I suppose in many marriages the spouses find each other's driving annoying. What irks my husband about my driving is my knee-jerk (or should I say, "elbow-jerk") overreactions. That is, if I begin to drift out of the lane, I tend to panic and snap the wheel back in the other direction, jolting my passengers and inspiring fear that the car will flip. (Fortunately, it never has, and years of his frantic yells have gradually tamed my reflex somewhat.)
While many people don't share this elbow-jerk reflex, the tendency to over-correction is more widespread than we probably realize.
Time after time, my dear friend Annamary and I found ourselves coming to the same conclusion in one conversation in college after another: Well, I guess there needs to be a balance.
We were blessed to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville, a place that inspires young people to grow in their faith and seek to follow it better. In the years since then, my husband and I have similarly come to the same conclusion about balance in discussing life and how to live it.
Jesus said the way to heaven was "narrow". That suggests that it's pretty easy to stray off it. It doesn't much matter on which side of the Way you end up, the point is that you're no longer following it.
A complication that frequently compounds the problem is that upon realizing that we've strayed, we over-correct. Perhaps not in an about-face reflex but with a full-steam-ahead determination. We may touch the Way briefly as we shoot past it full-speed, but we end up far on the other side.
In Church history, for instance, in times past, the reverence we owe the Lord was at times overemphasized to the detriment of developing a confidence in the infinite mercy and unconditional love of our heavenly Father. In our times, this has been over-corrected to the point where there’s hardly any reverence for God or the sacred left and little to no sense of sin or contrition.
The tendency to over-correct may be due to over-enthusiasm. Very likely, there’s a touch of pride involved: we’ve found The Answer and we won’t abide by any qualifications. Laziness sneaks in too: we prefer oversimplification to looking into and reflecting on what Scripture, the saints, and the Church have to say about the subject.
I suspect the Evil One exploits this human inclination as much as possible. He doesn’t care which side we’re on, as long as we’re not on the Way. The most important thing is to keep us from recognizing the tendency in ourselves or in our times.
Of course, we may drift from the narrow way without over-correcting, because we never realize that we’re astray. All we notice is that those people over there, on the other side, are way off (or off the way).
Gandhi said (paraphrasing St. Augustine), “Hate the sin; love the sinner”—a saying that so well encapsulates the teaching of Jesus that it is often mistakenly attributed to Him. Whatever the source, people have a great deal of trouble putting this teaching into practice. The hatred some have for a certain sin is so strong that it taints their relations with that group of sinners. Others, in seeking to love the sinner, will deny that the sin is a sin, for fear of making the beloved feel bad. This latter trend is prevalent in our own society today.
Sociologists recognize the propensity for society to go from one extreme to the other and liken it to the swing of a pendulum. That simile suggests that the phenomenon is beyond our control. But with God all things are possible.
The point is that any time we focus on something other than Christ we will not be following Him. Truly following Him requires focusing on Him. It requires spending time with Him, getting to know Him, in His word and in prayer, and in His updates for our times—that is, the Church’s Spirit-led teachings on how to live out His word in our changing world. Truly following Him requires receiving His grace and strength, especially in receiving Himself in the Eucharist.
Following Him means imitating Him.
Focusing on Him and following Him guarantee that we won’t be led astray. After all, He is the Source of all goodness. Any good quality finds its perfection in Him, but is not in contradiction with any other. He is Truth. He is Love. In Him they do not conflict. Justice embraces Mercy in His Passion on the Cross.
The way to heaven may be narrow, and we will slip off now and then, but if we focus on Jesus, we will keep to it, for He is the Way.