Unworthy yet graced

Last Sunday’s readings reflected a sense of human unworthiness.

Isaiah protests (Isaiah 6:1-8),

I am a man of unclean lips.

Peter protests (Luke 5: 1-11),

Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man.

Even Paul protests (15: 1-11).

[I am] not fit to be called an apostle.

Is this just a reaffirmation of a faith that crushes people, that keeps people down by promoting a low self-esteem?

It might seem so. But, when I look at myself honestly, I realize that I am inadequate, I am not complete, I am not perfect.

I often have the illusion that I should be able to do it all, to do it always right. But reality often hits me in the face.

I cannot.

But, for we who believe in a God who became flesh for and with us, this is not the final word.

God sends an ember to cleanse the lips of Isaiah. Jesus calls Peter to follow him, to get up off his knees and go forward.

But Paul puts it most clearly and succinctly:

By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace in me has not been useful, not been sterile, not been in vain, to no purpose, empty.

Dorothy Day once noted that “The sense of futility is one of the greatest evils of the day.”

But she realized that God worked with her, in her – and made of her smallest acts a sign of God’s love and grace.

Yes, she experienced “the long loneliness,” as she entitled her autobiography. But she also experienced the grace of God – which came to her in a special way with the joy of motherhood.

Recognizing our need of God and others, our dependence, can free us from dependency on ourselves and from the frustration of not being able to be perfect. It can open us to God’s love.

Last year, while reading a book by James Keating on the diaconate, I cam across this quote:

[The deacon] is to receive an intimacy from God that makes him feel uncomfortable, because it makes him know that the love given by the Trinity to the alienated and the lonely is first given to him.

This brought me great consolation in the midst of a time when I was feeling a bit disconcerted and disconnected – alone. I felt a strong sense of both my sinfulness and God’s mercy. Not one or the other – both.

The next day I went to a Mass in the neighboring village. It was the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Later I found there words in one of her letters (#226):

I expect as much from God’s justice as from His mercy. It is because He is just that “He is compassionate and filled with gentleness, slow to punish, and abundant in mercy, for He knows our frailty, He remembers that we are only dust. As a father has tenderness or his children, so the Lord has compassion on us!”

This gives me great joy – and a great lesson to begin Lent.

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