While a concept that does not stand up in a court of law—one cannot be charged with a crime simply by being associated with a criminal—we know that it is a very powerful force in the court of public opinion. When someone does something bad, the moral character of everyone around them is called into question.
The trail begins with an easy climb, along old logging roads, through a young mix of pine and oak, hickory and sweet gum. The last of the golden crowned kinglets call their see-see-see from the needled branches of the loblollies and the red buds blaze with their purple signs of spring. The season turns; tilting again toward the sun.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”—Matthew 18:21–22
In January 1973, Mother Teresa was interviewed by Ralph Rolls on a BBC program entitled Belief and Life. Referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland, Rolls asked her to talk about what Christians needed to do to bring peace to the region. Her advice was readily reduced into one simple word: forgiveness.
A Word from Pope Francis
In our imagination, salvation must come from something great, from something majestic: only the powerful can save us, those who have strength, who have money, who have power, these people can save us. Instead, God’s plan is different. Thus, they feel disdain because they cannot understand that salvation comes only from little things, from the simplicity of the things of God. When Jesus proposes the way of salvation, he never speaks of great things, but only little things. The little thing is represented by bathing in the Jordan and by the little village of Nazareth. Disdain is a luxury that only the vain, the proud allow themselves.
Chinese food is one of the many gifts from God on this earth. Cheap, easily accessible, usually sold in enormous quantities, and basically uniform in quality across the country, it’s the sort of food that I absolutely crave from time to time. Who doesn’t love a towering supply of fried meat and simple carbs? And yet, the very things that make Chinese food so desirable—price, quantity, convenience, greasiness/saltiness—are the very things that ultimately make it unsatisfying.
Pope Francis always challenges us. I noticed a post in a blog, or it might have been a Facebook feed, or a meme on Instagram, that said the pope is prompting us to spend as much time with the Bible as we do with our cell phones. I thought that was good advice for others, but certainly not for me.
As Lent begins, Pope Francis has been asking us to think of our Bibles, to be in them more than we are our cell phones. In his Angelus address he asked “What would happen were we to treat the Bible as we treat our mobile phone?; were we to always carry it with us? . . . were we to turn back when we forget it?”
Every time Lent comes around, the perfectionist in me starts showing its face more than usual. I always start the season with the intention of doing more than just giving up chocolate or something simple like that, but sometimes I go a little overboard with my Lenten commitments and end up having to ease up on some of them.
I’m sure I’ll always have this impulse to aim higher than I can reasonably go, even though I’ve learned to temper my expectations and avoid getting down on myself when I fail. My perfectionism doesn’t just apply to what I do during Lent, though. It also applies to the way I do things, which in some ways is even more powerful.
As we hear during the Gospel at every Ash Wednesday, Jesus wants us to “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” Instead, we are to pray, fast, and give alms without anyone noticing, so that the Lord, the only one who will notice when we do things that way, will repay us in heaven.
A Word from Pope Francis
We are all masters, we are all experts, when it comes to justifying ourselves. We all have an alibi to justify our shortcomings, our sins. We so often respond with an ‘I don’t know!’ face, or with an ‘I didn’t do it, it must have been someone else!’ face. We are always ready to play innocent. Before and after confession, in your life, in your prayer, are you able to blame yourself? Or is it easier to blame others?
In a moment of self-reflection, have you ever looked around at your life—all that you’ve done, all that you have, and all that the future holds—and realized that you were on a mountain? In this moment, you realize, of sublime comfort and perfect confidence, all the pieces of your life have fallen into place and you are finally exactly where you want to be. “I’ve made it—and I don’t want to leave.”
I can distinctly remember this feeling three times in my life.