A joyful Carnival/Mardi Gras to all.  I treated myself to tacos this evening–a modest but dearly beloved pleasure!  I know this probably sounds cliché, but I’m giving up sweets this Lent.  I’m also going to fast on bread and water every Friday.

Life has already been sort of desolate of late.  Patrick’s birthday last Friday stirred up the old leviathan of grief.  My spiritual life has been a bit arid and fraught with doubt.  I’ve given into things I’m not proud of.

This morning, I wanted to go to Confession.  But something kept me back.  This is probably going to sound really odd, given all the wonderful things I say about Confession and the way I try to encourage everyone to go to Confession, but today, I didn’t think going to Confession would help me.  In fact, I thought it might do harm.  The reason is that I’ve suffered at times from a hyper-scrupulosity that tries to substitute itself for genuine contrition and confidence in God’s tender mercy, and wherein going to Confession is more an indulgence of an obsessive compulsion than a true seeking of God’s grace and love.

With God-given restraint, no doubt, I avoided running to church.  I took some deep breaths and went straight to work.  My mind cleared and I recognized things for what they were.  I was just in a rough patch, a whirlpool of emotion and grief.  Maybe I haven’t been at my best or brightest, and maybe my faith hasn’t been burning so hotly or standing too firmly… but these aren’t sins!  They’re human struggles, human sufferings–Heaven knows they’ve not brought me any joy or pleasure.

And really–it’s been less than a week since my last Confession on my fairly regular bi-weekly schedule.  I may not be perfect, but what on earth had I done since then that was so horrible and offensive?  Hyper-scrupulosity will make one see sins where there are none, or take the merest failing and blow it out of proportion.  Thank God for restoring my perspective.  I’ve definitely noticed that it is in my phases of grief and/or doubt that hyper-scrupulosity slithers in and tries to make its move on me.

After I parked my car and began walking to the building, I thought to myself: we really are like sheep sometimes.  Not very bright creatures.  Wandering off, occasionally winding up in a thorny crevasse.  And when that happens, we are not abandoned.  No, our Good Shepherd comes in after us, lacerating His own limbs, shedding His own blood, so that we might be safe and comforted and healed once more.  When we struggle and suffer most, He is strongest and most merciful.

By the time I arrived at the building, I just wanted to sit down on the curb and weep, because I suddenly felt so close to His heart.  I felt like I had been found and rescued, and everything was all right again.

What does all of this have to do with Lent?  Most every Lent, I discover a theme, a guided learning experience.  My Lenten Lesson, I call it.  And I think that possibly this year’s Lenten Lesson will be about “being sheepish.”  Not in any bad sense.  Just trusting more in our Lord’s mercy.  Putting myself in His arms.  Not chasing after my own designs so much.  Being more genuine.  Being more humble.  Seeing in greater clarity my weak humanity and all its struggling and suffering… and not freaking out about it as if I’m supposed to be some other creature.  Just today alone, I’ve come to realize that sometimes I think I’m supposed to be God–I’m supposed to be the infinitely strong, mighty, wise, and merciful one–to the point where I don’t feel like I need to turn to God or entrust myself to Him.

I guess there’s something in all of us that craves to be in control at times.  I know I can be a control freak now and then.  But that’s not who we are, that’s not how we’re made. We don’t thrive that way, nor do we learn anything.  We need God to be God, and us to be ourselves.  We need to be the rescued wayward sheep at least sometimes.  And that’s OK.  Really.  It is.  It’s fine, it’s normal, it’s the definition of humility–which is, ironically, probably the greatest of all virtues.

Oh… I can already tell that this Lent’s going to be the most challenging so far!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray for each other!