Sit in God’s loving embrace.
This suggestion is rarely made to or by Catholics, who know all too well that Christ died through our fault, our fault, our most grievous fault, that we are not worthy for him to enter under our roof, especially in this Lenten time when all is deprivation and dying to self. God loves me? Perhaps the Bible tells me so, but that message is buried under the knowledge of the well-deserved wrath that is to come because of the sin that I have committed in my thoughts, in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do.
I condemn myself, and yet on Sunday we heard the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, to whom Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Here was a woman caught in a crime with a sentence of death by stoning, and the Lord sets her free. Pope Francis, in his homily on the reading, said that rather than condemning the woman, “Jesus wants to save her, because he personifies the mercy of God who, by forgiving redeems, reconciles, and renews.”
I acknowledge my sins and often cannot forgive myself, but who am I to think the all-loving God is not offering me the same mercy and love he showed the woman caught in adultery, to his friend who denied him three times, to every saint whose sins were as bad or even worse than my own?
Perhaps it is time to ask God for a hug.
I came across the suggestion to sit and open myself to God’s mercy in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit,” which was released March 25.
“Try to keep still for a moment and let yourself feel his love. Try to silence all the noise within, and rest for a second in his loving embrace,” the Holy Father writes.
The exhortation is the pope’s response to last year’s synod on youth. It is addressed to young people but also to “the entire people of God,” and there is plenty of material for reflection within just the first half, which is as far as I’ve gotten in the week since its release. (At 299 numbered paragraphs, it’s going to take a bit more time for me to get through the whole thing.)
If you haven’t started it yourself, I recommend it. You can purchase a print copy through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or it’s available free online at the Vatican website, www.vatican.va.
Don’t be put off because it’s a papal document – Pope Francis’ writing style is eminently readable. He speaks in everyday language; he is more interested in communicating his message than imparting theology. Yes, the exhortation is firmly grounded in Scripture and Tradition, but its purpose is encouragement and explanation as well as education.
“When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, [God] will always be there to restore your strength and your hope” — this message strikes home because I have in fact been struggling with resentment, fear and doubt. I’m trying to return to God, but failing. My gaze is so focused on my sinfulness that I cannot turn my face toward the Father’s love. I need the reassurance that Pope Francis offers, that God doesn’t keep track of my failings and that Christ will never abandon me.
“For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant,” Pope Francis writes. “You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands. That is why he is concerned about you and looks to you with affection.”
I want to believe that, but the tumult within drowns the Father’s call to return to him with all my heart. Can I silence it, even for a moment, to feel the Father’s love? Such a simple suggestion, and yet so hard to do.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.