Has The Cross Made Me “Flawless”?

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I heard a song on the radio the other day making a pretty bold claim…

“No matter the hurt, or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain, still the truth is: The cross has made, the cross has made you flawless.”

(The song is called, Flawless, and it’s by the Christian band MercyMe)

It’s a bold claim sung to a catchy tune.  But is it true?

Has the cross made me flawless?

I think that any Christian–Catholic or otherwise–will be the first to admit we are not perfect.  We are all sinners!  That’s why we need a Savior.

The song isn’t disputing this.  As a Catholic, I believe that apart from Jesus and apart from the cross, I’m toast.  I believe when the Bible tells me that apart from Jesus, I can do nothing– NOTHING!  So when I “get it right,” it’s only by God’s grace.  And when I get it wrong, it’s God’s grace that calls me back.  I think the song and I are good on this front.  All is grace.

Where the song and I hit a rough patch is its explanation of what that grace actually looks like in daily life.

The song continues:

“Could it possibly be that we simply can’t believe that this unconditional kind of love would be enough to take a filthy wretch like this and wrap him up in righteousness? But that’s exactly what He did.”

 

I think the music video for this song does a good job of illustrating this point further.  In it, the band begins covered in gooey-gunk, and as the song progresses the gunk flies off of them until their suits are as white as the wall against which they are performing.

This is interspersed with images of Christians juxtaposed with phrases describing their “flaws.” Examples of these flaws include:

 “prone to selfishness”

“Lives with guilt from reckless living”

“often puts work as priority over family”

etc…

Towards the end of the song, as the band gets cleaner and cleaner, these “flaws” are covered, one by one with, the word, “Flawless,” as the people smile from ear to ear.

The cross has made them “flawless.”

Is Jesus “Enough”?

The song’s claim is that what Jesus did on the cross was “enough to take a filthy wretch like [me] and wrap him up in righteousness.”

It’s a really nice thought, and I mean that wholeheartedly.  The idea that Jesus loves us so much that He died for us, and that His love for us is so great that He doesn’t even care about all of the horrible ways in which we hurt Him, ourselves, and others.  He just wants to wrap us— filthy and wretched us— up in His righteousness and welcome us into His Kingdom.

It really is a nice thought.

But it actually stops short of what I, as a Catholic, believe Jesus did—and continues to do— for me through dying the cross.

Not There Yet

“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name”

(John 1:12)

I’m prone to selfishness.  I can be a little judgmental.  I often have trouble trusting wholeheartedly in where God is leading me.  These are just some examples of my own flaws.

Because of the cross, I know that I am not defined by these flaws.  However, I also know through personal experience that these flaws didn’t suddenly go away the day I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.  I love Jesus and I want to be like Him, but I still find myself struggling with selfishness.  I still find myself struggling to trust.

That’s what I believe the cross did, and what the cross continues to do in my life.  The cross gives me the grace for the struggle.  The cross gives meaning to the struggle.  It gives me the grace to unite my struggle to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus doesn’t need for me to pretend my struggle doesn’t exist simply because I believe that He died for me.  He actually wants me to struggle with Him, so that I may one day be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

I believe that the cross is still in the process of making me flawless.  I pray that one day I will be able to sing along with the joyful refrain of this song as I behold my God face to face in Heaven.

Until then, I’m still a work in progress.

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Grace For Today

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“…So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

(Matthew 6:31-34)

If you’re like me, then occasionally little anxieties will creep into your mind.

I’m talking about the, “What-If’s,” the, “I’m never going to be able to get all of this done’s,” and just a general sense of feeling overwhelmed by not knowing what the future might have in store for you.

The above verses from Matthew have always been a comfort to me when dealing with feelings of anxiety, and recently, something I heard in a podcast from Fr. John Riccardo helped drive the point home.

God is always with us.  We know this.  But God doesn’t give us tomorrow’s grace today.  He gives us the grace we need in the moment we need it– not before and not after.

So if you have ever found yourself wondering how you would manage if horrible scenario x,y, or z happened to you, and then subsequently found yourself freaking out because it made you realize, “I have no idea what I would do if _____ happened to me!” Rest assured!  Of course you don’t know what you would do.  God doesn’t have you there right now, which means He hasn’t given you the graces He would be giving you if it were happening to you.

We will have what we need when we need it.  

And isn’t it a relief that we don’t need contingency plans for every possible turn our life might take!  Rest in the grace that God has given you for today.

Do not worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will worry about itself.

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How To Have A Normal Conversation (…With the Creator of the Universe)

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Scenario: You have a job offer and you’re not sure whether or not you should take it.  You need a little help deciding, so a natural thing to do is to call up a close friend.  The two of you talk it over; your friend helps you weigh the pros and cons, and you get off the phone call perhaps still not 100% certain of your decision, but you feel like you have at least a little more clarity on the matter.

Now, what if instead of calling your friend, you just sent a brief  text: “Have job offer.  Send flowers if you think I should take; disregard if I shouldn’t.”

Crazy as that sounds—is this not sometimes how we approach our prayer when faced with a big decision?

Of course, God is more than just a good buddy with helpful advice–He’s the One who actually KNOWS how things will turn out whether we choose one road or the other.  It would be so helpful if God could just beam down a ray of light illuminating which path we should take at every major crossroad, but often that’s not the way it works.  

The Way It Works:

As my father-in-law puts it: “God is not a cosmic slot-machine.”  Prayer is a conversation!  A conversation with the Creator of the Universe, but a conversation nonetheless.  When you’re faced with decisions, however big or small, God wants to talk with you about them.  How else are we supposed to grow in relationship with God other than talking through with Him our thoughts and feelings?  That brain in your head that is weighing all those scenarios?  God put it there!  And your faculty of reason is one way God talks to you.

Another way God talks to you is through your desires and longings.

“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart”

-Psalm 37:4

When the above Psalm popped into my head while I was driving one day, I nearly pulled over my car so I could look it up to make sure it was actually in Scripture.  Did God really promise me the desires of my heart?  Isn’t prayer and this whole Christianity thing supposed to be about conforming my will to His?  Of course it is, but the Christian life isn’t meant to be a drudgery of “I’m doing this because God says so.”  It’s supposed to be a joyful union of our will and our desires to the Creator’s, so that we can confidently proclaim with the Psalmist, “Take delight in the Lord, and He WILL give you the desires of your heart.”

You see, our desires and longings are another way that God reveals Himself to us.  And if this sounds controversial it shouldn’t, because it’s relatively simple to keep in check.  If my desires are immoral or somehow not in keeping with the teachings of the Church, then they are not of God, plain and simple.  But, if I am weighing two options— neither of which appear to lead me away from God and His Church—and one stirs a longing deep within me, or conversely, maybe one produces feelings of anxiety or just an overall sense of not sitting right, then perhaps those feelings are God speaking to me.

“Ask A Sign of the Lord your God” (Isaiah 7:11)

If you are at all familiar with my blog then you know that I am all about praying novenas and being specific in your prayer intentions.  Asking for signs isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it’s actually Biblical!).  However, asking for signs is never a stand-alone thing.  God will give you signs, but only in the context of a relationship and as the result of a conversation.  In fact you probably won’t even recognize the signs God sends your way if you’re not in the habit of regularly talking to Him.

So start talking to Him!  Open up the Scriptures regularly to get to know God and to familiarize yourself with His voice.  Spend regular time in silent, personal prayer.  God wants to help us in both the big decisions and the little things—not as some guidance counselor, but as the most important person in our lives.

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Some Thoughts on the “Blank Space” Dating Mentality (A Song Review…Kind Of)

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I am not at all ashamed to admit that there is a soft spot in my heart for Taylor Swift. Many a drive has been spent rocking out to her albums, and more than one of my teenage heartaches once found a balm in her lyrics.

These days, my appreciation for Miss Swift has less to do with my personally being able to relate to her lyrics about heartache, and more to do with the joyful confidence that exudes from my nieces when I get to see them rocking out to Shake It Off.

However, every time I hear the song Blank Space on the radio, my heart breaks a little. The lyrics are so relatable for so many in that stage in life when they are searching for “the one,” so in a sense I get it. In fact maybe my heart breaks partially because I’ve been there. I know that longing, I know that heartache. I know it can feel like a never-ending cycle.

But I also know now that it doesn’t have to.

The song is all about that willingness to put yourself out there despite past heartache. Swift sings in the song’s refrain:

“I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane/
But I’ve got a blank space, Baby, and I’ll write your name.”

Apart from the rest of the lyrics and outside of the melancholic melody of the song, these words almost sound like a dare coming from someone who treats love and dating as if it were just a game. In fact, at another point early in the song she actually says, “Love’s a game, wanna play?” However, anyone who has actually listened to the whole song can tell you, Blank Space isn’t meant to be the happy refrain of someone who is content playing the field. Rather, it’s the jaded defense mechanism of all of us who have ever bought into the false promises associated with chasing “the one.”

“You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain”

I’m not picking on Taylor Swift. I actually like the song and am glad she wrote it. And its popularity attests to the fact that so many of us can relate—and so many of us are sick of it.

The problem with the Blank Space mindset is that it has a false premise. It assumes that your only two options in soul mate-searching are “forever” or “down in flames.” When faced with the latter, we are presented with the choice to become closed off and bitter, or to continue to be open in the hopes that the next one who comes along may actually be “the one.”  We justify putting ourselves on this merry-go-round by hoping desperately that any and all heartache or pain will be worth it once we finally find our happily ever after.

For what it’s worth, to anyone still caught on the merry-go-round, I’d like to offer another way. “Putting yourself out there” does not have to be synonymous with “giving yourself away.”  And not giving yourself away to everyone you date doesn’t have to mean becoming closed off and bitter.

I’m not promising that you’ll escape all heartbreak, nor that you won’t encounter pain.  But there is a way to avoid those feelings of emptiness, being utterly lost, or broken.  It’s called chastity, and it’s more than just not having sex.

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Chastity means admitting that love isn’t a game and dating isn’t merely for fun.  (Dating can and should be fun, but “fun” isn’t the end goal.)  The chaste person agrees with the Blank Space mentality insofar as admitting that real love must involve an utterly terrifying, and completely vulnerable, total gift of self.  The difference is that the chaste person waits to do so until forever is promised— not with empty words, but with a lifelong commitment.

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote explains the way that I wish I had approached dating in my Blank Space days.  It’s still among my most visited posts on this site, so check it out if you’re looking for tips on how to get off that merry-go-round.  ;)

I’ll be praying for you!

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Ask Mary: “Why Is It Important to Pray the Rosary?”

Question:

Why is it important to pray the rosary? What is the rosary’s
connection to the Blessed Mother?

Answer:

The image of “Catholic” as an old woman clutching her rosary beads is so ingrained in the mind of our culture that it may surprise you to learn that the rosary is a private devotion.  That means—among other things— that while Catholics are required to do things like go to mass every Sunday, make a good confession/receive the Eucharist at least once a year, and learn their Catechism, Catholics are not actually required by the Church to pray the rosary.  

But don’t get me wrong here.  A Catholic who chooses not to pray the rosary makes a pretty foolish decision—and that’s not just the opinion of some random Catholic blogger.  Many, if not most, of the Church’s greatest saints have preached the importance of praying the rosary as a means of drawing close to Jesus.

“Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today. All graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother.”
~St. Padre Pio

(For a brief historical look into how the rosary was developed, I recommend checking out this article from EWTN: ‘History Of The Rosary.’)

The Rosary Is “the Bible on a String”

In the rosary, we pray the Scriptures. We pray the Our Father as our Savior instructed us.  Again and again we repeat the Angelic Salutation of Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, Full of Grace!  The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) And we echo Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, [Jesus]” (Luke 1:42).  As we pray these words we meditate upon the works accomplished by Christ for the sake of our salvation.  We meditate on His birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His first miracle (—accomplished at the request of His Blessed Mother), His Passion, Death, and Resurrection (to name just a few).  In praying the rosary, we meditate upon the Word of God in our hearts while uttering the Word of God on our lips.

And in all of this, recitation of the rosary reminds us that while God most certainly could have accomplished our salvation and manifested His glory by some other means, he chose to give Himself to us through Mary.

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If this is not enough, there is another reason to pray the rosary surely worth mentioning today.  Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady Of Fatima, because it was beginning on this day in 1917 when Our Lady visited three Portugese children in the small village of Fatima, asking them to pray the rosary and perform acts of penance for world peace.  The apparitions culminated in what is now known as “The Miracle of the Sun,” on October 13, 1917—during which tens of thousands of eyewitnesses (many of them non-believers) reported seeing the sun “dance” before their eyes.

One secular newspaper reported:

“…the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws – the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.”

To me, the events of Fatima help to convince that God honors those who pray the rosary.  The sun doesn’t dance without God moving it!  Of course, we don’t need events like Fatima in order to know that honoring Mary is important.  It was God Himself who first honored Mary by choosing her to bear His only Son.  It was Jesus who instructed us with John at the foot of the Cross to honor Mary as our own Mother (John 19:27).  The rosary is a beautiful and powerful way to obey the words of God.

I’ve visited this topic in a previous post, “5 Reasons Why Young Catholics Should Pray A Daily Rosary.”  Check it out by clicking the image below:

5 reasons to pray rosary

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