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“Me? Salt and Light? Lord, You Picked the Wrong Person” (and Other Conversion Stories) - A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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February 3, 2017

“Me? Salt and Light? Lord, You Picked the Wrong Person” (and Other Conversion Stories)

A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

February 5, 2017: Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; I Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16

There used to be bible verses that just used to make me internally cringe. No. Not those historic accounts in the Old Testament that disregard today’s moral standard. Not the sexual innuendos in Song of Songs. It was “Be good yourself” kind of verses, as opposed to “God is good and will give you a favor” kind of verses that was to my liking. The “salt and light” Gospel of this Sunday was exactly the kind of verses I used to not like to hear. The gospel is well-accompanied by Prophet Isaiah’s (actually the Lord’s) command to “bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted,” which is not an area I used to be good at. It especially caused me more horror-stricken response when accompanied by “If you lose taste (as in salt), you will get thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Don’t get me wrong. I knew that, in principle, I had to do all those good things commanded in the Bible. Actually, I knew that I had to be a good person long before I committed to this religion, (first Protestant Christianity then Catholicism), brought up by a mother who taught strict Confucian values. But they overlooked one important fact. What if I don’t have what it takes to be a good person? Lord, you picked the wrong one. I am not a good ambassador to your Kingdom. (Come on, Lord, I even happen to be shy.)

Honestly, this Christianity thing did not at all work for the past me. It gave me a new, intensified set of moral obligations without giving me any equipment to fulfill that obligation. I was the same little old me, with my old not-very-Godly kinks and wounded character I had no idea how to even start to fix. But, Lord, did you just hand me a list of rocket science tasks I am supposed to be doing? (The Sermon on the Mount, for example.) I tried. Tried very hard. Then I failed over and over, which was inevitable, considering the gap between the Christian moral ideal and my ability to execute it. I responded to this crisis by…. self-condemnation. (List of “I should”s “I shouldn’t have”s.) But it was a spectacular failure. (Don’t do this, people. It never works.) I still judged, I still coveted, I still could not forgive.

Saint Paul couldn’t put it any better. “I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).

Wait…but St. Paul sounds like he had got well over that stage of his life at the end of the chapter (Romans 7), but I think I am still in that stage? Isn’t becoming a Christian supposed to solve this excruciating dilemma? I am supposed to be a Christian.

Then my eyes moved to God. Why isn’t God doing anything about it? It’s a holy desire, to be sanctified, to be like Jesus. I am not wishing for a sports car or my third vacation home. Why would God not grant it? You are the one who called me to be Holy, why do you not help me fulfill it?

(Insert the Dark Night of the Soul and a subsequent showdown with God.)

I now have a simple answer to that.

It’s because He does not have to.

He just has the freedom to not grant the holiest of the desires, just like I possess (and have exercised) my freedom to turn away from Him.

But funny how the realization initiated real conversion of mine and subsequent sanctification, which was a most marvelous thing to witness. (Sanctification for me felt like “witnessing” what someone else is doing inside me, not at all like forcing myself to change like I used to do.) Now I can say He has answered every question, even the feistiest, most hidden, or most selfish question of mine in a most perfect way. Yes. Even the prayers that you cannot even ask others to pray with you because it’s so private and selfish. Even the most selfish desires of ours He cares about. We don’t ever need to self-censor before God if this desire is presentable or not, because God is the one who sanctifies our desires as we continue to walk with God, and we are not the ones who sanctify our own desires. This realization continues to help me as I discern God’s will for my life, that I don’t have to be pretend-holy, pretend-unselfish, or even pretend-loving.

The Faithful can be always assured… that, unlike me who often needs His Grace at the Confessional, He never abuses His freedom, even though He is perfectly free and perfectly almighty.

By His sovereignty, He has the right to deny our desires, even the most legitimate of desires.

But by His own character, which is love, He Himself cannot deny, He can never, ever fail to respond to our desires.

And when He responds, it becomes easy. It never feels like we need to set a fire to a damp log, like the way I used to feel when I “tried to be” good. And it seems it’s when it looks (in some way) “effortless” that people see God in us, who is not a set of rules, but is a person who lives within us. I feel my job is surprisingly passive, to cooperate with God who sanctifies His people in His timing. Frequent Reconciliations (against my liking) and the Sacrament of Confirmation was the channel of cooperation for me. To keep showing up to God is my understanding of putting the light on a lampstand.

 

Yooinn Hong (2016 Catholics on Call Conference Alum)

 

Image: Salt Shaker by Karyn Christner, found on Flicker under a Creative Commons License.  

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