I recently went on a retreat that gave me a great deal of joy and then a great deal of pain. I was on the mountain. And then I fell off.
Among other things, Father Charlie Garza’s day retreat focused on the seven deadly sins – how to recognize the false gods within them and the ways to find virtue to move past them. In those five hours, the Lord gave His light to show me patterns of sin in my life. It gave me hope to think about how I can pray for healing and be more fully His.
And then, the next day, the joy faded. I seemed to have ever more clarity on how much of a sinner I am. My name isn’t Norine. It’s Greedy, Envious, Gluttonous, Lustful, Slothful, Wrath-filled Pride. It’s funny how as I’ve gotten deeper in faith, I realize my faults so much more. I’m not nearly as good at Christianity as I thought when I was younger.
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen talks about how the Prodigal Son thinks of nothing as sin, with his laxity pulling him away from the good things the Father means for him. And the Older Brother thinks of everything as sin, finding trouble in scrupulosity and missing the Father’s mercy.
I found myself an Older Sibling, who claimed to have kept all the commandments, but actually broke them all. My pride was so hurt. I told the Father I was running away and never going to the party! I told the Father He’d have to come find me in the Prodigal’s old pig sty, because I didn’t have enough faith or fortitude to break free of the slop.
The retreat said to pray against problems by asking the Lord for an increase in virtue. For two days, I begged the Lord to give the virtue of hope against every lack of hope I had. I prayed the rosary and told Mary I couldn’t do it without her. And then there was a break: I realized I could go to confession and, among confessing to Greedy, Envious, Gluttonous, Lustful, Slothful, Wrath-filled Pride, I would also confess that I felt God would never forgive me and that I sometimes felt hopeless about receiving mercy.
“The Lord came to earth for sinners,” Father Matthew Iwuji said in confession. “He gives us this sacrament in compassion, so we can start over.” And then, after I made the Act of Contrition, he gave the absolution.
Do you ever feel the power of absolution? I could have skipped out of there. I got to my pew to pray a penitential Hail Holy Queen to my amazing mom and started laughing. My name is not Greedy, Envious, Gluttonous, Lustful, Slothful, Wrath-filled Pride. My name is Faithful, Charitable, Prudent, Temperate, Justice-loving, Fortitudinous Hope. My name is Beloved.
The Father put a robe around my shoulders, a ring on my finger and sandals on my feet. He said, “If you can at least come to confession, I’ll meet you there.” And now I have joy besides hope.
As I’ve gotten deeper in my faith, I keep finding out I’m a sinner, but also how great is God’s love and mercy. He wants us so badly. Whether we find ourselves as the Prodigal Child or the Older Sibling, nothing can stand in the way of His mercy if we can make the smallest move towards Him.