Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Humility, Suffering, and Perfection

I have not posted anything for an incredibly long time. There have been things that I've wanted to say, none of which I can really remember now, but the truth is that there hasn't been time to say them. I couldn't even tell you what it is that's been keeping me so busy; I just know that I never feel like I have a spare minute. Maybe it's because I need a considerable amount of veg time in order to feel fully rested, so any spare moment I have is spent trying to relax. Even if I actually have stuff to do... like right now: I have so much to do! But I'm too tired to do anything. (It doesn't help that it's a sleepy rainy day here in Oakland.) Lately I feel that I'm just living from one pleasure to the next, enduring all that comes between instead of trying to make the best of each moment. That is not as it should be; my life is disordered at present.
Perhaps it is time to turn over a new leaf, as they say. Today, for example, I am eating humble pie. For a variety of reasons, I haven't been to my history class more than a few times in the past month. True, there are no tests in this class, but there are essays, and I believe the deadline for the next one is coming up soon. I don't have the prompt yet because I wasn't in class the day our professor handed them out and he doesn't use courseweb at all. So today I approached him after lecture to inquire after the essay prompt, fully revealing how behind I was in the course and drawing attention to the fact that I'm never there. I've written before about how closely tied my self-esteem is to my performance in school, so I needn't go through the emotions that I dealt with up until the moment I approached the front of the room. Taking responsibility for ones failings is never a comfortable action to take. Yet quite often it is the best way. On could argue that it is always the best way, in fact.
In my critical reading class, we just finished reading "Bartleby" by Herman Melville. It is the story of a lawyer (and narrator) dealing with his difficult scriveners on mid-1800s Wall Street. In particular, Bartleby, the most recent hire, "prefers not to" do anything but stare out the window after a brief period of efficient productivity at the beginning of his tenure in the office. The strange thing is that the lawyer, for whatever reason, cannot bear to kick him out, so Bartleby continues to haunt the office, even after the lawyer picks up and moves his business elsewhere! A most strange tale, indeed. Throughout, I found myself to be extremely frustrated and annoyed with the narrator's spinelessness. At the very beginning of the tale, he describes himself as "a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best," and proceeds to act upon this conviction for the remainder of the story. He runs the office like a wet noodle, never disciplining his scriveners or even remaining angry at them for more than a moment. He rationalizes away every inclination that might lead him into conflict with anyone, even physically running away from the office when things get really bad toward the end.
The reason that I go into all of this detail about this particular story is that I see myself in the lawyer's actions to an alarming degree. My sixth grade teacher always used to say that we are most annoyed with other people when we recognize our own faults in them, and that certainly seems to be the case here. Much as I was shocked to hear the narrator's life philosophy, I have to admit that I have lived much of my own life by it. I, too, have spent years taking the easiest way and avoiding conflict at all costs. Usually when the need arises to really fight for something, I give up on it, including everything from grades to workouts to love interests. I have let people walk all over me because I would rather be hurt than fight it out. I have let others call the shots because I didn't want to put in the effort necessary to resist. I have listened with a smile on my face to people voicing opinions that make me want to scream and throw things because it just wouldn't do to start an argument. Now perhaps some of these have been occasions of prudence and wisdom. But perhaps some of them required action, and I did not act.
I was recently in Peoria with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts, and one of the sisters gave us a beautiful presentation about suffering. No matter where our paths take us, there is going to be suffering involved. The key to navigating life is not to choose the easiest way, but rather to choose the way that our Lord wants us to take. Sometimes we may even need to choose to suffer! Yes, it may be difficult, but it is far easier to suffer now than in purgatory! At the end of our lives, what will we wish we had done right now? Let us not wait until the end of our lives to wish those things for ourselves; let us wish for them now! We are being called to be who we were created to be. There is no half way, there is no cutting of corners; if we are truly living the life He wants for us then the cross is always the end! And that cross is love in the extreme! Christ didn't scrimp; he annihilated Himself to give love to us. What are we watering down? How are we running away from Him? In what ways are we living in mediocrity?
Too often I have grown complacent and prideful by looking only at the aspects of myself that I like, the areas in which I am succeeding. It is then that I need to be jostled out of my comfortable sleep and awaken to the many areas of my life where I have failed, like in this history class. Christ understands when we fall - He was human once, after all - but we are being called to PERFECTION. As Padre Pio said, "God sees stains even in the angels. What must He see in me!"
This may seem an impossible task, but I assure you that it is not! Our Lord greatly desires for us to become the people He created us to be, so the slightest glance in His direction gladdens His heart. Can't you see that He wants nothing more than to welcome you into His arms? He longs to pour out his grace upon each of our hearts if we would only be open to receive it. The easiest and the best way to do this is to frequent the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. By keeping our souls clean and free from worldly attachment and frequently welcoming Jesus physically into our bodies, we are able to keep building that close relationship with Him that He so desires and from which we benefit so greatly! This closeness with Him that all of the great saints fostered allowed for their sanctification, for when you personally know the Author of the Universe, it is easier to see His hand at work and the paths He has set for you. And the path that our Lord has chosen for all of us is sainthood! Believe it! He wants all of us to be up at that high altar in heaven. We were created to be nothing less.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that these little things like succeeding in history class or day-to-day charity may seem inconsequential, but it is the culmination of all the little choices that you make that determine your character. After all, if we are to be perfect as we are meant to be, then each of these little decisions must lead us to God and to the sanctification of our souls.