Coming Home: An Invitation to Life, Mercy, and Living in Plenty

Birgit - good shepherd

Birgit - good shepherdThe Church offers the joy and consolation of spiritual family life. Its members are partakers in the divine life, sharing in God’s own life. Saint Anselm’s words offer perspective on the filial spirit of the Church, which in her ‘motherly care’ grants mercy and reconciliation:

“No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God” (Saint Anselm, Letter 112).

Abby Johnson spoke recently at a pro-life event at Georgetown University, emphasizing the message of the Church and and the hope of reconciliation: “No one is beyond the power of conversion because no one is beyond the power of Christ.”

Searching for Truth, Finding a ‘Restored Homestead’

Johnson spoke of the hope of conversion, and its importance in witness and mercy. She stated, “At the heart of life is Christ.”

I came home to the Church one day in the late winter, under a gray sky. It was a metaphor for my spiritual discontent and listlessness. The “rays of inconceivable graces” are a guide, prompting conversion, if we are receptive to truth. “O Most Sacred Heart, Fount of Mercy from which gush forth rays of inconceivable graces upon the entire human race, I beg of You light for poor sinners” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska 72).

The Church established by Christ is the “community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.” It is, at the same time, “the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 771).

The Church “also emphasizes the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of one’s being, where the person decides for or against God” (CCC 368).

The journey home is a return to the heart; to a spiritual homestead, restored. “The ancients ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; Repairer of the breach,’ they call you, “Restorer of ruined homesteads’” (The New American Bible, Isaiah 58:12). Reconciliation restores us to a life of grace.

Reconciliation – Sincerity of Heart, True Worship

Reconciliation with the Church is a path toward authentic freedom, and the “sacrament of forgiveness”; a desire to return to God, and receive His pardon for sin. Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; a failure in genuine love for God (CCC 1849).

A biblical perspective of mercy is understood in the sacrament of reconciliation, in the acknowledgement of sin, and the desire to recover the loss of grace. A sincere heart worships in the spirit of Truth, sharing “the visible plan of God’s love for humanity” (CCC 776). Witnessing to God’s love is neither a private matter, nor merely an external act reserved for Sundays only (which unfortunately, seems to form the basis of the secular notion of ‘worship’).

Worship as witness, is a sincere effort to offer God a contrite heart in true penance, and fasting from sin. “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; (Isaiah 58:6).”

On the contrary, the nature of true worship calls the faithful to give witness to the Gospel in their daily lives. People who live the faith, “not just at home or in church, but in their public lives” are people who want to be ‘free’—and its message is for all of us “unless we choose to be afraid” (“Of Human Dignity, The Declaration of Religious Liberty at 50.”Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, First Things). Fidelity and moral courage are essential to Catholic witness and identity. Christian religious expression is a moral duty that is both socially and individually ordered for the true good. It is an invitation to return to Christ.

 The Joy of the Gospel – An Invitation to Come Home

On the day that I returned to the faith, three women invited me to pray the Rosary after daily mass. I had tried to leave quietly, feeling awkward and alone. I stood at the door, fumbling with my baby’s infant carrier seat and diaper bag, trying to find car keys. They approached me with kind affection, as though they knew me.

I felt welcome. The encounter was marked with authentic humility. It was, purely and simply, the mystery of God’s grace. We do our part, and God does His. I just had to show up. No myth, no metaphor, and no ideology invited me to pray. It is a person who extends an invitation of hope, of the living God— the mercy and the peace of Christ.

Here are a few lessons which helped me to return to the Church—to live in plenty.

Lesson No. 1:  Our hearts were made to love God, and to be loved by God.

“Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:12).

Peter Kreeft says, “A misunderstanding about love is the idea that “God is love” is unrelated to dogmatic theology, especially to the doctrine of the Trinity.”

My first grade teacher, Sister Rose Margaret (a Mother Angelica type) always reminded us that we were loved by God. Admittedly, it’s not easy to explain the mysteries of the Catholic faith to kids, but she tried anyway (without whimsical computer animation, catchy theme songs, character merchandise, and fireworks—but, eh, Hollywood). The “Spirit of truth” is unconditional love of truth (CCC 2466).  The unconditional love of truth is rich with witness, by which the Lord instructs hearts—if, we open ourselves to prayer and seek God with a sincere heart.

Lesson No. 2: Obedience – Follow the Good Shepherd

The spirit of the world is seductive. It holds our attention, provokes our passions, and tempts us to act against the truth—to act against the love of God, in idolatry. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. Idols can be so prevalent that we hardly consider what takes the place of God—money, power, pleasure, the state, etc. (CCC 2113-2114).

Sr. Rose Margaret said, “Jesus is the Good Shepherd.” Her words stayed with me into adulthood.  As I passed the Church of the Good Shepherd one evening on a walk, God’s grace “gushed” forth. I was reminded of my Catholic youth—my resemblance to sheep. “We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

On the “path of life, the life of every day,” we need only follow Jesus, the shepherd, and we will never be misled, said Pope Francis.

“Look at the splendors of My mercy and do not fear the enemies of your salvation. Glorify My mercy” (Diary 1485).

Lesson No. 3: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” 

Be joyful, truthful, and charitable in Christian witness. Pope Francis’ field hospital analogy reminds the faithful that the mission is marked by apostolic zeal to heal.

Human nature is weakened by original sin (concupiscence), subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death; and inclined to sin (CCC 419). The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which sin had taken from us, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).

God longs for us to return to Him, by His way.  Fasting, prayer, and the sacramental life are essential. Wandering away from our salvation, into enemy territory, we may be confused, or disoriented. Archbishop Chaput wrote, “So often we overlook the simple and obvious fabric of our daily life. But that’s where love begins.” He also wrote,

“The only strength the Devil has is persuading us that we’re losers too, that we’re not worthy of love, that God doesn’t care about us, that God is angry with us and we don’t need him anyway . . . one lie after another until we give up and turn our backs on salvation.”

When we believe that a triune God loves us, we live and behave in ways that challenge the self-absorption of relativistic individualism and depersonalization. Families and societal institutions are harmed by such philosophical underpinnings. “Ignorance of the act that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors, in the areas of education, politics, social action, and morals” (CCC 407).

Lesson No. 4: Be ashamed when you sin, not when you repent.”—St. John Chrysostom

When Pope John Paul II visited Denver in 1993, I wondered: Had I dismissed my Catholic faith as a nostalgic remnant of my youth?  I watched him on TV, beaming with joy as he lived the Church’s message. I missed Catholicism. I missed my Church. I missed ‘me,’ the ‘me’ that Sister Rose Margaret said God loved.

(A cynical reader may visualize a showy musical production as a repentant sinner returns, prancing and singing a cheeky song— but, eh, Hollywood.) The truth of salvation is mysterious, not glamorous, not entertaining.

Kreeft gives an analogy for the mystery of salvific love:

“Love is a flower, and hope is its stem. Salvation is the whole plant. God’s grace, God’s own life, comes into us by faith, like water through a tree’s roots. It rises in us by hope, like sap through the trunk. And it flowers from our branches, fruit for our neighbor’s use.”

Lesson No. 5: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6)

It was not the “quasi-religious” or “fake church” (which Cardinal Francis George described in “A tale of two churches”) nor is it the ““Church Belligerent”, as Father Paul Scalia wrote, which consoles and proposes the life of grace. God’s grace works to “uncover sin so as to convert hearts and bestow ‘righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’” (CCC 1848).

It was the Catholic Church that prayed me home, inviting me, and encouraging me by its fidelity, courageous witness, and charity. It is a Church engaged in temporal culture for the eternal purposes of God, standing firm in its teaching.

“Hear me, you who know justice, you people who have my teaching at heart: Fear not the reproach of men, be not dismayed at their revilings. They shall be like a garment eaten by moths, like wool consumed by grubs; But my justice shall remain forever and my salvation, for all generations” (Isaiah 51:7).

Our true self is revealed in reconciliation. We return to the life of grace, a land of plenty. It is the experience of mercy in a ‘parched land’. “Then the Lord will guide you always, and give you plenty even on the parched land” (Isaiah 58:11). To return to the life of grace is to return to a restored spiritual homestead, to freedom, and the plenty of mercy. Mercy is the gift of God himself, the “invisible rays of graces” and “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Open your heart to God’s mercy—live life in plenty, for “at the heart of life is Christ.”

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