"Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven'. Then those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, 'Who is this, who evern forgives sins?' And he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'"
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I've been thinking a lot this week about the woman with the jar of precious oil who, in her great contrition, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (Luke 7:39-50)
In different talks I've given, I've noted,
"Consider the depths of her repentence that could produce such a flood of tears!"
Every time I said that, I wished that I could be THAT repentent, that contrite, to weep so copiously so as to wash all that encrusted mud and dust from Our Savior's feet.
I used to have hair down to my waist, and admit it was a point of pride for me for awhile, for as a little girl I'd seen a woman with such long hair, and even longer. She was beautiful, and so was her hair, and so I wished I could do the same thing. So it was that in my early to mid 20's, I had hair THAT long.
The image of this woman using her hair to wipe His feet, then, makes sense to me. My hair was long enough and thick enough, and of course, theologically it is coherent. A sign of repentance was to place ashes and dust on one's head. Job SAT in the ashes. This woman went straight to Jesus' feet, weeping so copiously that she produced enough tears to get through the dirt that must have been encrusted around his feet and ankles. He probably had calluses, bug bites, cuts, all things to which the feet would have been subjected in that time and culture; their time was not nearly so sterile as ours.
As the scripture tells us, she "never ceased kissing" Jesus' feet, so even through the filth and the mud and clay created by her tears, she placed her lips to this impurity and using her hair, took all of it to herself, covering "her glory" with the dust and mud from the feet of Our Lord.
Everyone was scandalized, recognizing this woman as "a sinner". Clearly they esteemed Jesus in some way, for He was there sharing a meal, but it seems He was not treated with the customary respect owed to a guest. Yet this woman entered on her knees, in such complete repentence that...I keep getting hung up on this...she could produce enough tears to WASH HIS FEET!
It's a vivid image and one, I admit I wish I could produce on my own. I WISH I could be so repentent that I'd forget myself and, in spite of my shame, make such a public spectacle to Our Lord.
Like I said, I've been thinking about this a LOT!
Last week I went to confession to a priest who is known for a gift of "reading hearts", and whenever I happen to know he is the confessor, my knees are shaking. (Not that they aren't normally when I go to Confession, but that's beside the point.)
Thankfully, the confession was as normal as apple pie, but before he gives absolution, he is one who also offers some spiritual direction with some specific questions about prayer life, relationship with Jesus, etc. I won't repeat what he asked me or my responses, but he was persistent, more so than he had ever been before, in one of his standard questions. I couldn't answer it. I knew the answer, I'd experienced it profoundly, but couldn't accept it. And here he was, ASKING me to speak it. I couldn't. I tried, but I was so choked up that words were impossible. As it was, it was all I could do to hold back the tears. It was made more difficlult because he referenced something I hadn't stated, and would not state in Confession (not a sin, just...part of who I am.)
And then, word for word, he spoke what I could not. Word. For. Word. The exact language in my heart, in my soul, nothing bad, but a truth of God's love that I struggle to accept, no matter what He does to express it to me.
And Father spoke it, no doubt in my mind that I was hearing the words inspired by the Holy Spirit that I so desperately needed to have SPOKEN to me.
He gave me a Bible passage to read as my penance, and I did so, one that spoke even to sins I'd named without all the context...but the entire context was there in that very passage.
But that's not the passage to which I've been drawn this week. I think that incident was an important one which God intended, but He wanted me to go into that "unspoken" territory, where He would meet me to answer those deep questions.
It is those questions that forced me to look at the core of my discontent: Unforgiveness.
When is Enough Enough?
I've asked it before. For so long I was away from the Church, living a not-very-holy life, and even engaging in outright dissent.
I consider my own actions, things that I did that I KNEW were wrong and which I'd been taught were grave sins that would sever my relationship with God. I KNEW I'd lost my salvation, and yet, I went on doing it. I look at my life now and how willfully I commit some of those same sins (thankfully not all!), and others, more minor, all offensive to God. I consider how often I place my will before His, how little consideration I give to the One I say I love, yet by my actions, I clearly don't love Him.
This week though, I've asked about all of those things, and then some. I considered the repentence of that woman, wishing I could weep with such profound sorrow for my sins that the tears produced would be enough to wash the feet of Jesus.
I've reflected a great deal on this particular gospel, and always, the reaction of Jesus is striking. He knows who this woman is, He knows all of her sins, but more importantly, He knows her heart. He sees her sorrow, yet, He allows her the humiliation of her actions resulting from her deep, deep shame. He ALLOWS her to make a scene, which, truly although it draws attention to her, it pulls the focus more to Christ. They already know she is a sinner, so nothing she does can shock them. The focus on the Pharisee and his guests is on Our Lord, at how HE is going to deal with the impurity of this woman's touch.
That is true for ALL sinners. The focus is NEVER on the sinner, but on Jesus, for it is when sinners are at their weakest point that HIS Glory is revealed.
The Pharisees, though, don't see the woman's contrition and don't care. Their entire focus is on appearances...not hers, but Our Lord's.
Jesus doesn't give in to the culture.
Yet He allows the repentence to flow, knowing that, for the woman's own healing, it MUST. She MUST be allowed her humiliation, for in her weeping, her adoration, and her public spectacle, she breaks custom in a revelation of her soul-deep contrition. Her true humiliation is publicly recognized...Jesus sees her sin, despises it but gives recognition to her dignity through her abegnation.
How Many Years....?
This week, I asked my own questions again, thinking of that woman and the response of Jesus to her. I am that woman, in so many ways, most of which I will never discuss.
I've gone to Confession so many times, usually the same sins, but still remembering things from my past. Some sins have not beem mentioned and so I must bring them up, many having left their memory stamped upon my soul, a deep scar that never seems to heal. I pray the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours and cringe as I remember, or try to block out other memories which, if I engage them, bring on temptations nearly impossible to withstand.
On one of my retreats I mentioned the sense of being "tainted" by my past sins, and indeed I have been, for I can't undo what I've done. I can't forget it and pretend I didn't do it or it didn't happen.
In speaking of that, I realized that, truly, I can't forgive myself. God has already forgiven me, long long ago. But I still must live with the memory and the reality and other temporal punishment resulting from my actions.
Yes, I SHOULD forgive myself....but I can't. I try. I have tried over and over again, and even thought I was successful. But no...I still feel tainted. I AM tainted, and feel-good pop-psychology speaking of the false doctrine Stuart Smalley's "self-esteem" crap doesn't erase the actuality of the scars left upon my soul, some of which are still open and bleeding wounds.
Those wounds MUST be acknowledged. They can't be wished away.
This week, in addressing this in prayer, I asked Our Lord how I can weep so copiously so as to wash His feet and own the filth to the degree it can be so washed away from me.
He responded in that prayer, "You already have....many times over."
I was startled. No, it was not a voice. I'm not a mystic. It was that "still, small voice" that speaks Truth to us, especially Truth we don't want to hear. It is the voice that cuts through everything because we can't hear it auditorially, but only interiorally, and no language in the world exists to describe it.
I thought back to my twelve year confession, the three solid years (or more!) of tears and anguish before I finally went, the 45 minutes of continuous weeping as I stood in line that blessed evening, and the many years since then that I have gone to my knees in tears, crumpled up in tears, and have held back the tears when I've thought of my offenses to God.
That Gospel from Luke 7:36-50 is a parable for all of us.
Whenever we repent, we don't stop. We always remember the sins of our youth, or last year, or last night, and we cry. We can't forget what we've done, even when we KNOW we've been forgiven
We all live that scene, for our tears, altogether, even if it takes YEARS, wash the feet of Jesus. We heap that dirt upon ourselves, caking our "glorious locks" with it, and in so doing, we are repeatedly making an act of love.
That Gospel contains some of the most profound words of Jesus, words we truly need to consider in every moment:
~ Ignatius Holy Bible Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition (RSV-CE)
Those who questioned Jesus were ignored. He turned His words to the woman in her shame and absolved her through His abundant love.
It didn't matter that His authority was questioned by perceived "experts"; it mattered most to Jesus that this woman know that her actions revealed what He knew of her heart; true humility and true repentence.
Jesus saw that she "loved much". In her love was acknowledgement of her sins, her very real repentence, made in such a way that she was willing to make such a spectacle of herself before those whom she KNEW condemned her.
The last line of Luke 7:50 gives the closing line of the Sacrament of Penence:
"Go in peace."
I've confessed, and at times I've left in peace..but not normally.
I don't know peace. I'm constantly bombarded by the sins of my past. I've been shaped by them. They are a part of my life. I can't "pretend" them away.
And yet I must, even as I live out the conseqence of sin, (my own and those of others) both forgive and accept forgiveness.
I've found it's much easier to forgive my "enemies" than it is to accept forgiveness for myself.
No matter how many tears I cry, no matter how much faithful theology I read and believe, I can't undo what I've done, and....I can't yet forgive myself.
I am at a spiritual impass and know that perhaps it is part of my humiliation to make this spectacle, taking the form of a blog, knowing I am being judged, and yet, each tear I shed is an act of love for Our Lord. Each insult each frustration. All for him.
When you look at me, see me bowing at His feet, weeping, for if I could, I'd rather spend an eternity washing the feet of Jesus with my tears and wiping it with my hair than living the life I inhabit right now.
If only I could cry sufficient tears for my sins, I would flood the world.