Feb 20, 2024

Unachievable. I hope you read that in the voice of Vizzini from The Princess Bride.

I did, last week. I was reading through news stories and photographs of people completing the sacramental of Ash Wednesday. While not one of the Catholic Holy Days of Obligation (Ascension of Jesus, Assumption of Mary, All Saints' Day, and the Birth of Our Lord), it's widely observed.

And that got me to thinking about how the emphasis on observances and rituals and traditions led me to believe that I had the power to achieve righteousness by following the rules. In effect, I was allowed to believe that I could get into heaven on the merits of my good behavior (and obedience).

To knowingly and flagrantly decide NOT to go to Mass or attend church on a Holy Day of Obligation is a grave and mortal sin according to Rome. And the only way to cleanse that sin from my record would be to engage in the sacrament of confession.

It's a very nuanced practice and conversation. One that we have to take the time to explore and rely on our own understanding.

I believe both the Old Testament and the letters of the New Testament shine a light on the work and meaning of Christ. So, when St Paul says this to his friends in Ephesus...

Saving is all God's idea and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! (Ephesians 2:8-9 MSG)

...it makes me see that there's nothing I can do to earn or deserve the price that Christ paid for me and my sin. Earning my way into heaven is UNACHIEVABLE.

Now, I don't really believe the Roman Church has meant to teach that idea. But it was my experience that the nuances were never made clear to me. I believed that if I made it to church (before the Opening Prayer and at least until the Concluding Rites), if I fully participated in the Sacraments available to me, and generally behaved myself, I'd go to Heaven (or at least Purgatory – but that's another blog post).

In the Mass and the Sacraments, is the belief and understanding the God loves me, Christ died for me, and that because of the math of substitutionary atonement and propitiation, I'm forgiven of my sins. And because of Jesus' resurrection, I'm promised a resurrected life as well.

And to make sure that we understood or observed these truths, the church put tokens of remembrance into their dogma, symbols and celebrations. So we would never forget. But I'm afraid many have.

The tokens and symbols; the observances and celebrations; the dogma we have created, can (and has, in many hearts) eclipsed our creator. If we have come to understand that we only need to meet our obligations in order to be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven, we have short-changed the love of God and the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. We have made our righteousness achievable by our own works.

And it's not. Heaven-worthy righteousness is not achievable. Unachievable.

I need the love of God, the example of his Son and the friendship of the Holy Spirit to make it through my day. I need those strengths to overcome my nature and my sin. Because I can't do it myself.

Matthew 19:26 (CEV)
Jesus looked straight at them and said, “There are some things people cannot do, but God can do anything.”

Philippians 4:13 (AMP)
I can do all things
[which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]

- - -

Friend, if you're tired of trying to be good enough on your own, I have good news: Jesus wants to carry that burden for you. In Christ we have hope - even in our hopelessness, addiction, anxiety and depression. Let me encourage you to look for Him – to look TO Him for that freedom and salvation.


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