Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping up the Good Work

Over the weekend we had dinner with some friends we haven't seen in a long time. During the course of the conversation, certain opinions came forth that were opposed to Church teaching. Usually in situations like these, I try to determine whether I'm being given an opportunity to defend the Church or to practice humility by remaining silent. Usually. This time I just jumped right in and started arguing. Then someone brought up the Crusades and the sex abuse scandal.

At this point I'd like to say that I rationally defended the Church and explained those anomalies in their historical and cultural context. I did not. I rolled my eyes, I laughed, I got angry and made stupid, sweeping generalizations. Eventually, we moved on to a different subject.

Times like that mostly serve to remind me how very, very far I am from a spirit of gentleness and love for my fellow man. The fact that I can get so completely worked up in a conversation with friends, to the point where I am insulting and obnoxious, illustrates that I am not letting the Holy Spirit work within me. It's discouraging to be reminded how much more spiritual growing I need to do.

But I think it's always going to be this way. Part of the sancification process involves a constant, deliberate rooting out of those sins which keep us from God. Like cleaning the house, we have to be always at work on it. Becoming aware of a fault or a sin is like finding a corner of the study that is just overflowing with accumulated junk and clutter. It takes a long time and serious effort to clean that corner, putting everything in its place and getting rid of the ugliness we don't want. But simply putting it in right order isn't enough. We have to keep visiting that corner, making sure it's not collecting junk again. We have to consciously keep it clean.

It's hard work, and again like housekeeping, it's not very rewarding in the short term. You clean, and it is immediately messy again. So you clean again, and again and again. The rewards are more subtle, such as the peace you feel from living in a place that is ordered and beautiful. Or the self-discipline that you earn by consistent effort at the same task.

Since my personality is so focused on perfection and so easily discouraged, I'm going to try and view things in more of a housekeeping light. If, in a particular circumstance, I don't manage to live up to God's standard for holiness, it's not a failure. It's not a setback. Rather, it's an indication that I need to do some praying. Finding a few leaves tracked into my living room does not mean I am a failure as a housekeeper. It's not cause for tears, recriminations or tantrums. It just means I need to get out the vacuum. Sins are like dirt: they just keep appearing, somehow. So, we just need to keep sweeping them out.

One more small sidenote: Something I've noticed from reading the Lives of the Saints is how detached they were from worldly cares. I don't mean material goods or other things of that nature. I mean actual cares: what people think of them, what's going on in the world, what's happening to them, etc. This isn't to say that they didn't have a deep and abiding compassion for the unfortunate, only that they put things in their proper perspective. This world will pass away. God's kingdom lasts forever. And the Saints had achieved such a union with the Almighty that they simply couldn't give worldly things too much importance. I think if I ever want to get to the point where I am able to read the news or discuss politics and theology with my friends and family, I will first need to develop a closeness with God that puts this world and all the things in it into its proper place.

That room in my soul where I get totally worked up over someone's differing opinion? Yeah. It needs some work.

Picture credit.


Aelinn said...

Oh. I really needed this one today.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

It's called being human. That's why we need God's help. We all experience this from time to time. Join our large social circle of people who jump in where angels know better than to tread.

Lindsay said...

My spiritual director is often reminding me of what Pope Benedict said at World Youth Day when someone asked about taking the same things to confession over and over. He asked, "Have you ever cleaned your house before? Did you ever have to clean it again?" Thank you for expanding on this beautifully since I apparently need to hear it a lot, lol.

qualcosa di bello said...

i'm so glad to have you as a companion on this journey!

Rachel Gray said...

I loved this post (found it on Jennifer's favorite links blog). Thank you!