Have you ever had that awkward moment when you’re at Mass and start drifting off into a daydream when suddenly you realize it’s time to stand up? You quickly rise to your feet only to realize everyone else is still kneeling except for the other daydreamers and some poor old man who’s painfully rising to his feet. You stand there awkwardly, unsure what to do; knowing that everyone’s now wondering why you stood up or secretly laughing/judging you. Full of shame, all you want to do is run and hide as you vow to never be the first one to stand again.
In that moment, it feels like the whole world revolves around you and everyone’s judging you. It’s a horrendous feeling, if we’re being honest. This is why I find it so interesting that so many of us do everything we can to make life all about us. We so often and easily get trapped in our own little worlds, wrapped up in petty arguments, perceived slights, jealousy, greed and selfishness. We fantasize about a beautiful woman or chiseled man adoring us and making our lives perfect and everyone else around us loving us and realizing the perfection that we are. And in our delusional desires of self-grandeur, we conveniently leave out the reality of vain-glory… all the awkward, painful, embarrassing moments that come with being in the spotlight.
In Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II made a point that shame is a gift from God that protects us from our lustful desires. In a sense, it also protects us from vain-glory. It can give us perspective on ourselves and our desires. There is a profound often-overlooked tension in Catholic theology that the experience of shame helps to illuminate. On the one hand, as followers of Christ we are called to self-forgetful love, to live for the other as if our lives were insignificant. Yet, we are also told that each of us has infinite value as a child of God; the entire universe, every single star in the sky exists so that God could love you, and you alone. And if you were the only person to have ever lived he still would have done every single last thing he’s ever done… including his death on the cross.
It’s fundamental for a healthy Christian faith to recognize this truth and receive it in your heart… that Jesus thirsts for you. Yet we are then called to live as if we are the least significant person and to give our lives for the other. This is a difficult tension to live out until you realize that the above is true not just of you but also of your 8 billion neighbors out there. And it’s especially true of your neighbor who’s judging, mocking, or wounding you.
I’ve recently learned the difficulty of living this out in real life. My whole being cries out for justice for a wrong done to me and yet I’m the one being forced to apologize. I want nothing more that to prove these persons wrong and call justice down upon them. But I can’t. Instead, I find myself struggling to pray for these persons, these blessed children of God, that they find peace and blessing.
As I write this it might sound like “holier-than-thou” bragging, but the reality is far from it. The not-so-nice thoughts that have run through my head, the judgment and indignation that pours out of my heart… ouch. Rather, I share this struggle in the hopes of encouraging you.
Every star, every drop of rain, every blade of grass exists for you—and you don’t deserve it. He loves you anyway. You’re a petty, broken sinner whose apparent beauty can’t compare to that of the universe. And He loves you anyway. Your neighbor is a judgmental hypocrite (just like you) and yet, He loves him or her anyway.
You are the very image of God and He loves you. You are not worthy to bear this glory, but because of his inexplicably generous love he has given it to you. The shame that protects us, that reminds us of our undeserved glory is a good thing. Likewise, the humiliating experience of being unjustifiably accused and slandered reminds us of the unjustifiable glory that He has bestowed on us.
You are beautiful. You are good. You are glorious! Whether you feel like it or not, whether you understand it or not, you are the Father’s beloved child and he would absolutely give up his life for you. And so, as his image, you too are called to do the same for your brothers and sisters.
Humility is the key to solving the paradox. Humility is always the key. Humility is the door by which we enter the life of faith. You cannot love God if you love only yourself. You cannot love others if you love yourself more. Those countless awkward or embarrassing moments serve to humble us… not humiliate us. Humiliation is for the proud. The humiliated person is the perfect person who has been embarrassed. The humble person recognizes their own imperfection, accepts it and trusts in God’s grace to see them through.
I make mistakes because I am imperfect. I feel ashamed for many of my actions and choices because I am an imperfect person… because I need God, I need the One who is righteous. There is no other. Only One is truly righteous. Only One is truly perfect. Even Mary, the Mother of God is utterly dependent upon her Son. All have fallen short. But there is One who redeems all others. His name, the one name that gives breathe to all others, that gives life to all others, that justifies all others is Jesus, the Christ. There is One: Jesus, the Christ.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus.