March 4, 2018

Focus on God and His Love – Third Sunday of Lent 2018

“You are loved for who you are, not for what you do.”

The number of times I prayed on that phrase as a volunteer, repeating it to myself as I rode the bus to and from work each day, felt infinite. I felt such discouragement when I couldn’t get through to one of my students, missed a neighbor’s birthday party, used incorrect Spanish grammar, delivered a sub-par after-school lesson, or much, much more. It felt like I failed every time — like no one would like me anymore.

God loves us all for the people we are — the people He created us to be — not based on the tasks we do, or on what other people think of us. And thankfully, that was the case in Ecuador: the student still waved to me the next day, the neighbor still invited me over for dinner, my colleague still affirmed my efforts in Spanish, and the little girl gave me a kiss on the cheek as she left Valdivia. It wasn’t about my mistakes — they weren’t failures. They are signs that I tried, and I am still loved for the values I hold.

March is a busy time of year for many – those in church ministry are preparing for Easter with Lenten activities, teachers are gearing up before spring break, tax professionals are feverishly working towards April 15, weddings and fundraisers are on the horizon, and more. My temptation is to get lost in my to-do list: “I completed 37 items today on my list!” “It was a rough day. I didn’t even get started on my report.” “There are only 4 things left to do before the retreat!” “I still have 83 emails in my inbox.” But really… does any of this matter? Yes – the work has to get done,  but shouldn’t I be more focused on how I act, and how Jesus would have acted in those situations? It’s just like when we were in Ecuador: it’s not about what I do, but how I do it, and I’ll still be loved.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ message to the Jews is to focus on Him. Jesus is angry that the Jews have turned their worship into a temple full of money exchange and sacrifice. The temple is cleansed (and cleared out) in this passage, to later be replaced by the resurrected Jesus as a sign of God’s unconditional love for us. The first reading affirms this: we shall not have any other idols but God. The message is clear: focus on God and His love.

My task list and inbox don’t matter; the completed items aren’t the focus of my day. Instead, I need to remember that acting with compassion and kindness, as Jesus would have, is the goal when doing everything. Just as I learned in Ecuador, I’ll be loved for who I am, not for what I do or don’t do. Focus instead on finding the rostro de Cristo in those I’m around, and love the way God teaches us to love.

Beth “Isa” Awalt was an RdC volunteer in AJS from 2010 – 2011. She now lives in Baltimore where she is the communications coordinator at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. She is also the founder of The Starfish Foundation which provides scholarship and mentoring to youth living in Guayaquil.