Like many people in a university community, I am a perfectionist (though, you might not guess it from looking at my office). I set standards for myself that are both impossible to meet and only known to me. When I was a student, I thought my value came from my academic performance. Thus, it proved a challenging transition for me when I completed my life as a student and entered the professional world, and that perfectionism stayed with me.
When I first read and sat with today’s readings, I thought about my own perfectionism and need for control in my life. As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve known the readings and teachings about God and God’s will and how that is enacted in the world, so the imperative in the first reading to acknowledge the power and goodness of the Lord was not new to me. The reading from Isaiah, the responsorial Psalm, and the Gospel reading proclaim that power and its originations. When I returned to the readings for a second time, I realized the two major illusions I have about my role in the world. First is the illusion, from which many of us suffer, that we have control in the world. The second is a bit more nuanced. The Lord is God and creates and destroys. Yet, I create anxiety in my life from the way I decide what is good and bad, worthy of my time, or unworthy of my time. This denies that everything originates in God’s goodness. “There is no just and saving God but me.” Thus, my own desire to hold on to perfectionism means that I am looking to myself and others for meaning and value, not to God and God’s goodness and love.
What actions ought we to take, in light of these readings? The first is to relax. The knowledge that you do not prescribe what is good and loving in the world is a great relief. Acknowledging that you do not create the good or the bad in the world on your own frees us to revel in the goodness created by God. The second is to acknowledge your own value simply because you are created by the Lord. This also means embracing humility. The third is to put that into action. Jesus tells the two men to “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.” What we have seen and heard is that the Lord is God, and that the Lord is good and loving. While we ought to live in a way that proclaims that goodness, ultimate control is not to be ours. The sense of anticipation this Advent season feels especially pressing, and I hope I focus my anticipation on what goodness God will bring in the coming days and weeks.
Julie O’Heir is the Program Coordinator for the SLU Prison Program, which offers educational opportunities to prison communities in Missouri and Illinois.