Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pray, hope, and don't, really.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!  Be sure to catch today’s canonization Mass on EWTN.  Popes St. John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!

Lately, I have been thinking often of our dear friend, Padre Pio.  As a child, Pio told his parents he wanted to grow up to be a friar “with a beard.”  And what a bearded friar he was.  St. Pio was known to spend upwards of 12 hours at a time hearing confessions.  He suffered the wounds of the stigmata, though he did not like to call attention to this.  The spiritual trials he endured are truly frightening.

When most people say cute things like, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” I shrug them off.  I have no desire for placations.  When Padre Pio says this, however, it gives me pause.  Here is a man who knew great suffering in his earthly life.  Just reading about his life leaves me feeling exhausted.  How much greater, then, must be his faith if he gives us such confident, simple instructions?

One of Padre’s many admonitions to us is not to entertain thoughts of past sins or failings.  We must not allow any shortcomings to occupy our minds, but entrust all this to God’s mercy.  These thoughts and feelings of despair over the past do not come from God, he insists.  Satan, the accuser, seeks to drag us down and keep our hearts and minds far from mercy.  God intends us to recognize our sins, confess them, do penance, and toss them into the abyss of His mercy.  If God moves us to remember any past sins, it is to inspire us to learn from our mistakes and start fresh.

All this is positively revolutionary to me.  I have the terrible habit of falling into the trap of despair over my faults.  At times, I panic over what I have done.  I know I cannot change the past, and I know God has forgiven me.  So, why all the fretting?  Part of it comes from my upbringing.  Forgiveness is not a strong theme in certain circles of my family.  While I have never subscribed to the idea that it is morally permissible to withhold forgiveness from another person, I somehow ended up applying this attitude to myself.

The crazy part of my spiritual turmoil is that many of the actions I fuss over are not even sins.  They were simply mistakes or awkward growing pains of a kid who could have used a few more role models.  The author of the sinking feeling in my chest tries to convince me that I am awful and do not deserve another chance.  I have failed.  It is too late to live a good and virtuous life.  I wasted my shot.  I am finished.

The devil surely knows how to lure us away from God’s love.  He finds our weak spots and pries them open.  This is why it is so important for us to build up one another.  We must follow St. Paul’s instructions to “strengthen the brethren” through encouragement and accompaniment.  Would I have believed these lies if other humans had not already told them to me?  Probably not. 

How does one go about this moving forward business?  How do we let go of our burdens and boldly strive for Heaven?  I tell you from experience: not of our own power or devices. 

I recently spoke to a priest about how to trust God.  I wanted to do it, but I barely knew what it meant and had no clue how to actually do it.  In short, he advised me to “look at God” in times of uncertainty.  When under duress, I am busy looking at my problems.  What would happen if I turned my mind and heart to God’s face?  I tried it and was a little shocked by the results.  In seeking to meet the gaze of my creator, I had to look where He was looking.  I learned that trusting God is less about finding a solution and more about directing the gaze of my heart to what God wants me to see.

This was certainly not the first time I tried to draw close to God in a time of struggle.  I was taught to “pray without ceasing” and have always sought to nurture my personal relationship with God.  This spiritual/mental exercise, however, has given me new and powerful insights.  I have not experienced many grand epiphanies through this practice, but it has allowed me to dip the vessel of my soul into the well of infinite peace.  Trusting God does not grant me the knowledge of where my life is headed next.  It floods me with the peace of knowing that I am not alone.  My situation is temporary.  What I must seek is eternity.  And guess what.  Eternity happens to be love.  Sweet, wonderful love. 

I did not have many epiphanies, but I did have one.  In my hourly daily flutter of panic, I turned to God to see what He had to say on the matter.  Often, God simply invites me back to His green pastures and still waters (in my heart.  Apparently God thinks it’s a splendid idea for my life to look a mess).  This time, He had something to say to me. 

“You are worthwhile.”

Umm.  Ok.  That’s not really what I was looking for, but thanks.  But no, that was it.  I felt certain God wanted me to understand that.  I wasn’t sure why.  Over the next few weeks, I rolled this idea around in my head.  Finally, I matched the burn with the salve. 

I am worth dying for.

All that pain of despair over my mistakes was in vain.  That pain has already been endured for me.  I am free.  If I repent for my sins and seek to live in God’s love, there is no evil in this world or another that can touch me.  “Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.”  My God has given me this fantastic gift.  Even better, He is really glad that He did!  He wants me with Him so much that He literally died to know me.  Man, I love Jesus…because He first loved me J

I am so thankful to my dear Savior for sending me that wonderful message.  Now, I must remember to think on it any time I become distracted by despair.  Before Mass began on Easter Sunday, I was having a difficult morning with being upset over past mistakes.  I knelt down in Church and stared at the crucifix.  I knew that to let go of my pain, I needed to hand it over to Jesus.  I told him of my pain, and I nearly laughed when I realized what He must have been thinking.

“Umm, I just rose from the dead.  I’m pretty sure I can handle this.”

Oh.  Right. And then He smiled and let me try again.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His mercy endures forever.  Ps 118

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