“A pessimism of life is not Christian. It is rooted in not knowing that you are forgiven, it is rooted in not feeling the caress of God. And the Gospel, we may say, shows us this joy.” We must make “every effort to show that we believe we are redeemed, that the Lord has forgiven us everything.” Pope Francis, general audience, 12/21/17.
During Lent, as Catholics, we often speak of things given up or challenges taken on all with the intention of growing closer to God. Even the smallest thing can subtly secure a place of importance in our lives, usurping family, friends, and even Christ as the center of our lives. And at some point in our faith, each of us has felt this pull away from temptation and sin, towards God’s limitless love and mercy. Yet once aware and received, do we live it… do we live our life knowing that we are redeemed?
The first part to this you see is knowing that we are a people forgiven. Even before we speak of it, that our sin is known, but also ready to be pardoned. That though there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace, that it is there in anticipation -already won by Christ’s victory on the cross. Yet, part of the difficulty lies in our own struggle with forgiveness including that of forgiving ourselves. We hold onto our fears, faults and limitations and then place those upon God. Nevertheless, our God is a promise keeper and not bound by our human imaginations always ready to welcome us home.
Several years ago, I had an unexpected but similar conversation with a man then in his 50s who had stopped into Starbucks for a coffee. Noticing my t-shirt which sported one word forgiven, with forgive highlighted, he had felt compelled to ask the question. “Pardon me, but I could not help but notice your t-shirt..What is it that you could ever have to be forgiven for?” Oh, what a conversation starter that turned out to be!
Marketing statistics note that people will read and remember a t-shirt slogan when they may not crack open a book, or even remember your name. In this case, he had looked at me, my smile and made his own presumption as to what a sinful person should look like and in general what Christianity represented. “Unfortunately, your supposition is not uncommon, I said, that as Christians we have given a false face to the incredible gift of grace and redemption. And while undoubtedly I fall short every day, I live knowing that I am loved beyond measure. How could I ever not be joyful about that? ”
With that, his look of curiosity and concern turned to a smile. Sharing a bit of his childhood faith, he explained how life and circumstances had moved him away from church. How every time he had considered returning he had been met with an unconvincing expression of gloominess, judgement or hypocritical behavior. “Well though we are to be the body of Christ in this world, the human part of us can, at times, behave more like an amputated limb.” I quipped. “When that happens it means that we too, even temporarily, have forgotten the love and mercy of Christ.”
Our children more easily understand what we, as adults, have made such a formidable challenge- that we are unconditionally loved. They come to us with penitent hearts and tears but with a certain assurance too that they will be forgiven. And just as soon as they are, the sadness is replaced with joy and they are free to embrace the day and one another. With Easter upon us, let us live today with that same joy, and trust in God’s mercy, as a people redeemed, reclaimed and loved.
“Jesus you have won the victory, the power of your life shines in me. Though I do not always live this life perfectly, I rest in knowing my life is perfected in you. And if you send someone to me today that needs to hear this message of love and forgiveness may I reflect this light of joy in my redemption.”