Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Actually, We're Not OK

We often go along and get along in our faith journeys with the “I’m OK, you’re OK" attitude,  but it benefits us now and then to pause and reflect upon things “not OK”, lest we become too comfortable. We can breakdown this “OK” and “Not OK” thing in terms of four quadrants.

Quadrant I
I’m OK, you’re OK:
This relates to the sin of presumption. God loves us just the way we are, therefore our salvation is assured, regardless of any sins or non-sins. Just do whatever you feel is right.

Quadrant II
I’m not OK, you’re OK:
This relates to false humility. True humility is submitting to the Truth. False humility involves putting oneself down. Thinking yourself stupid, worthless or beyond hope is not proper for a child of God and it offends Him, so stop it!

Quadrant III
I’m OK, you’re not OK:
This is pride mixed in with presumption; the self-defeating attitude of “everybody’s stupid, but me”.

Quadrant IV
I’m not OK, you’re not OK:
When we compare ourselves directly to the holiness of God, quadrant IV is where we encounter reality. We are all sinners.

Although we know we are not perfect, we may hear from time to time about how "good" we are. Most of us tend to follow the ten commandants, more or less, and we throw in The Golden Rule, now and then. We try to make the world a better place when it’s convenient. We volunteer, we donate to charities, we’re kind to animals, we recycle and we even practice safe-sex! If you think we’re good people who don’t do anything "bad" (we’re OK), one needs only to ponder what comes after The Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5 to begin a terrifying examination of conscience.

If you are angry with someone, you are liable to the fires of Hell (Mat 5:22).
If you look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery (Mat 5:28).
Be perfect as God is perfect (Mat 5:37). To me, this verse reads more as a command than a suggestion.

Do you still think you’re in pretty good shape? I once ran across a reflection that practically sent me running off to the confessional. See if some of these might apply to you or anyone you know.

With the sin of pride we scheme to push ourselves forward with white lies, showiness, sarcasm, passive aggressiveness and exaggerations intended to show that we know more than we really do, to make us look good and others look bad. We refuse to admit our own faults; we’re stubborn and impatient with harshness of words and judgment. We have no use for human creatures that won’t or can’t see things the way we do.

Sloth relates to our negligence, gluttony, weakness of will, jealousy, discouragement, resistance to grace, omission of the good we should be doing, and an undisciplined imagination that daydreams, allowing for voluntary anxiety. We allow our imaginations to “stew”. We review again and again all that arouses our anger, sadness and melancholy. We exaggerate things in our mind in order to make our own fantasy world of misery. We make tragedy where there is none, allowing our emotions to be extreme and uncontrolled. To sum it up, we act like the spoiled children of God. We are monstrous.

God’s light shows us the many blemishes of our conduct and we get the ominous feeling that there are many more yet to be discovered. Once we see this, we no longer seek to depend upon ourselves; we seek dependence on God, but the journey is not easy.

Jesus' response to the question of salvation in Luke 13:23-24 is also sobering. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…" He describes the gate into heaven as narrow. This means it is not easy. In order to get through a narrow gate one must be deliberate in purpose and focused. It would seem NOT to happen just by accident. He also says "...many...will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." What does He mean by “strong enough”?  Don’t we only need to believe? I need to worry about strength? I’d rather hear the stuff about the burden being easy and the yoke being light.

All this sounds pretty discouraging; we cannot be perfect; we are not God. How can we be “strong enough”? The answer is God’s grace, and here is a plug for more frequent confession.

The sacrament of reconciliation is a channel of God’s grace in the world. Sin blocks God’s grace; even “small” sins begin to block the pipes through which grace flows. All the little sins accumulate and the clog gets worse and worse and soon you’re dried up. Confession clears the pipes and the precept of going once per year is not enough for a smooth, continuous flow. You will receive more grace at your next communion after confession, which will in turn allow you to make a better confession next time, which makes a better communion, which makes a better confession, and on and on. It’s an upward spiral to holiness!

This is how we can be “strong enough”. Grace can be the grease that will help get us through the narrow gate. It gives us the strength so the burden seems easy, the yoke seems light. With grace we can begin to obey the command of Jesus to be more than just OK, we can “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

Go to confession!

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