Tag Archives: tough times

Ask Mary: God’s Grace & Past Mistakes

Question: 

I have been struggling lately with my spiritual journey. I have made some awful mistakes in the past, and I am afraid that God is so ashamed with my decisions. I want to go to confession, but I am scared that God is too disappointed in me. I also feel that if I confess my sins the priest will judge my past mistakes. When I think about all of my brokenness, I become nauseous. Do you think I can start over and mend my relationship with God? I feel completely hopeless. Anything will help.

 

 Answer:

I’m very sorry to hear that you are going through such a difficult time, and I want to assure you of my prayers for you.

The short answer to your question: “Do you think I can start over and mend my relationship with God?”  is a resounding ‘YES!’  And you may not realize this, but God has already started the process.

What you’re experiencing—that sorrowful feeling for offending God in the past, that knowledge of the fact that you need to be reconciled to Him— that is called prevenient grace.  It’s a fancy way of saying that God loves us so much that He will run after us, even after we’ve completely rejected Him and done everything in our power to separate ourselves from His love.

My grandfather once told me that every time we think about God throughout the day, that is God telling us He loves us, and inviting us into conversation with Him.  We can’t think of God unless He first thinks of us.  The very fact that you exist right now is because God is willing you into existence— at this very moment.  He created you for love of you, and nothing you could ever do can change the unchangeable God.

Now, prevenient grace is meant to precede and prepare us for sanctifying grace, which is what we receive in the sacraments.  Particularly, baptized Catholics receive actual grace in the sacrament of reconciliation.  If you’re looking for a way to mend your relationship with God, there is no better way than to be reconciled to Him in the sacrament of reconciliation (see what I did there? :-P).   If prevenient grace is God calling us to Himself out of love for us, sanctifying grace is God literally pouring out that love upon us.  But you have to first go to confession to get it.

So, none of this nonsense about God being too disappointed in you or too ashamed of you to take you back.  He loves you more than you could ever even want Him to, and He desires your happiness more than you do.  If you don’t believe me, just read the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament and see how many times they screwed up, turned their back on God, worshipped other gods, and still, God was constantly faithful to them.

Come now, let us set things right,
Says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
They may become white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
They may become white as wool
-Isaiah 1:18

As for the concern about the priest judging you, I know it can be nothing short of terrifying to utter our most shameful sins aloud to a fellow human being and invite commentary on them.  But the good news is that the priest knows this too.  And he’s not there to judge; he’s there to confer absolution, to free you from your sin and guilt (through the power given him by Christ, of course).  That’s why he sits in the confessional week after week, hearing confession after confession.  And believe me, the priest has heard it all.  You’re not going to surprise him with anything you confess (Week after week, and confession after confession, remember?).

But in all the talk about being afraid to confess our sins to another human being, I think too often we overlook one of the best things about confession: we’re confessing our sins to another human being!  It’s not some emotion-less, dry ritual.  It’s real.  It’s one human being to another, talking about what actually matters. What a profound gift!  So don’t be afraid of doing it wrong or anything like that.  If you’re nervous, say so.  If you’re not quite sure how to begin, say so.  The priest wants you to make a good confession, and he is there to help you do that.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten about going to confession was to ask the Blessed Mother to help you make a good confession.  She will.

I’m praying for you.  Please go to confession soon.  Your only regret will be waiting so long.

Out of the depths I call to you, LORD;
Lord, hear my cry!
May your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy
If you, LORD, keep account of sins,
Lord, who can stand
But with you is forgiveness
and so you are revered.

I wait for the LORD,
my soul waits
and I hope for his word
My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak

More than sentinels for daybreak,
let Israel hope in the LORD,
For with the LORD is mercy,
with him is plenteous redemption,
And he will redeem Israel
from all its sins.

-Psalm 130

PS- Sorry for missing Tuesday’s post!  But it felt like Monday anyway, right? :)

Good From Bad

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: God has this incredible way of bringing something good out of even the darkest of situations.  Case and point – Jesus rose from the dead (and you know…opened the gates of Heaven for all who believe).  Talk about good coming out of a horribly dark and terrible event!

Accordingly, we have great cause for hope in all of the dark situations in our own lives.  We need only to look at God’s track record.  It’s as if He looks upon us and says, “Oh, you messed up?  Ok, you shouldn’t have done that… but watch what I can do with your mistake.  Do you now see how much I love you?  Do you now trust that my laws are in place for your own happiness?” No matter what we’ve done or how far we have fallen away, we have a God so much bigger than even our greatest sins that He can draw good out of them—and He does this out of love for us.

Obviously this is great news for us.  But let’s get one thing straight.  The fact that God can (and does) bring good out of bad situations does not mean that God renders a bad decision into a good one.

Adam and Eve still sinned in rejecting God’s command.  Pilate still sinned in handing Jesus over to be crucified.  God uses these sins as opportunities to shower down graces upon us, and to show how utterly defenseless Satan is against Him, but this does not change the fact that the acts were disordered, wrong, and sinful.  Likewise, when God brings good out of the dark times in our lives (whether those times are the result of our own actions, or of someone else’s actions affecting us), we do well to distinguish between the sin and God’s grace.

“…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Praise God for continually bringing good from bad!  May we, who were baptized into Christ’s death, be raised with Him to walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)

 

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

I’m sure someone has told you this before, and you have probably even used it yourself.  Something awful has happened.  Your heart is smashed into a million pieces… You just failed a major test for which you studied for weeks… Your #1 college just rejected you.  So you turn to the person you always go to for advice.  With a sympathetic sigh they tell you,

“Everything happens for a reason, you know.”

So wise.  So true.  Yet so vague it’s almost meaningless.

It’s one of those bits of advice that only really means something a few years after you really needed it.  Only, by that point, a new terrible thing has happened in your life— but don’t worry!  Everything happens for a reason.  That makes it better, right?

Maybe a little.  But wouldn’t it help a lot more if you knew right now what that reason was?

So I’m officially proposing an amendment to the classic, go-to “everything happens for a reason” line.  From now on, don’t just tell yourself that this happened to you for some unknown reason.  Tell yourself that, yes, this happened for a reason, and that reason is to bring you closer to God.

Everything we do in life should be for the benefit of our relationship with God.  Even if it’s simply doing the dishes or waking up when our alarm clock goes off, we are called to be faithful in small matters so that God can lead us to the extraordinary that we so greatly desire.  God wants us to grow closer to Him with each new moment of each new day.  Isn’t it fitting, then, that everything that happens to us in our life—no matter how difficult or how little sense it makes to us at the time—ultimately happens so that we are able to accomplish His will for us?

The question is no longer: “Why did this happen?”  It now becomes: “How is this supposed to lead me to God?”

[not] Peace.

**Disclaimer: The end of my summer quarter is 30 days away.  This means my posts from now until then are very likely to be influenced by one or more of the following:

  • lack of sleep,
  • excitement for graduation,
  • anxiety bordering on panic,
  • final paper topics/woes, and
  • excess amounts of coffee.

Coincidently, today’s post is brought to you by: 4+ straight hours’ worth of outlining a paper on Matthew 10:34-39…

Specifically, these verses:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth, I have not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…”

…It’s not exactly one of those verses that makes you wanna stand up and shout, “yay, Jesus!”  Actually, from where I am standing, it’s one of the most challenging points in the New Testament.  Jesus goes onto say, “he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I LOVE my family…so the prospect of being “set against” mom and dad, or my brothers and sisters, is kind of a bummer for me.  Still, I am grateful for this command, because it’s a great reminder of how real our faith in God is supposed to be as Christians.  We are supposed to love, respect, honor, and obey our parents.  But if our love for anything—whether it be soccer, our significant other, or even our own parents— surpasses our love for and devotion to God Himself, then we can find ourselves making a sort of false God of these things.

As Christians, our faith in and love for God ought to be so real that they permeate every aspect of our life—even the most personal relationships within our families.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out so well.  And for this reason, Jesus gives us the above message.  Being a Christian is not easy.  It always requires us to love God above all else, and it always, always, always requires us to love our families and those around us.  And real love is hard.  Sometimes it means requiring us to take a stand when it would be so much more convenient and comfortable to just sit this one out, because as Christians, we can never “tolerate” sin in the name of a false sense of peace.  We are to face division for love’s sake.  We put up our fight so that in the end the true peace might win out.  We put up with the pain so that the healing may begin.

“…if Jesus came not to bring peace, why did all the prophets publish peace as good news?  Because this more than anything is peace: when the disease is removed…Only with such radical surgery is it possible for heaven to be reunited to earth”

-Saint John Chrysostom

It Was the Worst of Times…

It’s often said that the reason we need to go through difficult times in life is so that we are more able to appreciate the good times.

At face value, this is kind of a nice way to understand suffering.  After all, we more easily recognize light when we see it in comparison with darkness, don’t we?  Similarly, falling on hard times in life can definitely stop us and make us more appreciative of those times we often take for granted.

However, I think if your understanding of suffering simply stops here, you’re going to run into some problems.

We don’t always need something bad to happen to point out to us how good we currently have it.  Sometimes we already know—and fully appreciate—all of the wonderful things in our life.  What purpose does suffering serve then?  …To make us really really appreciate what we had?

Sometimes bad things happen and they make us more appreciative of the good.  Sometimes they teach us something about ourselves, or about someone else, that we never knew, and wouldn’t have known otherwise.  Other times, years can go by (maybe even a lifetime), and we still have no real clue what purpose was served by our suffering.

The truth is that suffering is a part of everyone’s life.  It’s not the fruition of some sort of bad karma sown at an earlier time; it’s a part of being human—and a necessary part at that.

There is a fine line between recognizing and embracing suffering as a necessary part of life, and using it simply as litmus test to tell the difference between good times and bad times.  The good is good no matter how much we suffer.  Suffering is suffering no matter how good (or bad) our life may be.  To say anything else cheapens the true meaning of both suffering and life itself.

Regardless of the apparent reason for it (or lack thereof), suffering is something we are supposed to embrace because the measure of our life is not simply the sum of all of our good times.  Rather, the meaning of all of the events in our lives—the good taken with the bad— can only be understood as one, complete picture.  We play a role in shaping how the picture turns out, but nothing happens on accident.  The hard times, just as important as the good times, are used to paint the picture of a beautiful life.