The Gospel of Life–and a Picture Book That Came From It

 

I’m going to take a little different track than normal this time, but it’s for a good reason.

Now, I have to tell you—I’ve been putting this off a looooong time, and I’m sorta’ hoping my mom and her friends and my former schoolteachers won’t read this post…because I grew up in a small town in the South, and in small towns in the South, people just aren’t supposed to talk about their own stuff. See, there are rules down here about things like that. And I really like it that way. It’s a great way to live.

But my publisher has a different idea: they think I should actually be talking about my pro-life picture book (which came out nine years ago :)). They’ve been very good to me, and, when I think about it, I realize that they’re probably smarter than I am, so I should. But I don’t like pushy sales posts, and I’d rather tell stories, anyway, so I’m going to tell you the story behind it…

In 2002, I was far from all my family and childhood friends, in an abusive marriage, and away from my Faith. This was the darkest time in my life. There was a brief separation from the marriage, and then (because of many factors), I made the decision to reconcile. This was the start of some intensely difficult times.

In that dark place, though, my one Catholic friend here, who had nearly become a fully cloistered Benedictine nun in her younger days, directed me to the nearest Confessional.

In that Confessional just happened to be one of the most orthodox priests in our diocese, which was a good thing, because his unflinching commitment to the Truth did much to convince me that Catholicism was “the real thing” (sorry, Coke!) . St. John Paul II was the Holy Father at the time, and so the first encyclical I happened to pick up after my reversion was his Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

This little book grabbed me by the heart and wouldn’t let go. It convinced me so deeply of our Father’s love for each of us, so deeply of my own worth, my children’s, and my ex-husband’s, too, that I just was overwhelmed with the sense that I had to let the whole world know that if you’re here—if you’re breathing air—it’s because the God who gave each star its place in the sky, the God who carved out the Grand Canyon with the tip of His finger and built Mount Everest out of dust—He loved you so much that He wanted to create you, to call you the pinnacle of His creation, even (!), and to help you, to lead you to Himself in this life, and to have you with Him in Heaven forever.

I’m a teacher by vocation, and in our child development classes, we learned that most of a child’s personality and intelligence are formed by age 5, so I knew I wanted to reach out to the youngest children with this concept. So one day after my work at the family dairy, I started mulling over ideas for a children’s book. Beginnings was nearly completely written ten minutes later…which is how I know it wasn’t mostly me. (In the words of Bamax, “I…am…not…faaaaaast.” Yes, my children laughed out loud in the theater and pointed at me. :-))

It speaks to children, starting with examples from nature of how little, tiny, seemingly un-influential things develop into the grand and the mighty and the powerful: a tiny, sky-blue shell holds a baby robin’s new life inside; a quiet and decidedly uncaptivating caterpillar becomes a butterfly so beautiful it takes your breath away; harmless, nearly invisible water droplets gather in the clouds and form a thunderstorm powerful enough to shake the earth.

And then, you: “In your beginning—yes, in your beginning—God thought of you, and He loved you…He chose the perfect place for you, inside the safe, warm, shelter of your mother’s womb…”

And that’s it. That’s the thing I wanted every child to know: We’re here because God loves us. And, someday, I hope the whole world will “get it”—really comprehend God’s love for each human person,  and also understand that every Church teaching is rooted in that love (or at least comprehend it as much as a human person is capable of understanding something so infinite).

Until then, let’s all remember that wherever we are now, whatever we’re doing, whether big or small, really is just the beginning. God loves to take the tiny, the seemingly inconsequential, the “nothingness”, and turn it into something wonderful. Every human person, who started as only a thought and then began human life as two cells we couldn’t even see without a microscope, is proof of that.

Here’s the cover, by Shennen Bersani. Everything Shennen touches just turns out beautiful, and I still love looking at this work of hers, even nine years later:

In case you’re in the market for a gift for a child up through about age eight or so (or a baby’s parents), here’s the link to my $5.97 picture book for kids about how God works, how special they are, and why He created them.

https://store.pauline.org/catholic-religious-gifts/beginnings

Thank you so much! It’ll be a really long time before I blog about my own stuff again! (I have to let this one blow over with my former schoolteachers first. :-))

As High As the Heavens Are Above the Earth (Mercy)

 

Okay—the Avoiding the Almighty Smackdown post was sorta’ intense. There was a reason for that, though. Even though it’s terrifying to think of our sins and the punishment (ummmmm…death) they merit, it’s critical that we do this. If we don’t, we can never fully appreciate God’s mercy, either.

The good news is that the LORD doesn’t want to wipe us off the face of the earth. (Whew!) As a wise friend put it, “God wants to forgive. He’s just waiting for us to give Him any excuse to forgive us!”

Sometimes, when we face the ways our sins have hurt others, we question God’s ability to absolve us. When we doubt His mercy, though—when we think, “God can’t forgive me, because I’ve [insert the worst thing you’ve ever done here],” that’s not Him speaking to our hearts–it’s us. I think what we’re really saying is, “If I were God, and someone had done this same thing to me, I couldn’t forgive.” On the farm, we called that “weighing somebody else’s corn in your own bushel basket”. We don’t understand how God could forgive us, because we couldn’t offer the same forgiveness.

Isaiah 55 tells us, though, that God loves to do things that seem impossible to us:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,

Call him while he is near.

Let the scoundrel forsake his way,

And the wicked man his thoughts;

Let him turn to the LORD for mercy,

To our God, who is generous in forgiving.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

As high as the heavens are above the earth,

So high are my ways above your ways

And my thoughts above your thoughts…”

With these lines, God lovingly reminds us that we can never fully understand His ways. When it comes to mercy, His greatest attribute, He pours out His gifts so abundantly that we can’t even fathom the bounty.

A Mother Angelica quote came through my Facebook feed yesterday, and I thought it was perfect. This spunky, “all in for God” nun, who was known for having just a little trouble holding her Italian tongue (and temper), said, “God always forgives when you are totally repentant and you desire to change. He forgives…and He never gets tired of forgiving. Never. You may get tired of asking. I hope not. He never, never tires of forgiving you. Never.”

Now, we don’t exactly know whether Mother is a saint or not yet, but she sure did try. The stories of the saints tell us that many of them were just people who had a great sense of their own sinfulness, ran to God with repentant hearts when they fell, and gratefully accepted the mercy He offered them. That builds a close relationship with God, which is even more evidence of His mercy. He has a way of taking our sorrow over our biggest sins and using it as a seed for gratitude, which begets friendship with Him.

Scripture teaches us that the LORD wants all of us, not just those who wear habits or are ordained, to receive this kind of mercy—with this kind of heart. In Luke 7, Jesus comes to dine at the home of one of the Pharisees. A sinful woman, having learned where Christ was eating dinner that night, brought an alabaster flask filled with ointment. She wept, bathing the Lord’s feet with her tears. Then she dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of a woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner,” Jesus told a story:

“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since both were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?”

Simon [the Pharisee] said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love….”

I just can’t get over this story. When the sinful woman experienced Christ’s forgiveness, she felt such intense gratitude that she wanted to find Him–to go to wherever He was and show her thankfulness to Him with a heartfelt gesture–and Jesus, the King of Kings, allowed her to express her gratitude to Him in this very personal way. This scene reminds us that, no matter who we are and no matter which sins we’ve fallen prey to, God wants to forgive us—and that His forgiveness helps our gratitude to grow. It builds our relationship with Him.

Repentance is the turning point that starts a person on the road from darkness to light. It gives God the chance to flood us with the gift he loves to share the most—mercy. And that mercy can help anyone, no matter what his or her sins are, to draw very close to Christ. No one is beyond God’s redemption. That is the beauty of the Divine Mercy–it’s for all of us.

Mercy has touched my own life, and I’ll always be grateful. A long time ago, I was away from the Church, a thousand miles from the family and friends I had grown up with, and living in a very painful domestic situation. The darkness was so thick that I didn’t know if I’d ever see a day of hope again. Sometimes I didn’t want to see another day, period. Thank goodness I had one nearby friend–a lady who had yearned for nothing more in her younger years than to be a cloistered nun. She knew that practicing my faith would have protected me from the pit I was in, and she sent me straight to Confession. In that little room, God reached down, gave me hope, and began to heal my heart. I owe Him (and my friend-who-was-almost-a-nun) a debt I can never repay.

Even if we’ve fallen far, we can still know joy; God’s mercy takes our sorrow for sins and returns love and peace for it. In this way, the Lord really does change our darkness into light. Yes, His thoughts are far above our thoughts, and His ways are far above our ways–so far, in fact, that when we beg His mercy, He treats us as friends.

 

 

 

Loving the Sinner…Halfway.

The emphasis these days on mercy–wow. It’s deeply, deeply needed. Families in our society have been decimated. It seems every single person in our culture has been touched by something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone–everyone–is broken now. We live in a world that needs mercy like never before.

As a Catholic, I’m constantly reminded of this. Before my reversion to the Faith, my sins and mistakes had left me a shambles in need of healing. There was almost nothing left of me, and the only thing that healed the pain was God’s mercy. And since I’ve returned to my Faith, it seems that the more I learn–the more light enters my life–the more I can see that I’m broken. Thank goodness God forgives us when we go to Him with sorrowful hearts asking, and thank goodness He keeps reminding us of His love for us.

I got to thinking about the depth of God’s mercy today, and it brought to mind the story of the woman caught in adultery and her conversation with Christ found in John 8. You remember–when the scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone her, Jesus outsmarted them by saying, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” At this, instead of stoning the woman, the crowd dwindled away, leaving her alone with Jesus. He asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “No one, sir,” and He offered her the fullness of His mercy–“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Now, today, as I was mulling this over, I got to thinking–

What would that have sounded like if Christ had left out the reference to the woman’s sin, so as not to offend her…as we are often encouraged to do today?

What if Christ, instead of saying, “Go, and sin no more,” had just said…”Go.”?

Would her life have changed? Without admonition and encouragement to do better from a God who loved her, would she have “sinned no more”…

Or would she have gone right back to the same broken, heart-wrenching lifestyle that had nearly led to her death in the first place?

Healing and recovery aren’t the result of someone making us “feel better” about the fact that we are living apart from God. Healing and recovery come about when we turn to Him and offer Him every part of our lives. That means turning away, with His help, from things He asks us not to do.

When we, as Catholics, talk about sin, it’s about so much more than “this is right, and that is wrong.”
It’s about dignity. It’s about a person’s value. It’s about what a person is worth.

Jesus Himself wanted that woman to know that she was worth more than the degrading life she was living. Sin breaks us. It tears a person apart.

Real love–real mercy–does not mean telling that torn, broken person that their sin is OK–because they’re drawn to it, or because it’s the modern thing to do, or because they can’t help it. Real love–real mercy–doesn’t just say, “Go.” That’s only half the mercy we are called to share. Real mercy shares Christ’s full message–“Go, and sin no more.”

In the end, it’s all about love. And, really, you can’t love someone if you don’t hate what brings them down.

In other words, we can’t really love the sinner unless we hate the sin.