I’m tuned in enough to know that some people think my religious observance is pretty wacky. Most people are kind enough not to say anything about it, and some even make positive comments about it when they see that it enriches my life. If I frame it right, I can even make my practices culturally acceptable: in general, they make me feel good, which is often presented as the only thing that matters.
Today I plopped myself down in the pew for morning mass as part of my Lenten discipline. Speaking the language of ‘the world’ I could say that it clears my head, inspires me, or sets the tone for the day. It makes me feel good. Speaking the language of religion, which becomes my first language more and more each day I declare that it feeds me, that Christ is truly present, that it is the summit and source of my day and my faith.
Regardless of which language I’m speaking, today’s readings were not “feel good”. From Isaiah to the psalm to the Gospel, we heard over and over “you’re doing it wrong!” I can’t really argue with that. Whoever humbles herself will be exalted: humility is not one of my top virtues. “Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”: I talk a good game, but half the time I’m not sure I’m listening. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: Oh boy.
I am in favor of being told that we need to improve. The fact is that I do, you do, we all do. Sometimes I avoid thinking about improvement, because I know I still have so far to go. Even after decades of trying to cultivate my angels and tame my demons, there is no end in sight. Having never fit the stereotype of A Good Catholic Woman I peer down the tunnel of my future with a mixture of holy defiance and burnt-out dread. How will I be better? And what are the consequences if I am not?
Isaiah 1 encourages “cease doing evil; learn to do good“. That’s what I’ll take away from this morning. Keep your eyes open, keep learning. Eliminate the wrong and be a student of virtue. If I can’t always be holy, I can at least recognize sanctity. It might not become easier overnight, it might not ever get easier. And more than making me feel good, it might make me stay good.