Thursday, June 6, 2024

Easter Theophany part 3 of 3: Grace

    I decided to add a third article on another aspect of my Easter "theophany" (see parts one and two ). Thanks to those who wrote to me about the first two posts! I really appreciate your comments.

    Again, to set the scene: at Easter Sunday Mass, the church was full of God, appearing as a visible and palpable difference in the quality of light. Within this luminous Presence appeared small, dark and hard objects, scattered among the congregation; I understood them as points of resistance to God among the people (wounds, strong temptations, fear or anger, unresolved guilt, etc.). In the last article I wrote about what this implied about the relationship between God and evil, and my belief that nothing exists outside of God.


    The last detail I want to write about is how few of those dark and hard objects appeared. In a crowded church of about 250 people, there were maybe 15 or 20 of them. Granted that the subgroup of people who decided to go to church on Easter Sunday is already self-selected for a certain degree of openness to God, I still found this striking. Even among those of us who have consecrated our lives to God, we are used to thinking that we're all sinners. Aren’t there “points of resistance” in each of us? We all have flaws, weaknesses, we all fail and sometimes need forgiveness. 

    But maybe we are not all sinners! That is to say, yes, we have all sinned, and we are all fallible, susceptible to sinning again. But there is also grace.  We are not always in a state of sin. Sometimes, too, we are  holy. Sainthood is not reserved for canonized saints who perform bona fide miracles to prove their holiness. Perfection is not required. We can be human and weak, and still remain in a state of grace.

    Catholics (or is this just an American thing?) are known for carrying a constant sense of guilt and shame, not necessarily rooted in the reality of our actions. “We are all sinners!” We are supposed to confess, so we search our conscience, looking for things we should have done differently. And too often, we end up exaggerating, calling ourselves guilty, when in reality we are only human. We blame ourselves for feeling tempted, even when we have responded to our temptations with integrity instead of sin. Or we blame ourselves for feeling lazy, distracted, turned on, or for the unfortunate results of choices we made in good faith. We set ourselves unreasonable and even impossible standards of perfection, and then beat ourselves up for falling short.

    But God doesn’t even require us to be “worthy,” whatever that means. Every day at Mass we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,” and then we go up to receive God in the sacrament. I always smile a little at these words, because  of course  I am not worthy to receive the God of all Creation, how could I be? And yet, God still chooses to come to me, to become part of me. God loves me. God loves us all, without exception.

    God’s love for us is not based on “worthiness.” I don't even think that love is a choice for God:  God IS Love, as John says in the prologue to his gospel . God is the archetype of the Loving Mother , the Platonic ideal of the Loving Mother. She doesn't love her children because they sleep through the night, or stop loving them when they poop in their diapers. When we have a tantrum, she doesn't yell back at us,  she understands that it's because we missed our nap. She is compassionate and generous. She helps us learn to grow up, and we will always be her darlingsGod loves us unconditionally and perfectly, in all our imperfections. In all our imperfect holiness.

    Tomorrow is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which represents God's love for humanity. Love demands that we acknowledge our failures, yes, and if you really have something on your conscience, do yourself a favor and face it, make amends, ask for forgiveness. But also, love requires that we believe in it, that we accept it, that we not reject it because we do not think we are worthy of it. Well no, we are not worthy of it. God loves us anyway. We can live grateful and free, in this state of grace. Amen.




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