Revisiting Mercy and Grace

I suppose I could/should start with something along the lines of how it's been more than 3 months since I last blogged and how life has been busy.

So, there you have it. I started there. :-)

And life has been busy - in so many different ways. So many times I've sat down to write and been either pulled away or the words just wouldn't come or I've felt stuck between whether or not to write here publicly or to start a private portion of this blog.

For now, I think I will continue the story here, with the ever constant reminder I think we all need that what goes on the internet is but a snapshot of life, a selecting of things to share and not share.

I need to revisit mercy and grace, perhaps I should just start titling every post as such, as that's what we all do daily, minute by minute even, isn't it? We lean hard into mercy and grace and trust in His promises as we stumble and trip and fall on this journey of life towards Home.

Many of the comments on my initial post of mercy and grace chastised me for speaking of the two when still in a state of mortal sin. A common thread was also that one who is in mortal sin is cut off from all grace. Along with them came pleas to stop sinning and return to Confession and Eucharist, without offer of friendship along the way.

I have stated many times (and will point you to the Disclaimer Post if you've not read it) that I do not in any way uphold any wrongs I have done/sins I have committed as the right way to do things. I made choices, and life changed as a result of those choices, and so now I walk this path, still seeking God and Truth.

One thing that I could not find the right words to respond to was the assertion that because there was sin of grave matter in my life, I was cut off from grace, all grace. I knew that to not be true, but beyond saying that I couldn't quite explain it. I was living it, though. Daily as I went to Mass, I felt His Grace, His ever trustworthy voice reminding me that He loves me, and yes, calling me Home and out of sin. As I stayed in my pew when it came time from Eucharist, I knew it was the right thing to do, as I was not in a state of grace to receive, and that knowledge is grace. It was a grace that I didn't walk away from the Church, that I knew She is a place for sinners and not saints. While yes, the sanctifying grace of the sacraments was withheld, by respecting what the Church upholds of them, I was actually staying closer to them by abstaining from them than I would have been if receiving them unworthily. Imperfect? Yes. Isolated and cut off? No. This video explains it better than I ever could.

So many people wanted to just say 'stop sinning, now' and have that be the end of it. Rarely wanting to really converse, to really dig in and walk this messy dirty path. It left me with simple, defensive replies to the clanging gong of the law being shouted at me in the name of love.

I knew in both my head and my heart there is no gradualness in the law, and I was not seeking any. I was not looking for an exception or loophole. I was desperately trying to align my heart and will to the law and it was not as easy as 'do this' or 'don't do that'. It took months of prayers, spiritual direction, reading Church documents over and over, and asking God "Can we please talk about something else? I'm so tired of this topic. I need a break." Only to hear His answer loud and clear "No, we will keep talking about this as long as is needed."

During these months, there were others who walked with me, let me process and be honest about my struggles, the very human 'whys' of explanation (or excuse, if you prefer) for my sin. I knew there was sin, but needed to work through the human messiness that is the path to holiness. We were able to acknowledge the law and my failings, and then dig deeper to the whys of my failings, to my fears, to my idols. Those conversations kept my heart from hardening and kept me returning to my conversations with God.

While I realize there is great beauty in blind obedience to Authority (authentic authority, such as the Catholic Church), for me, blind obedience feels like a sentence of bitterness and resentment. I need to understand and fully accept the sufferings that may come with obedience. It is how I'm wired. Just telling me the stove is hot isn't enough, I need to understand not only that I will burn myself, but how that burn will impact my daily life. I do not want to resent the Church, I love her and her teachings, and so I must do the hard work of digging in and understanding and integrating them into my life before I am able to act. My faith is deep and it is my faith that drives me to this. I trust the Church and it's not a situation of 'prove it', but rather one of 'help me to understand and live'.

And it was in an article about Lady Gaga, of all places, that what I had been trying to explain, and what I had been experiencing was the graduality of the spiritual life. Here is the specific paragraph that had me wanting to should "THIS THIS THIS":
I wrote about this to help illustrate the value of graduality in the spiritual life. Not graduality of the law, but graduality in the comprehension of the law. This is a reality in all of our lives. We do not come to an understanding of God’s law simply by reading the sounds of the black and white text. It takes a whole lifetime for us to comprehend spiritual things in a way that goes beyond intellectual comprehension and really sinks deep into our hearts.
Some of you may say "but Rebecca, you understand God's law", you worked in marriage and family life ministry, studied Theology of the Body, how could you not comprehend the law??? And the best response I have is from an email that I received from a dear friend (not exact quote, but close, I think): Just because we know and study things like Theology of the Body, it does not exempt us from failing to live up to it.

When the messiness of this life gets very messy, and the temptations rage (I do not minimize the role of Satan in any of this, He won a battle in my life, but He will not win the war for my soul), sometimes what we know in our heads isn't enough. Sometimes the wounds of our lives are ripped open anew, in ways we never could have expected, and we fail. And all we can do is learn from those failings, with the help of His grace, and move forward one step, one inch at a time. The graduality of the spiritual life.

And so for many months, more than a year, I struggled with this graduality of the spiritual life. Of knowing the law and of not being able to live up to it and of needing to understand why I was struggling to do so. And then, one afternoon, when I was engaging my head again, with 3 papal documents around me, everything changed. Light bulbs went off, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I heard clearly an answer to a question I had been wrestling with for over a year, struggling with, avoiding at times, and I knew it was time. (And what that question was, and the answer to it is for another post, but I will share, as it is important.) I now understood how the burn would impact my daily life, and I was willing to accept it. This willingness to accept it is so important. God will never force Himself upon His. He will call us to Him, He will court us, but we must say 'yes'. We must consent and we must freely choose Him, which means accepting the cross as well. We must give our fiat, again and again, to His will in our lives.

I shared my afternoon with R when he got home. He agreed. Time.

And within a couple of weeks, we'd both been to Confession and then, on Pentecost, with dear friends at our sides and tears streaming down both of our faces, we returned to the Altar of the Lord, returned to the Body of Christ.

And I want to be very clear. It was mercy and grace, presented to me when sin of grave matter was present in my life, that made it possible. God's continual seeking of me, His calling out, His insistence that we could not table the topic for even a month, His beckoning me Home. His mercy. his grace. (Again, I will link to this video, that a friend shared at a time that can only be described as His timing that explains this much better than I ever could.)

I realize many prayed from a distance, and I do not doubt those prayers were part of this, those who I thought were friends who only wanted to restate what I already knew and not actually engage nor be willing to say "I'm here, even in your messiness, I'm here," caused much damage. I never wanted anyone to give me permission for sin, never. But I did need to be loved despite my sin - and not just in word, but in action. In tangible, human action, because I am, as we all are, after all, human. Though, even a grace came from those who walked away, in that I am now a little less in need of human acceptance. It is one of the wounds I've had to come face to face with, and in His insistence that we would keep having the same conversation, God showed me, once again, that He is trustworthy and that His acceptance is the only true acceptance.

However, to those who have not only prayed for me, but who have stayed close and walked this messy walk with me. You in a very real way were God's hands and feet keeping me close to Christ and His Church. You were the human face (and arms, and shoulders to cry on, and ears to listen) of unconditional love and acceptance that comes from God and God alone. I thank you for that.