Last night at Mass, we heard the second of a three-week series of readings on the Eucharist. Last week was the Eucharist as food for the journey (shout out to Elijah who was like, “I’m hungry and tired, Lord. #notgoing”). This week was the Eucharist as what our celebrant called “the antidote to death.”
Fr. Justin likened the Eucharist to medicine, and his metaphor really shook me. He made this claim: when we take medicine for a physical ailment, the effects will only work if we set up the right environment for success. Essentially, if we have a cold and take cold meds, but then stand outside in the 50 degree rain in bare feet with no coat . . . well that cold medicine won’t do a thing for us. And it wouldn’t be the medication’s fault, but our own.
Or in this case, my own.
It’s hard for me to share this because many people I’m very close to read these posts (hi, Mom!) but I truly believe that if we aren’t transparent or authentic with one another about the struggles we face, then the glory of God saving us from ourselves is lessened when we retell our stories.
In the first relationship of my adult life, I was faced with a lot of tough decisions and spiritual challenges. Despite a good Catholic upbringing and a true devotion to waiting for a holy, healthy relationship, a deep rooted insecurity of just wanting to be in love already as I watched my friends’ families grow crowded my judgment to what was good and my goal shifted to “good enough.”
Good enough is a slippery slope. I don’t love that cliche but in this case, this one is just so apt. Because being willing to look past one small red flag quickly became a compromise to much bigger things.
I found that I started to give myself a free pass in the name of Original Sin. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but I decided I could do what I wanted anyway and still go to church because God would forgive me. It was, after all, His job.
I proudly told my friends, “I know it’s wrong . . . I’m just not sure I care.” I boldly claimed that these were mistakes I needed to make to understand why the rules were made in the first place. And if you’re thinking to yourself, dang Erin that seems like a dangerous approach to spirituality, then you’re right. It was. Here’s one instance.
What started as “I will never date someone who smokes pot” became “As long as it’s not around me that’s fine” became “I don’t actually mind being around it” became me smoking it, too.
I wasn’t a burnout. I didn’t smoke often. But even a minimal relationship to this drug was an enormous deviation from what I knew what the right path to take. This stands for a much bigger pattern of compromise in the relationship. On physical boundaries and cohabitation and marriage and children and virtues.
But you know how amidst the storms and raging seas and fires, God came to Elijah on a whisper on the wind? That’s how He got to me too. There was this big storm of my relationship, and in my deepest heart I knew that even if I wasn’t behaving that way. Then one day I was standing alone in church and a gentle but persuasive thought came to me:
Erin, you cannot live two lives.
What I was doing was exactly what Fr. Justin was talking about yesterday. I was taking in the Eucharist every Sunday at Mass but spending my week not living in a way that allowed Christ to thrive through me.
It’s not that I’ll never sin again. I’m certainly not suggesting that the solution here is for us to just stop sinning. That’s insane. And if we could have done that, we probably would have! It’s impossible to escape sin in this world. But it’s not impossible to try. We face this reality in all things. Much to my chagrin, I cannot just say out loud that I’m doing Weight Watchers, but then keep eating how I did before I joined and expect my weight to change.
Our actions must line up with our visions or we will fail.
This sobering realization led to our breakup, but it wasn’t as though I learned, corrected, and now I’m a perfect person sharing this with you from the other side. Not at all. No, now I’m just making the harrowing journey back towards virtue because I ventured pretty far away from it.
The sinful behaviors we accept into our lives become habits that we can only break with discipline–meaning to create an environment for success. A circumstance where the medicine will work. Someone said to me once that Olympic athletes dedicate their entire lives to being the best, so how can we spend any less time and discipline on our relationship with God.
I don’t know why, but it seems like it’s challenging to attribute something so human, like habit forming, with something so divine. We tend to use faith as a cure-all and believe (dangerously) that when we have it, we don’t need anything else. But that’s not true. We need discipline.
– Erwin McManus
We need to know the environment that will lead us to success, and then we need to create it. You can read more about that whole process here.
But the basic takeaway is this: ask the Lord for help and guidance. Be patient and forgiving with yourself. Nothing changes overnight. When I first decided to give up weed altogether, it was sort of as arduous as it was getting to that decision in the first place. It started as “I want to know why I shouldn’t so convince me” and became “Okay well then I’ll limit myself to only when it’s readily available or offered” and slowly turned into “I’ll actually actively avoid it” and finally I’m where I am now–not interested at all. And that slow, steady path back to grace has been mirrored in all the other compromises I made, too.
So don’t lose hope if coming back to virtue and cultivating the right space for Christ takes time. Just do the next right thing.
And cling to the Eucharist.