I’ve sat here watching the cursor blink on the screen for a long time, wondering how to pick up my writing again. My last venture into the blogosphere was over at whycatholic101.wordpress.com, where I answered questions posed by folks curious about Catholicism. I regret not having kept up with it, because it only brushes the tip of the iceberg of questions to be answered.
I find myself working through my own questions today, mainly about who I am and what I am doing here. I’m afraid it is the plight of the 20s: the time when you spend almost every waking minute analyzing yourself to death (how many of my friends seek their answers in Myers-Briggs and the like!); trying on different careers, relationships, and behaviors; seeking meaning and direction, love, friendship, and purpose; trying to stay afloat financially while also “enjoying life” a little. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m doing all that too.
I live in a community of eight Catholic women called the St. Maria Goretti House. As a “Goretti Girl” I am fortunate enough to participate in monthly mass, confession, and adoration that takes place right here in our house. Tonight in Father’s homily he told us a true story of the time he stayed in a medieval castle in Germany. He was lucky enough to stay inside while many other seminarians slept in tents in a field near the castle. In the middle of the night one of the less fortunate campers stumbled his way across the field to follow nature’s call. Thinking he was walking into a clearing, he found himself plunging neck-deep into the castle’s cesspool. Shocked and embarrassed, he made his way back to his tent where he tried to sleep, covered in putrid matter, on top of his sleeping bag. The next morning the drawbridge was let down and he entered the castle. He was immediately rushed into a warm bath and placed by the fire. Reminding him of the alarm bell outside the castle that alerts those within of emergencies outside, someone asked him, “Why didn’t you ring the bell and have us let down the bridge for you?” “I didn’t want to bother you and I was ashamed,” the man answered.
Father ended his homily by describing how Jesus longs to have us come to him, even when we are neck-deep in our own mess. Life really is hard and how often do we fall into sin, despair, PMS, shame, distraction, stress, busyness… and there is Jesus, whose Heart bursts with love and longing, waiting.
Pope Francis often speaks of the lengths to which God goes to enter the heart of man. The Year of Mercy is a time he wants us to be reminded that we only have to open the door a crack, start turning back home just a small amount, to find the Father rushing toward us with a Heart full of mercy. He writes,
He does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that he has to heal. There’s a Preface to the Ambrosian Rite that says: “You bent down over our wounds and healed us, giving us a medicine stronger than our afflictions, a mercy greater than our fault. In this way even sin, by virtue of your invincible love, served to elevate us to the divine life” [Sunday XVI]…. I have always said that the Lord precedes us, he anticipates us. I believe the same can be said for his divine mercy, which heals our wounds; he anticipates our need for it. God waits; he waits for us to concede him only the smallest glimmer of space so that he can enact his forgiveness and his charity within us.
(from The Name of God is Mercy)
I’m afraid it’s all too easy to crowd out God’s mercy. I’m not just talking about when it comes to sin and seeking forgiveness; I mean in every area. Sometimes I adopt a fiercely independent attitude that borders on my being god-like and thinking it’s all up to me. I push myself so hard in an attempt to hold all the pieces and do so with an appearance of effortlessness. Like hiding the signs of being winded while hiking up a hill with friends, I hide behind an air of confidence so as not to let my cracks show.
It seems a prerequisite to the reception of mercy is admitting we need it. It is acknowledging with the Prodigal Son that no one is giving me my fill of the pods (whatever that may look like in my life: affirmation, attention, significance, praise). Admitting I have no idea what I am doing with my life, no real sense of direction and no capacity to do much better at living well than I am doing. I know the story says the Father is waiting and he’s not angry, but sometimes coming to the point of showing my cracks to him feels impossible. I’d rather shiver my way through the night atop a sleeping bag, covered in filth, cut off from the comforting embrace of mercy.
But the wisest of the wise (Sts. Augustine, Ambrose, and Aquinas, et al) say that there is happiness in our faults, felix culpa, because they gain for us redemption. Like one confessor said to me recently, “Perhaps God allows this struggle precisely because it leads you right back here to him.”
Often in depictions of the Sacred Heart, Jesus is pointing at his glowing breast aflame with the love of the Father of Mercies, pointing the way Home. When we need to get home, his Heart is our guiding light. That may be the only thing I am sure of in this night of exile.
Jesus, I trust in You