Thursday, September 14, 2006

Contrition and being out and owning up to one's own self

A couple weeks ago was the memorial of St. Gregory the Great. In the passage the Church offers us for his Office of Readings, he, from the most illustrious pulpit in all Christendom, states exactly where he stands:

How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself. I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching. I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgement of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge.

but yet he has hope:

Truly the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of mankind can give me in spite of my weaknesses a higher life and effective speech; because I love him, I do not spare myself in speaking of him.

Another wise and holy bishop, this one still among us, wrote many many years ago, in words meant to be seen by only one other person in the whole world, but now belonging to us all:

During the last months I have come to know how strained I was, tense, pensive, without much joy. I couldn't pray at all. I just did not seem to be honest with God. I felt I was fleeing from Him, from facing Him. I know what the trouble was: I was letting your conscience take over for me and I couldn't live with it. I felt like the world's worst hypocrite. .....I was at a crossroads -- and I knew I had to get the courage to decide. There is no other way for me to live....... I failed you, I failed myself. I failed as a friend, I failed as priest. .....I did nothing but cry and try to pray....... I begged for forgiveness for having failed you and for the grace of standing up again and trying to be -- not a bishop -- just a Christian.

And we do not have to be holy and wise bishops to know that we do not always live up to our own standards. I definitely know that in my own life. One of my fellow Catholic bloggers has even named his blog "I see the right way and approve of it, then do the opposite".

And yet, there is hope for us. And it begins with conviction and contrition. I name myself hypocrite, so Jesus doesn't have to. I, the shy and timid, and highly embarrassed, do my best to be bold and confident as I place all my failures in Jesus' all-loving and all-merciful heart.

As I mentioned in the last post, what were the first symptoms that the fall had happened? First, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, then they blamed someone else. But I am redeemed, born into a new life, and should have nothing to do with either one of these. [The hiding from God part just plain isn't possible, in any case!]

So every time I find myself a failure in following my own standards, I have to not hide from God, and not hide from myself, and say with honesty and humility and confidence: I have sinned through my own fault. For:

Ultimately I understand that the humanity God so loved and sought to redeem, including my own humanity, will be transformed by His loving embrace and grace.

as that wise and holy bishop said to the Church he gave up that friendship to serve with a single heart. It is as true of me as it is of him, and it is just as true for every one of us.

So let us not refuse to say: I, supposed Christian, hypocrite! And may I never flee the grace of God that answers, Welcome home!

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