I was on retreat this weekend with 800 kids from Indiana.1 I wasn’t giving any talks, just getting down in the trenches with some relational ministry and it was awesome.
Being in the audience, I got to participate in all the ridiculous games that MCs make you play. Turns out I’m not half bad at Simon Says. So we’re down to maybe 20 people in the whole gym and Simon Said “Don’t smile.” Y’all, I am incredible at not smiling. It’s probably my greatest skill of all time. I was the 1995 St. Mark’s Summer Youth Wave Darling-I-Love-You Champion, and if you’ve ever played that game, you know I’m for real. When told to keep a straight face, I have not once in my entire life cracked a smile.
So there I am, not-smiling, and assured of victory in this game2 when Manny pipes up behind me, “Miss, if you smile I’ll go to confession.”
Done. I turned to him and grinned. He looked rather taken aback: “But now you lose, Miss!”
“Ah, but your soul is worth more to me than victory.”
It got me thinking about all the many deals I’ve made with kids. When it comes to objective grace, I’m not above a little encouragement (read: bribery). I think that if all it took to get you to go to confession was my promise to buy you an *NSYNC3 t-shirt, you were probably looking for an excuse to go anyway. So if I can make a deal with you to get you to make good choices, I’ll do it.
I once told a guy I liked I’d take him to dinner if he went to confession.4 I ate a wasabi peanut for a kid who promised he’d do his homework for the rest of the year.5 I even had a kid tell me she’d save sex for marriage if I’d smoke a cigarette with her after graduation. Abso-freaking-lutely, darling.6 Just before I entered the convent, I offered a friend 10 grand to stop sleeping with his girlfriend. Ten thousand dollars. He said no. I guess you can’t win them all.
So I was sitting in the bleachers after this game of Simon Says congratulating myself on all the sacrifices I make for the kingdom when I realized how paltry they are. “If you do this for me,” I say, “I will surrender control over a very small aspect of my life.” A wasabi peanut? Seriously? Here I am thinking I make a darn good junior Messiah when I’m offering so little–and then only on the contingency that I trust someone to follow through on his end of the bargain. The real Messiah offered everything.
I was rather overwhelmed by this thought, that Jesus offered himself completely to us even knowing that we wouldn’t follow through on our end of the bargain. It kept coming to mind over the weekend. And then Saturday night, all 800 youth knelt on the gym floor for 2 hours as Father came around to each person with the monstrance. When Jesus approached me, I was staring at him with Father’s face just behind him when Father began singing along with the worship team: I surrender all to you, all to you. Jesus sang to me, “I surrender all to you.” Helpless and ridiculed in the Eucharist, he reminded me once again what his presence here on earth has always meant.
Jesus didn’t offer only his hunger or humiliation or suffering or even his death. Jesus offered every moment of his life. And when he rose, he offered it again. And when he ascended into heaven, he still wasn’t done. He came back for us in the Blessed Sacrament. And today, he waits for us in the tabernacle. He waits for every one of us–not just the worthy or the holy or the immaculate. He offered himself for you and for me, even though he knew we would betray him. Even though he knew we would ignore and reject and forget him. He didn’t die only for those who are good soil–the rocky and thorny and hard-packed ground are his, too. He died for obedient sheep and wandering sheep and black sheep and goats and sparrows and anyone who’ll have him and even those who won’t.
Each Lent, I’m reminded by my hunger that every moment is the Lord’s, that every sacrifice is for love of him. This year, I’m thinking especially of all that I hold on to, keeping it “safe” from a God who surrendered all for me. The pride and envy and security and control that I think I need, that I cling to even when the Lord tries to loosen my grip–how pathetic, compared with the glory he surrendered for me. I offer the Lord so much but I hold back. “Lord, I will pray a rosary every day for the rest of my life, but seriously don’t ask me to pray an extra one with those kids or I will freak out.” “God, I’ll give you an hour in adoration, but if the next person is 5 minutes late, you’d better have a good explanation for why I was stuck here.” “Lord, I can love everyone except that kid. Nobody could love that kid.”
It’s easy to congratulate ourselves on what we’ve given to the Lord. When we start to see what he’s given to us, our paltry sacrifices don’t seem quite so impressive. Praise the Lord that he doesn’t ask what we have to give before offering us his very self, body, blood, soul, and divinity. He surrendered all for us. He surrenders all for us. Forget all those little sacrifices–let’s meet him in the Eucharist and offer our lives to him.
- South? Central? Wherever Carmel is–I never did look at a map. But I did figure out that I was on Eastern time, so that’s a plus.
- Have I mentioned that I’m wildly competitive?
- Definitely had to google that to see how to capitalize/punctuate it.
- Score! Grace and a date.
- He didn’t turn in a single thing, I’m still bitter.
- A year and a half later, still a virgin. So maybe she breaks her promise–at least I got her to think twice about it.