Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Need for Redemption

It’s been Easter all week. Every day of the Octave (eight days) of Easter is a solemnity on the Church calendar, and if you pray Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, you’ve surely noted that the psalms, canticles, and antiphons are all those used for Easter Sunday. It is indeed fitting that the last day of the Octave, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also designated Divine Mercy Sunday.

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that we are all in need of mercy that exceeds human standards. If we were shown the justice that we deserve, we would tremble when reading Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” We are all called to be saints, and very few of us rise to the challenge. For the rest of us, so much grace that is poured out for us seems to go wasted, no so much, we can hope, because of our refusal to obey, as because of our distracted obtuseness that fails to acknowledge the invitation. (One of my favorite movie quotes, by the way, is from The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy look at the warden in disbelief and asks, “How can you be so obtuse?”)

Examples abound. The director of a widely praised film on the last hours of the life of Christ (you know who I’m talking about), gets arrested for drunk driving and makes embarrassing remarks about Jews, then a few years later, his wife serves him with divorce papers on Holy Thursday. The man is a believer. I don’t doubt his sincerity, and I don’t doubt that he knows enough to have a properly formed conscience. He has not apostasized, or denied any truth of the faith. Yet he still has demons to wrestle with that overpower him and cause him to fall. Hard. The Lord offers him mercy.

Peter denied Christ three times. How many times have I denied Him, not in public, but in my heart? Every time that I sin, I deny him sovereignty over my life. Yet for all that I desire to surrender my life in obedience to the Lord of life, I remain a sinner. I am suspended between Romans 7:13 (“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”) and 1 John 2:3-4 (“And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who say ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and thr truth is not in him.”), always with Hebrews 10:26-31 playing ominously in the background.

These things played in my mind this weekend as I examined my conscience before going to confession. I went with the same list of sins as last time, and I could not help but wonder, how sorry am I? I can sit there on Saturday morning, across the screen from the priest, and be sorry for my sins and determined not to repeat those sins, but at the same time I know that the damnable attraction to sin, which is a result of the fall of our original parents is going to remain. For some reason, God seems to want my choice to be hard and continuous, when I want it to be easy. I want to be able to say, “I renounce sin!” and not be troubled by it any more. Unfortunately, there is not procedure for removing concupiscence. Sin is always crouching at our door, requiring us to make a conscious effort to turn our faces away from evil and to good.

It isn’t easy. Even cloistered monks find that they fall and have to get back up. So we return once again to the mercy of God. He is faithful when we are not. The only limit to God’s mercy is our desire to seek it and our ability to receive it. We fall, and we get back up. We renew our resolutions and eventually, God willing, we overcome some of our faults so that the falls aren’t as hard. And, provided we don’t despair, we eventually find our way home to Him, and we become, finally, what we were made to be.

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