On one hand, some of us might just be excited we can finally eat meat again. Or eat chocolate. Or whet our appetite for attention again with Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.
On another hand, some of us might be basking in the radiance of the peak in the liturgical year, satisfied with our efforts of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and just letting God’s grace elevate us to even higher levels of holiness….(count me out on this one).
Or, some of us might be doing a little of both mentioned above, except every time we indulge or attempt to bask in the Resurrection-Grace, we get a twinge of guilt as we look back on our Lent and think, “Wow, I didn’t even come close to accomplishing what I set out to do.”
If you’re in this third category, this post is for you.
In my own experience of Lent and PLG (Post-Lent Guilt), I’ve come across three insights that help me through the spiritual melancholy so I can actually celebrate the Resurrection. These three things aren’t new, just extremely counterintuitive.
While I wish I could claim these insights as my own, they’re not. They’re insights from the Saint of Mercy, the saint whose understanding of God’s mercy made her a doctor of the Church: St. Therese.
Drawing largely upon a book on her spirituality titled I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean D’Elbee, I submit to you the three insights that changed the way I view God, His Mercy and my Post-Lent Guilt:
1. Smallness + Confidence = Key to Jesus’ Heart
The temptation for all of us when we’ve failed, not lived up to our own expectations, or missed spiritual goals we set out to achieve is to feel like we’re less worthy of God’s love. We feel like we have to prove or re-prove our worth to Him so that we can be in His good graces again.
While we shouldn’t ignore that we may have failed, the attitude with which we view that failure changes everything. We have to let the failures remind us that we are weak, and in being reminded that we are weak, we should be reminded that we are small. Then, in our smallness, we should lift our eyes to Jesus and, like a little child confident in a Father’s love, ask for forgiveness. When we lift our eyes to him like this, His Heart is vanquished. St. Therese says that it is because of our smallness that Jesus is even more inclined to shower His mercy on us:
“I feel that if (though this would be impossible) You were to find a soul more weak and little than mine, You would be pleased to shower upon it even greater favors, if it abandoned itself to You with complete confidence in Your infinite mercy.” (Manuscrits Autobiographiques, 237)
2. “Do you believe you are a joy for Jesus?” (I Believe in Love, 22)
If anybody has looked at the Pantocrator icon, they’ll notice upon looking at Jesus’ face that two gazes are cast on the viewer: the gaze of Justice and the gaze of Mercy. While we can never pit the two against each other and while we should always praise Him for both, we necessarily tend towards looking at the gaze of Justice. We think that with every mistake, every lack of self-control, and every sign of weakness, Jesus is just waiting to smite us with His right hand and cast us into hell.
Ok, maybe we’re not that extreme, but regardless, we often forget that Jesus is pleased that we’re trying. While He’ll never let us be content with staying where we’re at, He will always rejoice in our effort. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if we really believe that He takes joy in us, that He is pleased with our effort, and that He can’t wait for us to turn to Him time and time again. Do you believe you are a joy for Jesus?
“Is it not a matter of the most elementary logic that a father and his child should be a joy for one another?…There are persons who are baptized…who pass their whole lives on earth without ever having experienced this heart-to-heart relationship with their Father in Heaven, their Creator and Savior, in the happiness which comes from being a joy for one another.” (I Believe in Love, 22)
3. Nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39)
The last insight to share I think is the most important because it’s the principle for the two above. Whenever we let our weakness, failures, and guilt become the faces staring and laughing at us in our minds, we’ve just let an enormous wall be raised up between us and Jesus. We’ve – without realizing it – separated ourselves from the One Person who can give us the strength to conquer our weakness and overcome our failures.
Even after we’ve committed deep sin and have received the grace of Confession, if we let the already-forgiven sin become a barrier between us and Him, we’ve lost. We must let this one reality consume us: union with Jesus is everything. We know that our sins wound our relationship with Him. We know that He is always calling us out of ourselves to deeper union with Him. But He never wants our constant failures to make us feel far away from Him:
“Do not go looking for [your sins] at the bottom of the sea! He has wiped them out; He has forgotten them. His Blood has been shed; the flames of His mercy have done their work.” (I Believe in Love, 13)
So with Lent, the Triduum, and Divine Mercy Sunday behind us and at least 5 more weeks [how many are there?] of the Easter season to go, don’t let PLG get to you. It’s a sad state to be in, and you’ll miss out on the real celebration – not just you celebrating Him, but Him celebrating you.