Forgiving Until It Hurts and then Some….

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.       St. Matthew 18:21-22

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Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles that we human beings face during our sojourn here on earth. In our struggle with sin and the weakness that sin has created within us, it can feel nearly impossible to forgive. Many people deny that forgiveness is their responsibility and they even ignore the above Scripture passage in order to hold on to some long held grudge or hurt. I understand as I have been there, but that doesn’t make it right. In fact, resentment keeps us from growing and maturing in the spiritual life.

Everything that God instructed within Scripture is meant to lead to our ultimate good. Christ teaches us what we need to be fully human and those things that will unite us to the mysteries of His life and the Blessed Trinity. All that He asks of us is in order that we may be conformed (be like) the love found within the Blessed Trinity and that includes forgiveness. Not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness until it hurts, even until we don’t think that we can give anymore. It is actually marriage and motherhood that is teaching me this indispensable truth.

I fail daily in my vocation of wife and mother. I don’t serve as I should. I can become selfish or irritable. I can lose my temper with my daughter and then hurt deeply because of my failures. This is where I am learning that I must forgive quickly and teach my daughter to do the same. I have developed a habit of seeking my daughter’s forgiveness when I fail her. She is only 3 years old, but I want her to hear me say that “I am sorry” and for her to respond with “I forgive you”. Like the virtues, forgiveness is something that can be fostered at a young age and with practice. In learning to forgive early, my daughter will not grow up holding onto resentments and I will learn to overcome some things that I was never taught. She can also teach me to forgive my husband quickly, which I must confess is still a work in progress.

The love I have for my daughter is teaching me a lot about the love the Father has for each one of us. My daughter is also learning to seek forgiveness when she falls short. She may not be able to fully reason in events that have transpired, but she can learn contrition now. My anger at a situation regarding my daughter’s behavior is extremely short-lived. It is always tinged with pain, because I dislike having to punish her, but I love her and she has to learn. This is the same as God’s love for us. He hurts (not as humans hurt, but we understand through language) when we sin, but knows that we will be healed if we repent and come back to him. Contemplate that for a moment.

Perhaps this way of looking at sin will help people to understand why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). First, God responds to us in our humanity that is through our body and soul reality. Confession is the uniting of a physical movement: confessing sins, contrition, and satisfaction (penance) with God’s pouring out of sanctifying grace which leads to perfect contrition (Thomistic theology) and the forgiveness of sins.

When my daughter or I sin in our relationship what do we do? We return to one another in sorrow and physically through words voice our need for forgiveness and the other returns the forgiveness.  There is no relationship on earth that allows me to internalize in my seeking of forgiveness. I must return to the person and ask in order to receive forgiveness. Now they may have already forgiven me, but the movement is needed. God requires us to go to the Confessional because we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and we need to verbally state what we have done in the presence of the Church’s representative who is also standing in as the person of Christ. This is how the Church has done it from the beginning, although, it was much more public in the Early Church. There was no “me and Jesus” in the Early Church because the hierarchical nature of the Church and the sacramental reality of the Church opposes such thinking. Not to mention that after rising from the dead, Jesus gave the Apostles (the first Bishops) the power to forgive sins by breathing life into them.

What should be clear at this point is that forgiveness is critical in our journey to holiness. In fact, forgiveness is one of the ways God strengthens and sanctifies each one of us. It is something that we must foster from a young age and encourage in others. If that is not a possibility, then as adults we need to work to establish a habit of forgiveness. If we struggle then we need to ask God for the grace and strength to forgive as he does. Think about it this way, Christ forgave those who crucified Him WHILE he was dying in agony on the Cross. That is our call. Mediate on Christ’s first words to the Apostles when He appeared in the Upper Room after His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.” He returned in forgiving love, even when they abandoned Him.  That is how we must forgive time and time again.  I hope you are having a very blessed Easter season.

We are NOT Called to be Angels; We are Called to be Fully Human

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I have always, even before I began formal study, had a theological pet peeve related to human beings and the angels. Somewhere down the line, human beings got the idea that we become angels when we die or that we are to be angels. I would have to study it further to understand where this error started. Perhaps it really began with the cherubim depictions of babies that are so popular that convinced parents that their children who have passed on became cherubim? I am not sure. I can understand this error within the secular culture which assimilates all manners of heresy due to their lack of the fullness of truth. It logically makes sense for things like this to occur. It is not understandable for it to occur within the Church.

This morning I saw an article posted on one of my favorite Catholic sites that focuses on inspirational pieces, that stopped me cold. The title was: We are Called to be Angels. I stopped and stared at it. I was concerned, and frankly a bit annoyed (I am still working on that holiness thing), and so I opened the article. It discusses a bit of conjecture by St. Anselm on the human being as a replacement for the fallen angels. I can’t say the title fully reflected the content. Although, the author did not inform readers that saints have all sorts of conjectures that may or may not be accepted by the Church. This is where error starts and runs rampant. The article has already been shared hundreds of times. The title is a complete theological error and misleading.

We are not called to be angels. We are called to be human, more clearly we are called to be fully human as we conform ourselves to the Blessed Trinity. Our anthropological (theological buzzward) orientation to God is that He created us in His image and likeness in order to serve and become like him. This is not what he did for the angels. Angels are pure spirit, with no body. Speaking of conjecture, I have heard it suggested that Lucifer chose not to serve God after the Incarnation was revealed to the angels (this is conjecture). In equating us to the angels, Christians lose their incarnational understanding. God became man and has invited us to share in His Divine life. The union of body and soul, our humanness, matters. God acts in our world towards us to serve our human understanding. The Church is a combination of the material and the spiritual. It is not either/or, it is both.

This is most fully realized in the sacramental life of the worshiping community. The internal realities of grace are fully realized and expressed through the external actions of the Church, that is, the sacramental sign-action. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas equates all of the sacraments with various actions and periods within a human being’s life (see the Summa on various Sacraments). Baptism is re-birth and the washing away of sins as the individual publicly declares their desire to be conformed to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to become a member within the public life of the Church. Water, which is the “matter” in this sacrament, is a means of cleansing and washing for the human person. God uses those things that will impact our in order to bring out the internal realities of sanctifying grace. The sacraments are the most concrete union of body and soul that we have on this side of eternity, most especially in the Blessed Eucharist.

So, what am I getting at? Our bodies matter. We are not pure spiritual beings. The fact that Christ became man matters. When we change our anthropological understanding of ourselves all kinds of heresies begin to take hold. In fact, heresies like Gnosticism which hold that material is evil, become a serious problem. That heresy has been around almost as long as the Church.  God made us human, both body and soul, and he sanctifies us through that reality. It is also in our body-soul reality that we are sanctified and conformed to the Blessed Trinity. We are called to be united to Christ’s passion. That can only occur through a bodily unification with the soul, since Christ suffered in His body (and soul).

It is true that we can be like the angels in their obedience, charity, glorification, and service to God. In that way, we most certainly should pray for the grace to be like them. I am a huge proponent of the intercession of my Guardian Angel. My daughter knew the Guardian Angel prayer by the time she started speaking and it is her favorite prayer. In fact, a great peace washes over her at night as she prayers it, knowing that Our Lord has given each one of us a great spiritual being to guide and protect us through his will.

I just want to remind Catholics that there is a very real serious threat of dualism and a misunderstanding of the human person in our culture that we can absorb. And while the article in question was about a Catholic saint. It is important that we have a grounded theological understanding before we tackle conjecture from the various saints. St. Anselm posited that human beings are to replace fallen angels in Heaven, but that does not mean that we become angels. The title is misleading and wrong. It is a very important distinction and that word replace can cause a lot of confusion for Catholics. As my professors are always telling me, ‘precision in language is crucial’. We resurrect at the end of the Parousia, in our glorified bodies. It is not just our spirit, nor are we called to be like purely spiritual beings. We never become angels. Our intellects are incapable of reaching that of the angels and we were created to be human beings. Angels and men are both beautiful aspects of God’s awesome creative power and love. We are called to become the highest form of a human being as God perfects our fallen nature and the angels are called to be the highest form of angel.

***UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comments in order to see the clarification from the author of the original article. I am appreciative that he took the time to clarify.

**UPDATE: The editor of the Catholic online magazine has contacted me and said the title has been adjusted and the content has been clarified in relation to Church teaching. It was an accident. These things happen. :o)

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*If I have made any theological errors and you happen to be a theologian, instead of a lowly grad student like me, or you are a grad student, please feel free to correct me. I never want to preach or teach in error. It was not my intention to eviscerate the author of the article either. He is not a theologian. I merely wanted to point out that our words and teaching, even as a layman, matter.* My professors are constantly telling us that “precision of language matters” and I think the article in question is a very good example of why.  God bless.

Let God Woo You

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This morning I looked out the window and was reminded of one of my favorite movies: Shadowlands. It is the story of C.S. Lewis as played by Anthony Hopkins. It focuses on Lewis’ years well into his conversion when he marries his wife, Joy. At one point he is sitting in a library at Oxford talking to one of his Inkling friends about March, that is late winter. He talks about how the snow is gone and the gray rains have come. Not the beautiful rains of April or May, but the dark rains of winter. He calls this time “the waiting room of the world”.  If you have not seen the movie or read any of C.S. Lewis’ work, I highly recommend it all. My favorite of his is the novel Til We Have Faces, which I read every year or two.

Looking out my window, I see his point. The grass is still brown and the sky is that gray that is only seen in winter. If I was in Montana, I would expect snow, but here in Virginia it is rain. The hope of spring is beginning. The world around me is in a yawning phase. The bulbs are beginning to poke out of the ground, except for the daffodils which are standing erect waiting for a sunny day to open up their golden blooms. Many of my daffodils were destroyed by our heavy snowstorms last month. They came up too early and our typical mid-February storms ruined them. There are a few that will bloom, but many I will have to wait to see again until next year.

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Spring is a glorious time of year in these parts. There really is nothing like it. The trees bloom in incredible colors and the tulips dance in the breeze. Perhaps my love of spring is tied to my April birth, but more than anything it is my connection to dirt and flower that solidifies my joy. This time of year means that garden season is near. That time when I can wander local greenhouses and Lowe’s to find new beauty for our yard. All the colors, shapes, and sizes remind me of what a joyful Artist God is in His Creation. Whether it is a delicate little flower or a large tree, God demonstrates Himself to us through His secondary causes (think creation).

The cliche of stopping to smell the roses is a cliche precisely because it is true. In our adult lives we can quickly abandon the beauty around us because we are so busy and focused on ourselves. I am thankful that I have never lost my childhood wonder. It is something that neither of my parents have lost either. My mother taught me the love of earth and flowers, and my dad has taught me the wonder of theology and philosophy. Growing up in Montana, the grandeur of nature becomes imbedded in the soul and experience. Moving to Virginia showed me a different side of God’s beauty, as has every other place that I have lived whether it is the coast of California, the white buildings of Washington, DC, or the farmlands of central England.

Beauty is everywhere and it is universal. It is everywhere because God is beauty and that is reflected in His creation. Since He is beauty, it would be impossible for us to live in an ugly universe. It may be hard at times to see it, but we only have to open our eyes to find it. I see it in my daughter’s smile, the sun streaming through her hair, or in her laugh. I see it in my husband talking to our daughter after temper tantrums or him sketching out plans for our garden. I see it in this “waiting room” through the increase in birds flying about and the green of tulips beginning in my front yard.  I see it in the buds on the skeleton trees that hold the promise of May. I see it in the strength and courage of people who are afflicted.  Beauty is in the quiet places and in the hard places. It is God whispering to us. I see it most clearly in the Blessed Sacrament who is Christ Himself given as our manna from Heaven.

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We have to look, though. We have to look up and out. Instead of internalizing and focusing on the millions of things we have to do, we must take moments to pause and wonder. There is a reason Jesus tells us to be like little children.  Children wonder at everything. The world is new and glorious. Adults are marred by pain and suffering, but that wonder cannot cease. That wonder can be found in a novel, a building, a person, flower, mountains, ocean, blades of grass, the universe is the limit. I frequently go into Google Images and search out beauty that I have never seen before.

When I was a child of 8 or 9, I wanted nothing more than to be an Astronomer. My prized possessions (besides the Pink Panther stuffed toy my mother had given me at birth) were two books about the planets and universe. We couldn’t afford many, so these were truly special to me. I would spend hours pouring over them and looking in amazement at the vastness and indescribable beauty of it all. Venus was my favorite planet. Unfortunately, my love was tempered by my lack of gifts in mathematics and the natural sciences. God had something else in mind for me. I still search out images of far off galaxies, stars, planets, and beauty. Looking at a picture of the Horsehead galaxy still takes my breath away. I can almost hear the angels of Heaven singing to God’s glory when I see it; the beauty is that amazing to me.

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In our fast paced culture we can lose sight of the beauty around us. As a friend of mine frequently says: “God woos us through beauty”. God wants to share His love and beauty with each one of us. God is always giving Himself, which is infinite, but we have to accept. Think of a courtship, in order for a woman to be wooed, she must accept the affections. The same goes for God and each one of us. God gives everything to us, most especially in the Sacraments, but he will not violate our free will. He will not force Himself on us. A lover, in its truest sense, could never force themselves on their beloved. We must accept the love given to us.

God is going to use His beauty on each one of us in the way we were created. I love to dig my hands into the dirt and watch God’s artistry in my gardens. I am drawn into amazing scenes whether mountainous or an ocean. I am also drawn in by the small things. A blooming tulip can stop me in my tracks. I will stand and admire it for quite some time. God knows that I have a deep understanding and love of His creation.

I was watching a movie with my daughter last week. It is the new Disney movie Big Hero 6, which I enjoyed.  There is a scene where the robot, Baymax, has just been fitted with his military grade suit. Hiro, the teenage boy who outfitted him, is showing off his new tech when a butterfly lands on Baymax. Baymax then proceeds to walk off following the butterfly. I saw that and laughed because that is me. I can be ready to go and focused on a task at hand, but then, some beautiful thing will stop me and I will follow it. That is because that beauty is revealing an aspect of God to me and it is more important for me to investigate and hold onto that gift.

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God is using beauty to woo you. Are you paying attention? One of the ways we can evangelize is just by pointing out the the beauty around us. Reason can at least get us that far and God infuses us with supernatural Faith to help us to get to Him. The next time you are overwhelmed, stop and look around. How is God trying to speak to you? Listen and watch your children, spouse, or friends. Whether you live in a city, the country, or in-between, God is using secondary causes to show us His love. Today, take a moment in this “waiting room of the world” to find some beauty and let God woo you.