As we are in the midst of Holy Week there are many momentous things upon which we can reflect. Something that is striking me is the theme of inconsistency.
We can constantly see throughout the Gospels that the disciples run both hot and cold with Jesus. In John 6, the people want to make Him their king. But then in verse 66, it says that many of his followers leave Him and go back to their former way of life. Peter says he would rather die than deny Jesus, but hours later he commits apostasy by the charcoal fire. Many people also point to the crowds on Palm Sunday crying out “Hosanna!” and then point to the crowds shouting “Crucify Him!” 5 days later (although Pope Benedict XVI makes clear that the crowds hailing Jesus are not from Jerusalem and the ones calling for His death are).
Inconstancy is one of the main problems of the spiritual life. Many of us can point to important moments in our lives where we encountered Christ in a powerful way. We may even see these moments as epiphanies that separate our lives into before and after. I know that I can see that in my own life, particularly when I came to my conversion when I 17-years-old. But life is messy and our journey to Christ is not always a constant assent.
I write this now not to my spiritual betters, but to those who are like me, those who struggle to be consistent in my relationship to God. There those who never waiver once their path is set right, like St. Paul. But I relate much more to St. Peter. He keeps having profound experiences of the Jesus, but he keeps screwing up.
Many of us think that if we just would have that one epiphany or see that one miracle that we want, then all of our struggles in faith and morals would be over. This experience would set our will firmly, never to waiver. But the witness of Scripture tells us that this mostly does not happen.
The Hebrews saw the power of God with 10 plagues, including the Passover, and the parting of the Red Sea. And they still worshipped the Golden Calf.
Peter walked on water, but he waived by the charcoal fire.
I believe that Jesus is my God and I love Him, yet I don’t always live the way I should.
Why is that?
Partly it is a problem of the emotions. Sometimes we feel enlivened by our relationship with God and His presences stirs the passions. But we cannot feel something constantly. Our emotions are like the tides, they ebb and flow. If we build our prayer life on how we feel, we will always find inconsistency. I may feel like praying the rosary one day, but not the other. The emotions are helpful, but they are a poor foundation for the spiritual life.
Sometimes it is a problem of the understanding. Life is confusing, and our spiritual life can be even moreso. If we come upon an intellectual impediment, it can sap our spiritual strength. The confusion can make it difficult to keep pushing forward. Some people struggle with Church teachings in areas like same sex attraction or contraception. When they cannot wrap their head around these topics, it makes it difficult to remain faithful.
And for some it is a defect in the will. Our brokenness form Original Sin makes us attracted to sinful things. When we give in to these sins, we feel distant from God. The constant call of the Scriptures is to reform our lives, to repent and turn away from sin. And even when I accept the truths of the faith, I find I am often not living the life of faith.
I do not have a simple and easy solution for those like me who struggle.
I do however have the insight from Holy Week that may be the key.
Returning to Peter, we find his inconsistency is a powerful instance of failure. His sin is awful, particularly because He has been given so much evidence to believe. He has no excuses and yet he is not consistent like he should be.
Judas also saw the miracles and heard the words of the Lord. And like Peter, Judas also was inconsistent. He turned away and betrayed Jesus.
One is a saint and the other is a malediction.
What is the difference?
There is just one: Peter returned to Jesus.
Holy Week reminds us that even the best of us can fall and waiver. I have turned away from the Lord through my sin more often than I can count. But our failures are not the end of the story, that is unless we choose to let it be the end. Judas chose to let failure define him.
Peter chose to let forgiveness define him.
CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, ““We need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”
This Holy Week, remember that even at your worst, you are in the same boat as Peter and that you have a choice.
Will your life be defined by failure or forgiveness.
Copyright WL Grayson, 2019