Am I the Enemy?

“Healing is like an onion—there are many layers to it,” said the priest kindly. “God is moving foothills and mountains in your life—but you are looking for a volcano.”

His words gave me a measure of peace, but still I wanted more. A few days later, when the retreat had ended, I sat alone in the chapel. I felt burdened, not free. I felt an anxiety that I knew was not from God, and a longing for something more. I recalled the words of Sister Miriam, “You are not a problem to be fixed, but a person to be loved.” I remembered: “You need to let God love you…”

“What does that even mean?” I cried out. “I am trying so hard…” And I started sobbing with a pain that I could not identify but that poured forth from the depths of my being. “I am trying to let You love me! You know I give You permission! What more do You want of me?”

And then a memory surfaced, of the very worst sin of my life, the sin for which I was most deeply ashamed. “Will you let me love her?” I heard a gentle Voice ask. “Will you let me love the girl that did that?”

I froze for a second from the shock, and then recoiled in horror. Then, with a fury that would make the demons blush, I turned on my former self and screamed, “No!”

*            *            *

Like Saint Peter at the Last Supper, I thought I was stronger than I was. I had heard a story of someone committing this sin. I was aghast. “I could never do that!” I said with assurance, unaware of my underlying arrogance and spirit of self-reliance.

At supper with His disciples, Jesus tells His friends that one of them will betray him, and that the others will all flee. Peter is sure of himself. “Surely it is not I Lord!” “I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus, who knows the dust from which we are made, warns him: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

Sure enough, in the dark by the fire, three times Peter reacts: “I do not even know the man.” He hears the cock crow. And Luke tells us, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61)

What was in that look? I used to imagine disappointment, reproof, perhaps a tinge of “I told you so!” I saw in His eyes a mixture of sorrow and accusation, a frown on his face, a furrow on his brow, “How could you Peter?”

But God is love. And I believe that it was that look of love by which Peter was “undone.” A love that rushed into his hardened heart and rent it in two. “And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62)

It seems at first that the greatest test is behind Peter, and that he has failed. But there is still a greater test to come.  Peter has seen Jesus heal and forgive. He has heard Christ’s call to forgive without limit, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Does he believe in Jesus? Does he believe in His power to forgive, to make new?

We all, with Peter, must choose to take Christ’s words to heart. To receive within the depths of our own hearts His healing and forgiveness. But this is not easy.

Is there ever a doubt in my mind that it is virtuous for me to give alms to the beggar, to forgive him who offends me, yes even to love my enemy in the name of Christ? No, not once does such a doubt cross my mind, certain as I am that what I have done unto the least of my brethren, I have done unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least of all brethren, the poorest of all beggars, the most insolent of all offenders, yes even the very enemy himself—that these live within me, that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I am to myself the enemy who is to be loved—what then?

(Carl Jung quoted by Dr. Conrad Baars in Born Only Once).

At supper that night, Jesus broke bread with both Peter and Judas. Peter denied Him, but later became the first Pope and a martyr. Judas betrayed him, and we are told he regretted it, he returned the coins he had been paid, but he went and hung himself.

Was there such a great difference in their sin? No; rather, the difference was in their willingness to be forgiven. Jesus loved Judas also, to the end. Even in the Garden, when Judas comes to betray with a kiss, Jesus kindly calls him “Friend…”

For Peter, accepting this forgiveness is not an abstraction. There on the beach by the sea of Galilee, Christ will ask him, again, three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter, now humbled, will say, “You know everything…you know that I love you.” He now knows he cannot love on his own power. But Christ promises that He Himself will perfect Peter’s love, foretelling that one day, Peter will follow him to the cross, and this time lay down his life (see John 21:15-19). “Follow me,” He invites.

To follow and believe is not merely to acknowledge with our minds, but to receive in to our hearts the love of Christ. To allow it to convict and convert us, as an outpouring of compassion, not condemnation.

Once a woman who had been guilty of multiple abortions was struggling to accept forgiveness. Her priest had told her God was merciful, but she could not accept it. Ironically, she was going to counseling at that time with a Jewish therapist.

He questioned her, “Forgive me if I have this wrong—I am not Christian—but isn’t the idea that Jesus died for sins on the cross?” “Yes,” she agreed.”

“For everyone’s sins?” he pressed.

“Yes,” she answered. “Except mine.”

*            *            *

There in the chapel I sat, both Pharisee and Sinner at once.

The Pharisee screamed in accusation at the Sinner, “I hate what she did…I hate how she made me feel…she made me feel ashamed…she made me feel unworthy…she made me feel that I was bad…”

I heard myself naming each of the spirits we had been renouncing all week. And then, “she made me feel that I don’t deserve the love of my Father.”

I was again caught by surprise.

And as I cried out this last, I felt a sudden resurrection and freedom as the long-buried lie was exorcised from my soul. In place of the lie, I felt the embrace of the Father that shame had kept at arm’s length.

As we had been taught to do, I imagined my two selves standing at the foot of the cross. First, I asked Jesus to forgive, and then I forgave.

Christ is in each of us. Caryll Houselander asserts, even in the most hardened sinner. She suggests that we reverence such a person as we would the Holy Sepulcher (Tomb of Christ)—in which He is waiting to rise from the dead. Sometimes that tomb is within.

This Easter, we are invited to share in the death of Christ, and also in His resurrection.

Forgiveness of Sins

Image Credit:  Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

In Your Hands

Packing up my things for yet another move, I came across an old diary from my childhood.  It had two entries: in the first, January 1, 1985, I resolved to write daily, a fresh start to a new year full of promise.  The second, dated much later, noted that the first resolution was short-lived, but I was going to try again effective immediately.  The rest of the diary was empty.

My prayer journals, begun in college and early adulthood, were not that different.  They had a few more entries, but in general were filled only with good intentions, their pages primarily blank.  When I did write, the entries were mostly letters to God, filled with angst and longing, trying out new resolutions and then repenting for having failed.

“Have you ever thought about letting God answer you?” asked a friend one night.  I was stunned.

“What do you mean?” I wondered.  God didn’t talk to me.  That was for saints and other people; I didn’t hear God’s voice, and certainly didn’t expect him to “answer” me in my journals.

I remember that conversation well, and I know the date because it sits atop the first entry in a new journal.  The second I dated the very next day, and details an adventure I never expected.

As I prayed in this new way, inviting God to speak to me, I found myself walking along the beach next to Jesus.  I can still picture it, though our conversation was shy and awkward at first.  “What do you want to show me?” I asked Him.

And my mind went back to a night I had wished to forget.  I was young—probably five or six years old—packed in a car with several older children.  We had been that night to see a special outdoor summer movie, a showing of the cartoon the Jungle Book.

I had not seen many full-screen movies—this may even have been my first.  A sensitive child, I was transported into the story, imagining myself as little Mowgli, cute and adorable, befriended by Baloo the bear, and Bagheera the panther, who protected him from the Shere Khan, the tiger, and the evil cunning serpent Kaa.  While Shere Khan was the greater villain in Kipling’s story,  I was more deeply afraid of Kaa—the ugly evil serpent whose hissing twisted terror into my mind and heart.  Kaa would fill my nightmares for years to come, giving form to everything I feared and hated.

After the movie, as we were driving back, some of the older children started a game imagining each of as characters in the story.  I don’t remember who was who, but that I was disappointed when a cuter younger girl was chosen to be Mowgli.  But then someone asked, “Who should Grace be?” and whether mischief or malice or just misfortune, they seized on my greatest fear:

“Grace is Kaa! Grace is Kaa!”

Seeing my fear and dismay at their choice, they pounced with glee and began to torment me, inventing and explaining all the reasons that I was Kaa.  “You aren’t cute and adorable—you are skinny and ugly!  You are bad!  Everyone hates you!”  I felt as though I were being stabbed repeatedly, with a knife that broke the skin and sent blood coming out.  With each word the cutting intensified, and seemed to echo every hateful thing anyone had ever said to or about me: “You are ugly!  You are bad!  Nobody could ever love you!”

As I relived this memory in stark detail, I started sobbing, hemmed in by hateful voices, feeling again the pain and the stabbing, as blood gushed out of each stab wound.  I cried out in anguish, “Make them stop Jesus!  Why are you letting this happen to me?  Why aren’t you stopping them?  Make them stop, Jesus!”

And just then I heard Him speak. “Grace, the knife is in your hands…”

And I looked down and saw I was holding the knife, the knife that was cutting me so badly.  And I realized suddenly that the power of the scene was not in the past, but in the present.  Because those words had been spoken one time long ago by people who had long forgotten them—had perhaps never really truly meant them.  But I had embraced them, believed them, and was repeating them to myself ever since.  I had taken every subsequent hurt and criticism as further evidence that they were true. These lies had power because I had myself given voice to them.  I held the knife.

*            *            *

On a recent healing retreat, we were taught about such wounds as entry points for the Opposition Voice.  We are all hurt—in big or little ways—and into that hurt the Opposition speaks lies.  Lies about our goodness, lies about the goodness of God.  Lies about His love for us, or our worthiness to receive it.  What matters is less the words that are spoken, or the events that happen to us, but how we receive them and what we then believe.

Healing comes when we recognize and name these lies, the spirts of opposition, and renounce them.  “In the name of Jesus, I renounce the spirit of shame…of unworthiness….of fear…of hatred…”  “In the name of Jesus, I renounce the lie that God does not care about me…the lie that I am ugly…the lie that I am bad/unworthy/unlovable…”

I have found, both in my own experience and in praying with others, that it is very important to say these renunciations out loud.  Sometimes our difficulty in giving voice to them is a sign of their importance, which has often been unconsciously buried.  Many times simply saying the words of renunciation brings a new tangible experience of freedom.

In a comparable way the Church has insisted on the sacrament of Confession, and the speaking aloud of our sins.  Bringing them into the open, into the light, by speaking them out, is the beginning of healing.  The Opposition thrives in secrecy and darkness in which shame in particular can fester and grow.  Jesus came to bring light.

In today’s first reading the Israelites are struggling with the conditions in the desert.  They begin to complain against God, wishing they had never left Egypt.  This is evidence that they have embraced the deadly lie of the Opposition Voice:  “God is not good.  God doesn’t care about you…”  These deadly lies block their ability to receive God’s love and gifts.  And so visible deadly serpents come into the camp and sting them, to be a sign of what is happening spiritually.

God gives the Israelites an antidote to the serpent’s venom: Moses mounts a bronze serpent on a staff, and whoever looks at it is saved.  They look and see their sin, the image of the lie they have embraced.   The recognition of the lie, of the sin, is the first stage of salvation.  But it is not the end.

Jesus Himself will be lifted up, to show us graphically what sin does.  But more than that—to show us what Love does.  That Love is stronger.  That God is good, that He loves us—so much so that He would die for us.

As important as it is to renounce evil, we must also claim truth.  “In the name of Jesus, I claim that truth that I am chosen by God…that I am loved by God…that I am beautiful… that God died for love of me.”

In Confession, we are absolved when after speaking our sins, the priest, in persona Christi speaks God’s words over us:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.”

And in so doing, the priest makes the sign of the cross—that we might look up and place ourselves in the hands stretched out to welcome us home.

In Your Hands

Photo by Vladislav M on Unsplash

 

Stay Close to Me, My Child

I was moved deeply by today’s psalm… 

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted”

Lent is a penitential season – a season for us to grow in self-awareness, to look inward and acknowledge our sins and weaknesses.  It is a blessing to be reminded to reflect in this way, especially as we are called simultaneously to be drawing near to Christ’s Passion, reminding us to do this in the presence of the Lord.  Facing our weakness and sin without being immersed in God’s mercy and grace can be detrimental.  In our self-reflection, guilt will likely come up and this is a wonderful thing inasmuch as it draws us to contrition, confession, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and freedom.  If we have confessed, we must trust God’s forgiveness and allow ourselves to receive that mercy and blessing.  Though at times, guilt, rather than being constructive and leading us to God, can be destructive.  At times it may tempt us toward focusing and dwelling so much on ourselves and our sin that, instead of drawing us to God’s grace, it draws us further away from Him as we dwell on our failure, our weakness, our inability, our hurt pride, or our disappointment. Did you notice a pattern there?  Note the emphasis on ourselves. This way of thinking is subtly undermining God’s power and revealing that we may be trying to achieve holiness in our own power. Now, we mustn’t fall into even more destructive guilt upon realizing this, but ask God for forgiveness, trust in His mercy, and be led to dwell on the awe-someness of His power. We can’t achieve holiness in our own power – it is only in humbling ourselves, receiving His power and His divine life within us. 

This is the goal of a penitential season – to increase our self-awareness of our weakness, not so we may dwell in it, wallow in it, and so be led further into a self-centered mindset, but to understand our weakness and so empty ourselves to allow Christ more fully in.  To feel true sorrow for our sins and weakness so we understand better the Lord’s love for us and be drawn more fully into it.  Receiving the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist are beautiful and integral ways of encountering God’s grace during this time, in addition to personal Lenten commitments (personal prayer, fasting, almsgiving). (NOTE: if you haven’t been keeping up with your Lenten commitments very well, don’t wallow! I’m right there with you. Let’s ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and strength in these last couple weeks. He wants you to draw close to Him. It’s not too late to have a beautiful Lent!) 

The key is to approach this time in close proximity to the Lord and His grace.  He is close to the broken-hearted.  As sins and weaknesses are revealed to you this Lent, even throughout the day, immediately invite the Lord into those places.  As you reflect, keep Him close.  The Lord desires a truly contrite and sorrowful heart, and wants to bring His mercy into that heart – in fact, when He is invited in, he can’t help but rush in.  Love and mercy are who He is.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes to God that he is recalling his “most wicked ways and thinking over the past with bitterness so that you may grow ever sweeter to me” (2.1.1, emphasis mine).  It is my prayer that our Lent does not draw us further into our guilty selves, leaving us feeling self-pity or disappointment or with a hurt pride, but that it draws us ever more deeply into the sweetness of God.  As we are emptied out and His love pours in, He will heal us and lead us into deeper freedom.  We cannot do it.  It is only in His grace. 

Thank you, Lord, for your inexhaustible love and mercy! Thank you that self-awareness may help us know your sweetness all the more. Lord, we invite you into our hearts now and throughout this season of Lent. Draw us close to your heart. We come to you with hearts sorry for our sins and we ask your forgiveness. Help us to see ourselves the way you see us, most loving Father. We surrender and consecrate the remaining days of Lent to you in gratitude for this beautiful season. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Spiritual Amnesia

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I was speaking with my dad recently, expressing my disbelief and frustration at the far-reaching consequences of the poisonous “sexual revolution;” flabbergasted at how women could still be gulping down such lies: that pre-marital sexual relations and contracepting are “empowering,” when they’re really enslaving! That we are the ones who decide a life’s inherent dignity and worth, instead of understanding this all comes from God! That the way to have “equality” is to lower the bar to give into the whims of our over-sexed culture as long as it’s “on our terms,” instead of learning to live in the light of God’s love and purpose for us! Humanae Vitae, anyone?!

My dad amusedly raised his eyebrows and paused for a moment—“You fell for it…”

I shut my mouth and sighed. Yes. Yes indeed, I had fallen for it for a time…hook, line and sinker. Hence my irritation. As the psalmist writes, “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock” (Ps 106:20).

I had forgotten my God. I had lost myself.

What frustration God must have felt (and still feel!) with such a “stiff-necked” people (Ex 32:9)? The constant protection, guidance and revelations of His awesome majesty and love —only for them to worship a large baby cow made of gold? Really?

But I can’t roll my eyes too far back or shake my head too hard. The years in which I lived away from the Lord—attempting to normalize, even celebrate, my sinful life after seeing His miraculous hand at work—sting my heart. I had my own golden calves, my own spiritual amnesia. But the Lord’s love and mercy are unfathomable, and He chased me relentlessly until I truly recognized that I must “come to [Him] to have life” (Jn 5:40).

We, as Catholics are not permitted to believe anything of our own will, nor to choose what someone has believed of his. We have God’s apostles as authorities, who did not themselves of their own wills choose anything of what they wanted to believe, but faithfully transmitted to the nations, the teachings of Christ.

(from today’s Saint—St. Isidore of Seville)

In the darkness of this world, in the darkness of our own hearts, Jesus—alone worthy of all adoration and worship—challenges us to deeper trust and belief in Him. We have each “turned aside” (Ex 32:8) from the path God has pointed out for us and believed a great number of lies—yet we continually return to God and ask the Lord’s grace: to enlighten the darkness of our hearts and minds, and to open our eyes, so that we may truly seek “the praise that comes from the only God” (Jn 5:44) in knowing and loving the One sent by the Father with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. As antidote to our sinful forgetfulness, we strive to always praise the Lord for His everlasting lovingkindness (Ps 136).

After speaking with my dad that day, I was reminded how exceedingly grateful I was to the Lord for the journey on which He’d led me. Eternal thanks be to God, Who remembers us even when we have forgotten Him and ourselves! May the Lord redeem the time we have spent turned away from Him; make us grow in deeper humility; help us recognize our true worth and dignity in Christ; and may we, like Moses, beg mercy for all.

(*The links above lead to 3 wonderful prayers: Prayer to Redeem Lost Time, Litany of Humility, and the very powerful Seven Offerings of the Precious Blood.)

Sitting in Pairs

Gathered in the theater of the Sheen Center, we watched as survivors of the Rwanda genocide told their stories of living through unspeakable atrocities.  How they hid from former friends and neighbors, who hunted them down in order to exterminate them.  How they watched family members assaulted and killed before their eyes.  How they hid in the bush, in the ceilings; how they begged for food, for simple kindness, for their lives to be spared.  In just a few months, over one million people were murdered in Rwanda by their fellow countrymen.

The survivors sat in pairs as they told their stories.  One man described his parent’s killing.  One woman witnessed her father, and later her brothers, being taken away and executed.  One woman recounted how she was personally attacked, and showed us the scars on her body, including a long scar across her neck, formed by the attack of a machete intended to decapitate her.  The man sitting next to her began to tell his story also.  “I remember her…there were so many that day…but I remember her especially.  Because I thought I killed her.”

There was a collective intake of breath, as the theater sat hushed and still, suddenly aware that we were seeing something different.  That the pairs were not of fellow survivors, but of survivors and perpetrators.  That each person recounting their story of horror, was sitting next to someone responsible for that horror—a living icon of the healing power of forgiveness.

Father Ubald, maker of the film and presider over recent Frassati healing services, lost his parents to the genocide and only narrowly survived himself.  He believed that God spared him, and later used him, to bring the message of forgiveness to a country torn asunder by hate.  For him, the only path to recovery from the trauma, both for the individual and the country as a whole, was in the choice to forgive.  Forgiveness was the key to freedom for both survivors and perpetrators.  It was also the only way to arrest the power of hatred, and to break the cycle of violence.

Father Ubald had the opportunity to put this into practice when he met the man responsible for his mother’s murder.  He chose to forgive.  And because he knew it would be easy to dismiss such forgiveness as merely theoretical, he made it practical and concrete.  As a gesture of love, he committed to paying the schooling of the man’s son, and later his daughter as well.  This year, the daughter of a killer will finish medical school, financed by the mercy of one of his victims.

One cannot help but be inspired by these stories.  And yet, we struggle to put into practice even a fraction of what we witness.  Within ourselves, we hold hostage others guilty of much lesser crimes, refusing to forgive others of even small slights against us.  Those closest to us in particular can have an ability to injure us—and to be injured by us in turn, and by our unwillingness to forgive.

G.K. Chesterton quipped that “the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”  For some of us, the challenge is even closer.  “All of our family was under one roof for the holidays…and nobody was murdered.  That’s the real Christmas miracle!” joked our retreat leader Colleen Kelly-Rayner.

Today’s Gospel tells the story of the unforgiving servant. He is himself released from an unpayable debt at the mercy of his master.  But when he encounters one who owes a much smaller debt, he seizes him and starts to choke him, demanding that the debt be repaid.

Jesus has harsh words for him: “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.  So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Furthermore, Jesus tells us to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times”—that is, without limit.  He is inviting us to be like God.

We cannot become like God on our own; we need grace.  In order to forgive, we need God’s help.  The first step of forgiveness is to ask for the grace to forgive.  And sometimes, for the grace to want to forgive.  (Sometimes, to want to want to want to forgive…)

To forgive does not mean to erase what happened, to pretend that the was no real injury, no sin, no harm.   Rather, to forgive completely we must be honest about the evil that we are forgiving.  We are not pretending that evil away, but rather relinquishing revenge, relinquishing our right to exact payment, releasing our choke-hold on the one who owes us.

To forgive does not mean to forget.  According to the Catechism, it is “not within our power not to feel or to forget.”  We may continue to feel the pain of injury for some time.  In fact, notes Simcha Fisher, it may be that the “seventy-seven times” is for the same offense.  Even as our heart or emotions remind us of the injury, we can choose again to surrender our feelings to the Holy Spirit, and to offer forgiveness as an act of our will.

Thus the Lord’s words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end, become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord’s teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” It is there, in fact, “in the depths of the heart,” that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.  CCC 2843

How do we surrender our heart to God in the midst of pain?  Father Solanus Benfatti, CFR, composed a Prayer Against Bitterness which I have found particularly helpful.  In it we are invited to come to God with the truth of what was done to us, but the greater truth about who we are and who God is.  We invite God to transform our pain, that it not become a prison for us.

Prayer Against Bitterness

Oh God, Heavenly Father. Thank you for my life. Thank you for wanting me. And for making me in the image and likeness of your Most Beloved Son in whom you are well-pleased. And for consecrating me into his Passion, Death, and glorious Resurrection at my baptism.

Father, right now, I feel hurt (sorrowful / angry /other), because _______. As a creature made wonderfully by you, and saved by the blood of the Lamb, and meant to be with you forever, I don’t deserve ______. And in the name of Jesus I reject and renounce the lie _________.

But I also do not want my natural anger and hurt to plant bitter roots in me and turn in to hatred and resentment. I renounce that and ask you, Father, in your merciful love, to send your Holy Spirit to block that from happening, even while I try to process properly the emotions I have and work to make reasonable and loving decisions to forgive, out of love for you, and following your example.

Also, I beg you to uproot bitterness and resentment that has taken residence in me in the course of my life. Give me memory of what I need to proceed humanly and forgive divinely. Send the Mother of your Son, Mary, to guide me, hand-in-hand all along the way.

I pray to you through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Forgiveness_0001 Resized

Image Credit: scem.info [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Sweet Mercy

“Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” -Psalm 79

How great is the mercy of God. I sometimes feel, though, that it is a struggle to receive it. Jesus invites us to make our hearts an open space to receive the intense reality of His mercy for us. If our hearts are open to mercy, to truly receiving all the mercy God has for us, this means that we must not run from the reality of our sin or brokenness. We don’t need a Savior simply because we exist—we need a Savior because we are sinners, because we fall down, because we’re all broken. We have no need to be afraid of the Cross, for the Cross brings redemption, resurrection, transformation, and forgiveness. What a gift that Jesus not only knows our suffering so intimately but that He took it all upon Himself on the Cross, mercy poured out for us and the whole world.

Sin blinds us into thinking we can do it all on our own. Shame buries us so we feel like we have to do it all on our own. Despair haunts us into feeling like the weight of our sin is forever.

Praise God that He doesn’t deal with us according to our sins but from the standpoint of His mercy. His mercy covers a multitude of sins and cannot be exhausted. Do we receive it? Do we believe that there’s nothing too great or impossible for our God?

Amazing things would happen if we made ourselves radically available to the compassionate mercy of Christ our King and Savior. He makes Himself radically available to us in His infinite mercy, in the way He pursues after our hearts, in the way He overcomes all.

Mercy says that sin is not the end of our story. Mercy says that we are defined by what our Savior says of us, not what others say of us or what our sin says of us. Mercy enables us to get back up and keep going, day after day. Mercy has a name: Jesus, who is Love and Mercy itself.

“All grace flows from mercy … even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.” -St. Faustina, Diary 1507

Dig Deep

“To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.
Return to him and give up sin,
pray to the LORD and make your offenses few.
Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin,
hate intensely what he loathes,
and know the justice and judgments of God,
Stand firm in the way set before you,
in prayer to the Most High God.

Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High
in place of the living who offer their praise?
Dwell no longer in the error of the ungodly,
but offer your praise before death.
No more can the dead give praise
than those who have never lived;
You who are alive and well
shall praise and glorify God in his mercies.
How great the mercy of the LORD,
his forgiveness of those who return to him!” -Sirach 17:20-24

Well friends, Lent is coming. And if you’re like me, that means that over the weekend you listened to as many worship songs as possible with “Alleluia” in them. Just kidding. Well…sort of…haha.

On a more serious note, I have two thoughts to share with you as we prepare to enter into Lent on Wednesday:

  1. Dig deep.

I feel like sometimes we can tend to set the bar way too high or way too low for Lent. I’ve marched into Ash Wednesday before with my mile-long list of added prayer and books to read and email devotionals subscribed to and fasting upon fasting. Not that any of these things are bad, but too many of them usually leads to crashing and burning 2.5-3 weeks into Lent, like a New Year’s resolution gone wrong. Or the temptation comes to set the bar low and not really walk with Jesus through Lent because life is too busy and I’m already doing enough “Lent” things in ministry. Friends, I want to recommend what’s possibly an unpopular or uncomfortable opinion here: I want to dig deep this Lent. I want to get to the heart of what Jesus really wants me to sacrifice and focus on this Lent. You see, sometimes we can even distract ourselves with great spiritual things to avoid what Jesus is crying out from the Cross to our hearts. What is that one thing that Jesus is really calling you to receive His mercy in this Lent? What is your heart aching for Him to redeem? What’s the one thing you know you really need to cut back on that is preventing you from saying a fuller yes to Him? Perhaps a bad habit or an addiction, maybe a sin you really need to address and let Jesus uproot, maybe a lot of fear or self-hatred. The rich young man in today’s Gospel was afraid to go there with Christ, and he went away sad. Let’s learn from him and have the courage to go there knowing that Christ went there first. It could get messy to really go there, but take heart in that the redeeming “mess” of Jesus’ blood spilled out from His broken body for you covers a multitude of our messes of sins, wounds, and the parts of ourselves that are most difficult to face. Jesus is greater than any of the darkest, most buried parts of your heart. And He’s already there. He’s already taken all of your mess into Himself on the Cross with so much love for you. He would’ve died for you if you were the only one left on earth.

  1. Focus on the goodness of God’s mercy.

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is, “Surely Your goodness and mercy will pursue me, all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). Jesus’ mercy is good, loving, and is nothing to be afraid of. He gazes at you with such love—His bleeding, pierced heart aching for yours on the Cross. When He cried out, “I thirst!” on the Cross, His cry was not just for a drink but for your soul. He loves you that much. I feel that sometimes in Lent if we miss a day of what we planned to do, or if we fail all together, we can give into despair and think we are a failure to God. But just like when Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross, we can get back up and keep going when we fall. His mercy is always available for us, and we are not defined by how “good” our Lent is, or that this person did more prayer and fasting than we did. God writes straight with crooked lines, and maybe He will reveal to you a greater plan for your Lent where He wants to transform something in your heart. Don’t fret. Take it day by day, little by little, eyes fixed on our Lord. Give Him your whole heart as best you can each day. Keep going.

So let’s dig deep and keep our hearts turned towards our merciful Savior this Lent. You will all be in my prayers.