Since I have started to take my Catholic faith seriously, there are two things that stand out the strongest in my spiritual journey: the experience of sin and the experience of mercy. Something that has always perplexed me about the lives of the Saints is that they were always convinced of their own misery and sinfulness. St. Paul called himself the chief of sinners.
I recall that Padre Pio and St. Faustina called themselves the worst of sinners, utterly wretched and miserable. I just could not understand this. How do they look at the wonders God does directly in their lives and yet feel so far from God?
I think I have begun to learn that there is something about the fundamental design of our hearts that makes this such a natural response on the part of those closest to God. C.S. Lewis in "A Grief Observed"—his lucid book about the grief he faces in the death of his wife—comes to face the fact that what he missed most about his wife was her otherness. She was always present to shatter his limited image of her. Joy, his wife, was in her own way unpredictable—herself
and not him.
One of the things we find so adorable in children is how naturally and willingly they respond to something new. They are not afraid to have their minds challenged by the unpredictable and sporadic new world they live in, especially if they are being nourished in a loving and caring family. We too, as "developed" adults who have a sense of the predictability of life, know deep down that when we feel we have a situation or person figured out, and all the ins and outs worked out, we get bored. This is all just to say that reality is bigger than our minds—that our hearts are made to be filled by the experience of things and persons always being other
. God is the ultimate and infinite Other! Heaven for those who love the otherness of life can begin here on earth! There is newness in everything if our hearts are open and touchable!
Our hearts are called to an infinite experience of otherness. We always long for the new. Heaven—I think we know this deep down—must be an eternal newness. You often hear children who think Heaven will be boring because they see these pious images of saints and angels floating on clouds around Jesus and Mary. I tell them, “Think of some of your favourite things: go-karting, Xbox, soccer, swimming, floor hockey, playing the guitar, playing tag with their friends. Think of Heaven as all that awesomeness in one moment, and think that every moment after is better then the previous, forever. God will blow your mind every time he tells you what’s next on his schedule in His presence!”
The reaction I received from a group of children I was teaching catechism to was "whoa" and open mouths. There is a very good reason St. Paul said of Heaven: "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I believe the Saints, already in this life, have learned to so deeply identify themselves in the person of Jesus and his love, and have so deeply experienced the joy of his love, that when they even glimpse at themselves, they see nothing. They want to always be empty so that God may fill them and stretch them.
Our hearts are fundamentally designed to be focused on the Other, and those of us who experience this, learn to want nothing else. Sin is us defining what life should be. Love is experiencing what life really
is. Saints never want to get in the way of God's ways and so their smallest sin is, to them, a great block to the tenderness of God's love and newness dwelling in their hearts. Somehow, God has so worked that even sin, drenched in his mercy in sincere repentance and contrition, is no longer an obstacle but a means to God glorifying himself within his children. God has a right to glorify himself in the mercy he fills us with - and He will. Let us be convinced that although some of our sins are ugly and sad, God has a plan to draw something greater if we only allow him. Jesus, we trust in you.
Credit: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec