closer to Him. I remember how I always loved the verse, "He who has been forgiven much, loves much." I remember how much Christ loved Mary Magdalen, how extravagantly she loved Him, and how he gave her the honor of being the first to see Him after His resurrection.

I am reading more about her life now, and I don't think I (or hardly anyone) would be able to live the life she led after His ascension. But, she still embraced many difficult (read: impossible to imagine) earthly penances for her earthy sins, though forgiven. Her death was beautiful and surrounded by the miraculous, and she was greatly honored after she passed.

So, I guess what I am saying is, don't forget that God loves us as a father because He is our Father. If you are a parent, think about that before you beat yourself up. How much did our own parents have to deal with in our own upbringing? Or, if you are a parent and are having difficulties with a child, think of your enduring love for them, even in the worst times.

 His example of complete self-emptying love, in order that we might obtain forgiveness for our sins and go on to be happy in heaven with Him forever, was not all done so that we could turn around and berate ourselves night and day for our frail humanity. Rather, that we can acknowledge our frailty, and turn it over to the Blessed Mother and her Son, to do with us as He will. And stay the course, always in the shadow of His loving wing, trusting Him to bring us closer.

Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

PATRON SAINT OF: Apothecaries, Casamicciola, Italy, contemplative life, contemplatives, converts, druggists, glove makers, hairdressers, hairstylists, penitent sinners, penitent women, people ridiculed for their piety, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, reformed prostitutes, sexual temptation, tanners,(not the tanning booth kind) women
GUIDANCE: Friend and follower of Jesus. Filled with sorrow over her sin, she anointed Christ, washed his feet with her hair. Exorcised by Him. Visited by the Risen Christ.
FEAST DAY: July 22

"Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much."--Luke 7:47

* After going back a reading over my post, a little clarification, I feel, is needed.

Having a well formed conscience is a Good Thing. What I am calling Catholic guilt, is my tongue-in-cheek way of referring to an unhealthy kind of guilt, one that accuses my every move, and doesn't lead to holiness, but only fosters confusion. And we all know who is the author of confusion. So, I am not saying God winks at sin, I am saying that He forbears with the one who wants to grow in holiness. I was simply remembering a time before I picked up a habit of allowing self accusation to cloud the workings of my conscience.

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