Exactly a week and a day ago, at 9:07 p.m., I was eating ramen with one hand and typing my junior paper with the other. I was in my room, in sweatpants. I was happy. Cozy, even. Then I remembered for the first time that day, and just a little too late, what day it was. I was still in my room, in sweatpants, eating ramen and typing, at that point in the day there was nothing to be done about my neglected obligation. But I was no longer happy or cozy. Yet again, I had failed.
There is no reason I should forget like this: I am Catholic. I live in Boston. I am not (liturgically) picky. Sunday masses are a dime a dozen. Yet still I miss them, more frequently than I care to admit. It’s disappointing, to say the least.
Perhaps even more disappointing than these failures themselves is the effect they have on me. I suffer from what my roommate generously calls “frustration problems,” but what is more properly called “hissy fits.” Every time I try and fail, whether it be spiritually or academically, on big things or little things, I give up. Very dramatically too. There is tossing up of hands, crying of tears, hurling of profanities, and maybe even rending of garments on a really bad day.
Why do I get so dramatic about every little thing? Because I want to be spiritually and academically perfect even when I know I can’t be, and I see everything as an all-or-nothing opportunity to try. Last Sunday, for instance, my all-or-nothing attempt at Lent came crashing down. On Ash Wednesday I said I was going to do everything right, all on my own: Never miss a mass, say a decade of the rosary every night before bed, not eat meat once on Friday or any other day. But I failed in under a month, and I despaired. And I got angry. And I thought evil, angry things.
I do this because I am dull. Because I can’t see, just like the Pharisees couldn’t see, the difference between what comes from the outside and passes away and what comes from the inside and defiles. Masses, rosaries, Latin readings, and study sessions are all on the outside. It would be good for me, even spiritually and academically imperative for me, to try to maintain a schedule in which I actually partake of all of them. But I should realize that try is all I can do. Because sometimes, despite my best efforts, that perfect schedule and that perfect life just doesn’t happen. Failure happens instead. And when it’s an honest mistake, that failure is alright.
What comes from the inside is my anger at myself and my despair at my failure. And these failures are never alright. These failures stay inside, they defile my heart and cause my love for God to grow weak and rot away. So this Lent, instead of trying to make myself perfect by brute force, I humbly ask God to heal me of the damage caused by those angry, despairing failures I have kept inside. I humbly ask you, dear people of the Ichthus, to scrutinize your heart and see if you should ask Him to do the same to you.
Tess Fitzsimmons ’19 is a History & Literature and Religion joint concentrator in Lowell House.