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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Delicate Souls

"God never reveals sin without revealing His Mercy."

I don't recall who said it; my professor a few years ago in talking about one of John Paul II's writings, or maybe John Paul II himself. So I guess I can't give proper credit for the quote, but the message is loud and clear. It's been revealed to be true in my own life, and sometimes, by God's grace, I get to be a part of it for someone else. I hope.

Part of my parish work is sacramental preparation. If parents miss the informational meetings, they have to meet with me to get that information, and I always find those meetings to be fruitful, often for different reasons. Sometimes it's because the parent isn't Catholic but wants to be faithful to what WE believe, and wants to understand that belief so they can teach it with integrity. (I find these parents to be heroic, and pray that they will enter the Church through what they are teaching to their children. The Holy Spirit is with them.)

Sometimes, though, it's fruitful because the person is struggling with something, maybe has questions about the Faith, maybe is trying to come back...and doesn't know how. Something.

This week, it was my privilege to meet with such a person. I am grateful to God for that.

At some point in the afternoon I was inspired to go into the Church and pray for this meeting, so I did.

I expected it to be fairly routine. A nice woman, with whom I have spoken before, both on the phone and in person. I figured I would move quickly through the information, skipping over some things, reading her for her receptivity to the message and tailoring what had to be said.

As it was, we connected in a way I didn't expect, and hadn't "read".

When I speak to people about the Sacraments, especially Confession, I give a part of my own personal conversion story, and for a couple reasons: firstly so that they will realize that I am just like everyone else. Secondly, because so many people have been poorly catechized about this Sacrament, or, like me have fallen away, that they only come back because of their children. But they don't go themselves because they don't know why they should!

In talks to a group, I keep things general. In smaller meetings, though, I may get more specific.

In this particular meeting, although it didn't go as I planned, God's hand guided it. As I told her about how, when I was "away" I'd felt like a "fraud" whenever I rarely went to Mass, and thought everyone else could see through me, this person confessed she is "there" right now.

She feels disconnected, yet...still connected. She wants more, but can't seem to get to Mass as often as she desires. She admits some of this is her own fault and said outright she knew it was a sin.

It lead into a conversation about mortal sin, and the fact that missing Mass, intentionally, is a Mortal Sin.

Before I said the words that needed to be said, I prayed.

In fact, as soon as I realized she was struggling, I began asking the Holy Spirit for help with a delicate soul.

After some discussion, she said that she HADN'T known the full teaching on this, the depth of sin, but that she probably learned it in the past and that fact probably made her more culpable.

But she said something else, something ALL of us need to hear, to read, to take to heart:

"I have family members who are really really Catholic, really Traditional. If I tell them I don't go every week, they make me feel like a bad person. It makes me not WANT to go, because, if going means I'm like them, I don't WANT to be like that or with them."

Ouch.

I've paraphrased a bit as I don't remember the exact words. But we've all seen it, maybe we've been part of it. A family member, a friend, admits they haven't been a "good Catholic" because they don't go to Mass or have some other favorite sin; how do we react?

Instead of hearing what they are REALLY trying to say, we tend to beat them over the head with the Bible and the Catechism and remind them of their Baptismal responsiblities.

As this woman said, this makes her feel like a "bad person", like she is being "judged", and it scares her away. If she started out desiring to attend Mass, she leaves the discussion thinking that if everyone is like THAT...and it's not worth it.

I knew during our discussion I'd have to deliver a hard message, but I didn't want her to be chased away by the Truth that was unsuccessfully delivered by people around her. What I heard was that she was looking for someone to understand her, to hear her problems, and most importantly, her DESIRE to attend Mass every week. She WANTED to be there, but was STRUGGLING HARD with getting there, with apathy, with deciding to do other things, often related to her very young children.

Like many parents, she has been chased out of Mass by crabby grumps who can't seem to tolerate the joyful voice of a chatty toddler who can't seem to maintain silence during Mass. She, like so many others, has been shamed away and feels like she CAN'T come back until her children are old.

Aside:

I say "SHAME" to the grumps chasing parents of young children away from Mass! Keep your evil eye to yourself, refrain from Holy Communion and go to Confession to ask for forgiveness for all the parents you've chased out of Mass by your holier-than-thou-silence-your-children-with-duct-tape-so-I-can-have-perfect-silence attitude! May you all have perfect hearing so that you will NEVER stop hearing the cries of children EVERYWHERE you go, ESPECIALLY at Mass where they belong! They're a heck of a lot holier than YOU are, so if ANYONE needs to leave when they are crying, or chatty, it's probably YOU!

OK, < /rant> back to the topic:

As we spoke, I did deliver the moral teachings pertinent to our discussion, along with the message that the teaching didn't come with "judgment", as I am a sinner, too, and every day find myself in need of God's Mercy. Every moment. I let her know that indeed, it is my job to present her with the teaching, I understood her position and wanted to help her, and I've been there, too, if in a different way.

Then she confessed she hasn't been to confession in years and years. I don't know how many...but a long time.

I was actually planning to skip over it, but our conversation lead into it; I knew I had to tell her my story.

I told her the story of my "Big Confession."

A few years ago, I couldn't even THINK of that confession without crying. But now I've told it so many times that I can do so completely dry-eyed. Until this particular meeting, that is. As I explained to her my struggle to get there and finally that moment of Absolution and Mercy, I actually teared up. It wasn't a slight tearing I could just hide with a pause or forcing myself to move on, but tears actually SPILLED from my eyes.

I apologized, explained that didn't normally happen and told her that THIS is the most powerful testimony I had of God's mercy; that particular experience. And I told her I'm grateful for it.

She actually teared up, too, so we looked at each other, red-eyed in understanding. I asked her if she was nervous, given that she really DID plan to go soon. She admitted she was. We spoke of the Saints, of Divine Mercy, and I told her that I knew what it was like to be there, so I would pray for her and if she had any questions, at all, she could call me.

Take This to Heart!

This was an important meeting. Yes, a soul is coming back, and I ask you ALL to pray for her, and anyone struggling with the same issues. She WANTS to come back, is aware of sin, doesn't deny it, and really, is a soul in a state of suspended conversion.

Suspended WHY?

By her own testimony she has many good, practicing Catholics around her.

What I find disturbing is that she identifies them as "Traditional" and with the term "Traditional", she also links, some spoken, some unspoken but by context, "Merciless, Condemning, Judgmental."

Do any of US match those words? When we deal with our family members and friends who have fallen away, can we be linked in the same way?

The fact is, of course, that for some people, ANY declaration of absolute Truth, no matter how gently, of authentic Church teaching means we would be called all sorts of names and accused of all sorts of things. I'm not speaking of those rabid souls that are fleeing conversion.

I am speaking here of delicate souls desiring God, desiring to do better, but stuck, somehow, looking for someone, anyone, to hear them, to reach out to them, and help bring them in.

If someone reaches out in their crisis of Faith, having fallen away, as if out of the boat, do we hit them with the deadly aim of the anchor or do we throw them a life ring and help them swim in?

What she was experiencing was the deadly strike of anchor, and I'd argue that those who threw the anchor at her were sending out a weighty boomerang that is likely to cost them a great deal in their own final judgment.

We are indeed called to fraternal correction, and those of us who are in positions of authority, to speak for the Church, are in a special place. HOW that message is delivered is important. It makes a difference to the soul in question; are they being frightened away in a delicate state, or are they being encouraged in God's Grace, in the conversion they desire but can't seem to find?

I pray that I said the right things to this woman, and offered a life ring. I pray that she didn't leave feeling "judged" but rather, in solidarity with another struggling sinner.

Please pray for those who are seeking conversion and who are struggling to live the Faith they desire to live, in all its fullness.

We, the faithful, are ALL charged as keepers of our brothers and sisters, so we must ALL remember to speak in charity, to listen, and to guide in the seeking souls. There are those who are obstinant in their sin and reject Our Lord, and there are those who accept the teachings but are struggling to live them. Each require a different treatment. Are we willing to put our own pride aside so that we can reach out in charity and provide, in love, for the needs of the souls that come our way?

4 comments:

saintos said...

Well said. And thank God for the kind of pastoral care you gave this soul. Who knows the fruit that may be borne in this life and passed on through her to others, in time. To speak the truth in love is never an easy task and with the prayer that went before you it certainly seems you did speak truth in love to this, as you say, fragile soul.

I read an article recently about their being neither liberal nor conservative only "Catholic." Either end of a polemic can be a serious detriment to sound evangelism. God help me, help us all to be soundly Catholic. The words of today's saint from the Second Reading in the Office of the Liturgy of the Hours comes to mind as I reflect on your post:

"By the brightness of their (in context their refers to clerics to whom St. John of Capistrano was addressing but by extension his words speak or each of us) holiness they must bring light and serenity to all who gaze upon them. They have been placed here to care for others. Their own lives should be an example to others, showing how they must live in the house of the Lord.

Karinann said...

What a powerful witness you gave this woman. Delicate soul indeed! I too can relate to her- in the days and weeks before my reversion there was a lot of struggle. If my friend who had helped me to come back had "thrown the anchor" at me I may not have come back.
I will pray for this woman; she clearly wants to come back. You offered her the hand of Jesus, but it takes great courage to grasp it.
God Bless!

Warren said...

Re: Your Rant.

Amen Amen Amen! :-)

You preach it, girl.

W

Iona C. said...

I tend to err on the side of legalism and judgement so this is a great reminder for me.

I wonder why it is I can so easily forget that it was God's LOVE towards me that drew me to Him and that it should be His LOVE pouring through me towards others that will draw them to Him as well.