What was the secret of Noah’s spiritual success, symbolized by the rainbow? Why did Peter make it to the “head of the class?” Because both men understood that God accepted them more for what they were as persons than for what they did.
God calls us first to be, then to do. First we need to become aware of God’s acceptance of us. When we have a personal relationship with Christ we are more aware of this truth. Then we are able to act in that light. Our way of the cross means dying to the illusions that we must earn God’s acceptance. Then we awake to the reality that God accepts us without forcing us to perform for it. Today the church places God’s rainbow of loving acceptance of Noah and us.
Loving acceptance liberates people. The wife who feels unaccepted by her husband feels trapped no matter how well she takes care of the house and her children. The man who thinks his boss does not appreciate him personally feels depressed despite champion sales and faultless reports. The quarterback who knows the coach doesn’t value him as a person despairs regardless of his spectacular completed passes. Appreciation of what one does cannot compare to acceptance of who one is.
To base acceptance only on performance treats the person as a pet doing tricks. The “works view” of acceptance enslaves the person. The “person view” is liberating. The Lenten way of the cross is the church’s annual reminder of God’s profound acceptance of us as his beloved sons and daughters. Yes our moral behavior is expected because it our response to the love we are receiving from God. The six weeks of Lent are our Stations of the Cross in which we shed false ideas about how Jesus relates to us.
If God were to trap us by our performance, we might have little hope. Could we ever earn such love? If we perform our moral acts, our penances and fasts, could we ever live up to what we think are his expectations? If we do good things to prove our goodness to God, could we ever do enough? The cross shatters this illusion. It leads us to appreciate how much God loves us. Our deeds are not full of anxiety to please God. Instead our good works are relaxed responses of affection for our Lord. Trying to earn God’s love makes us tense. Like a jogger in tune with the rhythm of the race, we move with the liberating rhythm of God’s love. We don’t do good so God can save us. God saves us so we can do good. At the same time this approach does not exclude the merit of good deeds. During the 40 days of Lent, we can pray, “Tender God, please lift from our eyes the veil so that we may see this truth and believe in the treasure of your loving acceptance.”
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.