Here’s an oldie but goodie.
As Lent begins, we Catholics may look like a bunch of doleful, down-on-ourselves people, but we are simply realistic. And essentially joyful. After all, we humans are “but dust, and to dust we will return,” which might be really depressing, except for one all-important, universe-shaking thing…
The penitential season of Lent is not wholly about sorrowful repentance of our sins – images of ashes and sackcloth, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Although Lent is certainly a time to focus deeply on the examination of conscience and where we have gone wrong, the ideal is perhaps best achieved by devoting ourselves to the Socratic maxim, “Know thyself.” By knowing deeply who we are, our lives will become transformed, by the grace of God.
For these 40 days, we are called out of our ordinary lives to look more closely at our thoughts, fears, and desires, as well as at our words and deeds. We are called to scrutinize our attitudes, habits, and all of the decisions, big and small, that we make every day. And when we take a really good look at ourselves in this way, our conclusions should not be that we are bad, stupid, or useless, utterly horrid and devoid of value — just as our conclusions should not be that we are superior to all other human beings, utterly magnificent in everything that we say and do. The conclusion that we should draw is that we are utterly magnificent in one regard:
God created us in Divine image and likeness and loves us enough to take on our humanity and die for us. It is for this reason that no human being is worthless. For this sacred reason — and for this sacred reason alone — every human being is valuable, is precious.
We may think that God loves us because we have professed belief in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ and/or because we do good things that are helpful to others. But that’s not why God loves us. God doesn’t love me because I smile despite being physically disabled and in a wheelchair. God doesn’t love you because you praise His Holy Name from a pulpit or in a blog. God doesn’t love them because they are poor and simple or them because they are successful and generous. God loves each and every human being because God loves each and every human being. God loves because that’s what God does, because that is exactly who God is. We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve or merit God’s love, because God has already done it for us. We are lovable precisely because God independently chooses to bring us into being through His Own Creative Love, to sustain us through His Grace, and to heal, redeem, and sanctify us through His Only Begotten Son.
We should never think of ourselves as any more than this. And we should never think of ourselves as any less than this. Being able to grasp the reality of who we are is, well, beyond our grasp. We come closest, however, when we remember that God loves every human being. You know that person who really hurt you and doesn’t even seem to realize how badly, even though you tried to explain it to her? God loves that person intimately and infinitely. You know that person who is always so arrogant and says such cruel things about other people? God loves that person intimately and infinitely. God takes no joy in their sins — God takes no joy in our sins — but He eternally loves sinners. That means that God eternally loves us, each and every human being no matter what we do: no matter how badly we screw up His Commandments or how well we keep them.
What makes the difference in our lives of whether or not we will be holy lies in one question. It is the one question that God needs to have answered — the very question that we need to ask ourselves, especially in this deep awareness of Lent: will we allow God to love us?
Letting God Love Me
Maybe you thought that I was going to write that the question is whether or not we will choose to love God. I thought about it. But then I wordlessly remembered in my heart (or the wordless memory was pushed forward for me) that we love because God first loved us. The only reason that we can love anyone or anything at all is because God loves us. So, even if I want to love God, I must first let God love me. What does that mean? It means that I have to know who I am — who I truly, honestly, eternally am: intimately and infinitely loved by God.
I am God’s beloved creation, as is every human being that has ever, and will ever, come into being. Not me alone — all of us. I do not need to think of myself any more highly than this to be completely and utterly fulfilled in joy, goodness, and the greatness of destiny. And I do not need to think of myself any lower than this to please the One Who loves me into existence.
Yes, I have, independently, according to freewill, chosen to be unloving at times, many times, through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault, and by so doing I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. These moments of self-centered decision, these sins, which I reflect upon during Lent, are when I did not allow God to love me. I did not allow God to lead me in my choices (for all-loving God will always lead us to the best places) and I did not allow God to love my fellow human beings, to love all of His Creation, through me.
In the past year, I allowed my fears, habits, and self-centered desires to lead me to say “No” to Divine Will, which is Divine Love. In so doing, I turned away from my own identity as God’s beloved. And that is why I am sorrowing here, that is why I am dissatisfied in my life. That is why, during the self-examination of Lent, I am mournfully repentant, longing for forgiveness and mercy and newness of life. Forgiveness and Mercy and Newness of Life are precisely what God wants to give to me through His Love — precisely what Christ brings to me through his Passion and Resurrection. God wants me to be restored to my true self. The Holy Days of Lent and Easter are a gift from God to help me remember, anew, that I am divinely loved.
Will I choose to receive God’s love?
I am only human, and, as such, I can only do so much. But God can do everything. Will I let Him? Because the thing is… God loves me enough never to force me.
© 2019 Christina Chase
This was inspired by a Bible Burst on Romans 12:3. See the original writing here.
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.