What Makes a 'Good Person'
Oct 25, 2016
I am always put off by the person who describes himself or herself as a 'good person'. This description reeks of self-justification and a general lack of reality. God didn't send his Son into the world to rescue good people. He sent his Son into a world filled with broken people who needed a physician to heal them. By today's Gospel reading I get the impression that God isn't terribly thrilled with the 'good person' either. Throughout the stories of Jesus in the Gospel we encounter Jesus always preferring the person who is in a mess as opposed to the righteous who have no need of God.
I know that my mother preferred that I act on my best behavior instead of being a pain in the butt to her and others. She would praise me when I did good (like helping with yard work or cleaning up my messes) and she would nag at me when I was my more normal lazy self. The nagging was much more normal in my life than the praises. I think my mom was caught in the problem of praising me for doing what I should be doing normally and so I seldom heard praise for hanging up my clothes or putting my toys away. Through her example I also began to think that God operates in much the same way. He expected me to be on my best behavior and would seldom praise me for doing what I should be doing normally. In fact, in trying to live within this framework, I have never heard God praise me. I could never do enough to gain his praise.
It took a lot of life's experiences for me to discover that when I let go of my own need to self-justify and allowed myself to accept that I was not the 'cat's meow' that I finally began to encounter the truth of God's love. I used to think that when I was doing wrong or bad things God separated Himself from me until I went to confession and then He would grudgingly accept me once again until I had the next bad thought or bad action. It gave me a certain sense of protection since I did not have to take His presence into account when I was being stupid. It gradually began to dawn on me as I matured that God was always present in my life, even when I was not paying attention to Him. I first began realizing the profound sense of this when I counseled a high school girl as she was contemplating an abortion. She had all the arguments to justify why she needed to do this. By God's grace I told her that God would be in the room with her to take that baby's soul into His loving arms and He would still love her no matter what she decided. It was the right words at the right time and another human being came into the world. But those words never left me.
I do not have to be a good person, in fact it is most often when I recognize my brokenness that I discover more and more deeply how much God loves me. It is kind of a paradox, the more I attempt to blind myself to my brokenness, the more I feel far away from God and the more I admit that I am not a very good person, the more God reveals to me the depth of His love for me. As I discover that within myself I also find that my capacity to meet broken people deepens as I receive them in the sacrament of reconciliation and in daily life.