One of the most common reasons many of us can’t take faith not only beyond Sunday but to church in the first place, is that deep down we just don’t see ourselves as lovable. Whether it’s painful relationships in our lives or some pretty stinky stuff in the past, we don’t believe we would be, or could be, welcomed into the parish parking lot, let alone in the pews. We’re convinced that we’ve been away too long, and that it’s simply too late.
If you have been struggling in your faith walk know this: you are lovable, and you belong in the Church, no matter what you may have done or how far you may have wandered in your life. The Church is a field hospital for sinners. It always has been. And it is here to nurse you back to spiritual health. Remember, “the greater the sin, the greater the mercy.”
There are some pretty famous saints, like St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Francis of Assisi that gave up lives of serious sin and turned around to God. Given that there are more than ten thousand saints in the Catholic Church, there are plenty of dramatic U-turn tales to be told. The moral of their stories is this: everybody has something. I have heard it said, “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.” But sometimes our doubts or our guilt from previous mistakes keep us away from God. We think, “There is no way God can forgive me.” Maybe it is something in our past. Maybe it is a negative image implanted in our heads early on, of God as some mean ogre in the sky, waiting to punish us. We’re stuck with a very distorted picture of him, which blocks us from taking full advantage of his never-ending mercy.
Many people feel far away from the reach of God’s mercy. Perhaps no one feels this more than those who have had or assisted in abortions. In my work as a Catholic journalist, I have had the opportunity to interview many post-abortion women and men, and I’ve found many people stay away from Jesus and the Church because they believe their sin in having or helping someone procure an abortion is unforgivable. But Pope Francis urges them to trust in the Lord’s mercy and return:
“I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.” – Pope Francis, September 1, 2015
Many of the voices we are hearing this week on the abortion issue, and who are raising concerns could actually be coming from a place of pain, not having dealt with their abortion.
Many studies show that women do regret abortion. Many Americans do not realize or approve of abortion throughout all 9 months of pregnancy, but yet this is exactly what Roe vs. Wade gave us.
But it isn’t just the sin of abortion that separates people from God and His Church. Even if you have committed great sins Pope Francis says:
“God is greater than our sin. Let us not forget this: God is greater than our sin! “Father, I do not know how to say it. I have committed many, serious [sins]!” God is greater than all the sins we can commit. God is greater than our sin. Shall we say it together? All together: “God is greater than our sin!” Once again: “God is greater than our sin!” Once more: “God is greater than our sin!” His love is an ocean in which we can immerse ourselves without fear of being overcome: to God forgiving means giving us the certainty that he never abandons us. Whatever our heart may admonish us, he is still and always greater than everything (cf. 1 Jn 3:20), because God is greater than our sin.” – Pope Francis, March 30, 2016
The pope, at one of his weekly General Audiences, went on to tell the crowds about one of the most notorious sinners in the Bible: King David. You think you have sins? If King David were alive today and ahead of you in the confession line, your clothes would change style and then some before your turn finally came.
King David was called by God to shepherd his people and guide them on “the paths of obedience to divine law.” This sounded quite noble — until the king became a bit overconfident and forgot that he himself was also supposed to follow that obedience clause. David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military officers, and got her pregnant. Then, to cover it over, he also had Bathsheba’s husband killed. Yet, despite everything, when David repented, God not only forgave him but also referred to David as a man after his own heart because he was truly sorry for his mistakes. David gave himself and God another chance.
Pope Francis had this to say, relating David’s story to each of us:
“God blots out our sin from the very root, completely! Therefore the penitent person becomes pure again; every stain is eliminated and now he is whiter than pure snow. We are all sinners. Is this true? If any of you does not feel you are a sinner, raise your hand…. No one. We all are sinners. We sinners, with forgiveness, become new creatures, filled by the spirit and full of joy. Now a new reality begins for us: a new heart, a new spirit, a new life. We, forgiven sinners, who have received divine grace, can even teach others to sin no more. “But Father, I am weak, I fall, I fall”—“If you fall, get up! Stand up!” When a child falls, what does he do? He raises his hand to mom, to dad so they help him to get up. Let us do the same! If out of weakness you fall into sin, raise your hand: the Lord will take it and help you get up. This is the dignity of God’s forgiveness! The dignity that God’s forgiveness gives us is that of lifting us up, putting us back on our feet, because he created men and woman to stand on their feet.” – Pope Francis, March 30, 2016
The message of mercy itself is certainly nothing new in the Catholic Church or in Christianity in general. Yet we quickly forget it. Even those with checkered pasts can be transformed into new creations that glorify and help bring others to God.
The Marian Fathers, who run the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, say Christ’s message of mercy, given to the famous “Divine Mercy” saint, Faustina Kowalska, can be applied to our lives as simply as the letters ABC.
(A) Ask for his mercy. God wants us to approach him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking him to pour his mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.
(B) Be merciful. God wants us to receive his mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others, just as he does to us.
(C) Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of his mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.
It doesn’t matter where you have been or where you are now. It doesn’t matter how far you may feel from home. Even if you’ve taken the long way, you can choose today, with the help of God’s grace and mercy, to start walking toward Jesus and come home to his loving embrace.
This is an adapted excerpt from Teresa Tomeo’s book “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” published by Our Sunday Visitor.