This article was originally posted last Monday over at Any Given Sunday Project. It’s a reflection on the Catholic Mass readings from this past weekend. The article is being re-posted here as part of our ongoing Jesus, Justice Joy series.
Following God’s will for us is the only path to true, lasting joy…
I can honestly say, I am a much more confident person now than I was when I was younger. I guess that’s the way it works for many of us. As a young adult, I made certain choices and sought the validation of certain people because I wanted to seem important, relevant, and appear as though I had my act together. In truth, I was a mess. I put on a good show, but inside I was fragile. I feared that others were experiencing a fullness of life that was out of reach for me: Other people were more talented. Other people were more attractive. Other people were more fun. Conversely, I was the weird one. I was the outcast. I was the one who was tolerated, but not really a necessary part of any particular group. I felt irrelevant and I looked for ways to prove that I wasn’t. Consequently, I made choices, big and small, that reflected that state of mind. I needed to feel like I mattered, and I think I would have done just about anything to get that fix. I realize now how sinful that behavior was, but at the time it felt like I was owed something. If I could justify a particular life choice as something I was entitled to, then there wasn’t anything that was going to get in the way of me choosing that thing. I’m sure at some point, all of the seven deadly sins were involved in this insanity. I’m not proud of that. It is what it is.
The readings this weekend not only show how destructive behavior like that can be, but they also give us a peek into how God can bring us through any and all of it.
We get lots of glimpses into the consequences of bad choices. In the first reading, from Genesis, Adam and Eve immediately feel shame for what they have done. Prior to eating from the Tree of Life, sin and shame didn’t exist. Sin entered the world through their disobedience and their choosing to try and be like God. The psalmist, as though crying out for Adam and Eve, begs God to “Be merciful…,” acknowledging our sinful ways. This part of Psalm 51 asks for mercy and a washing away of guilt. The psalmist longs for a clean heart and a return to joy. He seems to know that, in sin, we are not who we were created to be.
The second reading and the Gospel remind us that sinfulness is death, but it is not the end. In the second reading, Paul juxtaposes Adam and Eve’s selfish and destructive decision to eat from the Tree of Life (thereby saddling all mankind with Original Sin) with Jesus’ selfless and life-giving choice to die for all of us. As he says so eloquently in verse 18, “…just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all”. Through our Baptism, and indeed all throughout our daily lives, we have the choice to either accept or deny the salvation Jesus won for us. It isn’t much of a choice, really: Live in sin and death or live as you were created. Of course we should choose the latter. The tough part is living out that choice.
In the Gospel, Jesus shows us how to live a Christian life and prepare for temptation. Just prior to beginning his public ministry, Jesus heads into the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer. Jesus goes out of his way to empty himself so he can make room for God. Why, you ask? Because he knew what we should know, what Adam and Eve learned the hard way: Temptation comes to all of us. Satan spares no one. We must prepare ourselves. Jesus’s preparation paid off. He was ready.
We too can prepare, by taking time to grow closer to God each day, even if it’s just a few minutes. Commit quality time to God in prayer and in God’s Word. Soon, you’ll be better prepared for the trials ahead, and you’ll realize that nothing Satan offers you, nothing on this earth is worth more than life eternal with God. Nothing.
Now to build a time machine and share this wisdom with my eighteen year-old self.