I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE

 

Dear Jesus,

How does God’s forgiveness through you work?  I’ve tried to come up with another way of asking the question, but cannot.  There is something about the way you seem to express that forgiveness that bothers me.  It seems too freely given for me to be sure that the person forgiven is truly sorry for what was done and therefore will change and really repent.  After all, repentance means being sorry for one’s sins with the intention of not repeating them.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m comforted by the fact that often when I have come to you, sorry for what I have done, I have gone away with a sense of joy that you mean what you say and that I am forgiven.  But I wonder at times if that isn’t too easy.  Shouldn’t there be conditions on the forgiving?  Without those conditions, the forgiveness can become a burden to be lived up to because it has come too soon and to easily.

Guilt is always heavy and can paralyze.  Do you remember the time that I wandered away from you and started living as if we were not friends?  Nothing serious happened, as I think of that time now.  It wasn’t like a divorce that severed our relationship.  I just drifted off in my own direction and stopped praying.  I remember the first night that I had gone to bed and then suddenly realized that I hadn’t taken time that day to pray.  For a moment I thought about putting off my sleep, getting out of bed and taking time to pray.  Then, as quickly, I decided that tomorrow would do, and I slept.

The next day went by in the same fashion as the day before and concluded the say way with the same intention.  On the morning of the fourth day, while I was in the shower, I realized that it didn’t bother me any more that I wasn’t praying.  Then Sunday came and I decided that there were more important things for me to do than take the hour to gather with others of the baptized to hear the Word and to renew your dying and rising.  That would be the first time I missed Mass.  I wanted to spend time at the beach that day and thought that I would make up for missing Mass by taking time to ponder you in the waves that crashed on the rock and in the gulls that circled and cried as they rode the sea breezes.

That evening, as I rinsed the toothpaste from my mouth, I looked into the mirror and thought I would get to Mass during the week to make up for my lapse.  That didn’t happen.

You must remember that I was brought to you when I was very young.  There is not a time in my life when you were not a part of it.  Not to make excuses, but when I wandered, I thought it was something that I needed to do for myself.  I was tired of saying “No” to myself and of living differently from all those who did not feel the weight of the same obligations that I had.

How long did that time of drifting go on?  My life seemed very full, first with studies and then with work.  Days, then weeks went by, then months and years.  One evening I was drinking wine after a supper.  There weren’t many others in the restaurant.  I gazed into my glass and thought how hard it was to be alone.  Quiet time became a burden.  Thoughts surfaced that I did not want to entertain.  If I let my guard down, I would find myself reflecting on the old days and our relationship; but the experience was like looking through a family album filled with now distant and fading images of times past.  Nostalgia is bittersweet and quietly unsettling.  It is odd how a cluttered room imprisons and gives a sense of impotency.

In the end it was a friend’s simple statement, unsought and unmerited, that provoked the encounter that occasions this letter.  We walked together, my friend and I, on a bright and sunny autumn afternoon.  The green leaves had begun to yield to ambers and reds.  A bite in the breeze encouraged me to plunge my hands into my jacket pockets and shiver as we strolled.  Anyone observing us could see that I was closed in on myself, scarcely present to the friend that kept pace at my side.  When had I stopped enjoying the time and begun to endure the walk and my friend?

After a prolonged silence that used to be a hallmark of the comfort and depth of our friendship, but now was awkward and oppressive, he said, “Don’t forget, the Lord loves you.  And I’m praying for you.”

I stopped.  He continued on a pace or two and then turned back to take in my stunned visage.  The temptation was to rage at his presumption.  How did he know of my pain, of the dull ache of an emptiness that I had been struggling to deny?  Like a slap in the face or a splash of iced water, it struck me in that instant that I had to admit that I was hurting.  The tears welled and then flowed.  I turned and looked out into the expanse so that others might walk by and not notice my misery.  My friend came to my side and silently we both gazed t the incoming tide.  Being the good friend that he was, he waited patiently and said nothing.

Then, for just a moment, I thought it was you as he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It will be fine now.”  It?  What it?  I shuddered and knew that he was right.

That was you, wasn’t it?  Because in a moment, without transition, I knew what forgiveness meant.  I knew I needed to be forgiven.  I felt powerless to ask for it.  I knew you had granted it, unbidden as it was.

Should it be that easy?  How did you know that I would change?  Why hadn’t you made me prove my sorrow and promise to change my ways first, holding our reconciliation in abeyance until I had proven worthy of your gift?

Is that how God acts?  Is God’s love so foolish?  You seem to say so.  And I am amazed.

You know now that my repentance didn’t stop there.  Soon I became aware of another grace you set to work in me.  Was it your gift of the Spirit that prompted me to recognize my need for a reconciliation that went beyond you and included those others in whom you lie and with whom I had not gathered at your table for a long, long time, those who are your body, the Church?

A few evenings later, I gathered in the church with others like myself seeking reconciliation.  I looked about and drank in the faces of people, some familiar, and some strangers.  Like me, they seemed burdened, but also encouraged by the presence of others on the same mission.  It was then that it occurred to me that there is no such thing as a private sin, a sin that affects only the one that commits it.  We are a communal people united in you through Baptism.  Anyone’s sin weakens the rest of the Assembly, just as each one’s desire to die to sin and live more fully in you strengthens the rest.  Our reconciliation is communal, too.

That Sunday I returned to the Table.  I was aware that some of those who gathered with me had been with me the evening of reconciliation.  Now that reconciliation was about to be consummated in the Eucharist we were celebrating and the meal we would share.

It was good to be home again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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