In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning quotes from another who writes, “One saint used to say that she was the type of woman who advances more rapidly when she is drawn by love than when driven by fear. She was preceptive enough to know that we are all that type of person. It is possible to attain great holiness of life while still being prone to pettiness and insincerity, sensuality and envy, but the first move will always be to recognize that I am that way. In terms of spiritual growth the faith-conviction that God accepts me as I am is a tremendous help to become better.” (p.49)
Brennan sums this up by saying, “Love is a far better stimulus than threat or pressure.” This understanding leads to the realization that God loves us for who we are. That doesn’t mean that we don’t seek to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy, but it does mean that we learn to accept God’s grace and mercy, so that we don’t become discouraged and fall away.
That said, I’m always encouraging you to make a proper confession, whether that be to sit down with a priest or on your own, but as I have also told you, I hate going to confession. I’m very well aware of weaknesses and faults and I don’t like having to put them out there, but today… a public confession (and everybody says, “Well, this just got interesting!” Not like that, but maybe worse.) Here goes, two parts…
Part one: many struggle with being hard on themselves and many struggle with accepting God’s grace and mercy. The more those types of feelings persist, the harder that person is on themself. Friends: I am not good to myself. In many different ways I punish myself for my shortcomings. I am a priest that knows—for a fact!—that you are loved by God and so very deserving of God’s grace and I will do anything I can so that you can experience that love and grace, but… I have refused to accept it for myself. That’s part one. Part two: I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m tired of standing outside the banquet and missing out on the celebration.
That’s the confession. (Not very juicy, I know.) So, during this season of Lent, what am I going give up? I’ll probably give up something more tangible (that one is between me and God), but I think what I’m really going to give up is the act of pummeling myself and kicking my own backside. I think I’ll give up being a shield to God’s grace and allow him to soften my heart toward myself. As I said, I’m tired of being on the outside of the banquet, trying to make myself worthy to enter in, all the while, forgetting that this is a work that Jesus has already accomplished.
We always think of the ashes on ash Wednesday as a sign of penance and our mortality, our death. They are, but Thomas Merton looked at them from the other side. He wrote, “The ashes become a health-giving medicine and they bring wholeness, cleanness to the body as well as protection to the soul, both of these availing for the remission of sins. They bring the grace of that humility which they signify, they bring also the pardon which we implore by the fact of receiving them.”
The ashes are a sign of penance and death, but when we receive them with true humility, they are not only a sign of sin and death, but of forgiveness and life.
I invite you to continue on the path for this Lent that you have set for yourself, but, if you find yourself in the boat with me, then I invite you to join me in recognizing the fact that God accepts you as you, so that you can then experience His grace and love.