From a reader:
My concern and question is within myself. I have been raised Catholic and have also done the same with my daughters. I have tried to go to church practically every Sunday and have tried to be involved with activities at church and in my community too. I have tried to be "good." I go to Confession and Communion and pray the Rosary occasionally. My concern and sadness is that I find that I am so far from Christ according to everything I read. It’s so hard to live up to Christ’s expectations. I love Him so much, but I’m not even close to what He wants from me. I try to be like the saints, but it only seems to last a second or two, and I’m back to being my mediocre self. I can’t concentrate when I pray or when I’m at Mass. I do many things wrong. In your news letters you talk of the coming of [Christ’s merciful judgment], chastisements etc… You talk of how to be prepared. I’m trying but, I just can’t seem to get close. I feel like I’m going to be in Hell or at the bottom of Purgatory. What do I do? What does Christ think of someone like me who’s just a puddle of sin and keeps falling down?
Dear daughter of God,
What does Christ think of someone like "you" who is just a puddle of sin and keeps falling down? My answer is twofold. First, He thinks you are precisely the one whom He died for. That if He had to do it all over again, He would do it just for you. He did not come for the well, but for the sick. You are most eligible for two reasons: one is that you are a sinner, like me. The second is that you acknowledge your sinfulness and your need for a Savior.
If Christ came for the perfect, then neither you nor I have a hope in Heaven of getting there. But to those who cry out, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner," He does not merely stoop to hear their prayer… no, He comes down to earth, takes on our flesh, and walks among us. He dines at our table, touches us, and allows us to soak His feet in our tears. Jesus came for such as you. He searches for you. Did He not say that He would leave the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one lost and gone astray?
Jesus tells us a story about the ones to whom His mercy is given—the story of the tax collector whom a Pharisee saw praying in the temple. The tax collector cried out, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner!" while the Pharisee boasted that he fasted and prayed and was nothing like the rest of humanity: greedy, dishonest, adulterous. Who did Jesus say was justified in God’s eyes? It was the one who humbled himself, the tax collector. And when Christ hung on the Cross, He turned to such a thief who had spent his life as a criminal, who asked in his dying moments that Jesus remember him when He goes into His kingdom. And Jesus replied, "Today you will be with me in paradise." That’s the kind of mercy our God has to bestow! Is such a promise to a thief reasonable? He is generous beyond reason. His love is radical. It is given most generously when we least deserve it: "While we were still sinners, He died for us."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux states that absolutely every person, no matter how…
…enmeshed in vice, ensnared by the allurements of pleasure, a captive in exile… fixed in mire… distracted by business, afflicted with sorrow… and counted with those who go down into hell—every soul, I say, standing thus under condemnation and without hope, has the power to turn and find it can not only breath the fresh air of the hope of pardon and mercy, but also dare to aspire to the nuptials of the Word. —Fire Within, Thomas Dubay)
Do you think you will never amount to anything for God? Fr. Wade Menezes points out that St. Mary Magdelene de Pazzi was tormented continually by temptations to lust, gluttony, and plagued by despair. She endured severe physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and was tempted to commit suicide. Yet, she became a saint. St. Angela of Foligno reveled in luxury and sensuality and indulged in excessive possessions. You could say she was a compulsive shopper. Then there was St. Mary of Egypt who had been a prostitute who used to join the caravans of men between the port cities, and especially enjoyed seducing Christian pilgrims—until God stepped in. He transformed her into radiant purity. St. Mary Mazzarello had endured severe temptations to desolation and despair. St. Rose of Lima would frequently make herself vomit after meals (bulimic behavior) and had even inflicted self-mutilitation. Blessed Bartolo Longo became a satanic high priest while studying at the University of Naples. Some young Catholics drew him out of it and taught him to pray the Rosary faithfully each day, all 15 decades. Pope John Paul II later set him apart as an exemplar for praying the Rosary: "The Apostle of the Rosary". Then, of course, there is St. Augustine who, prior to his conversion, was a womanizer who reveled in the flesh. Lastly, St. Jerome was known to have had a sharp tongue and hot-tempered personality. His nastiness and broken relationships damaged his reputation. Once when a pope was viewing a painting hanging in the Vatican of Jerome beating his breast with a stone, the pontiff was overhead to say, “If it were not for that rock, Jerome, the Church would never have declared you a saint.”
So you see, it is not your past which determines sainthood, but the degree to which you humble yourself now and in the future.
Do you still feel incapable of receiving God’s mercy? Consider these Scriptures:
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. (Psalm 51:19)
This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and broken man who trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
On high I dwell, and in holiness, and with the crushed and dejected in spirit. (Isaiah 57:15)
As for me in my poverty and pain, let your help, O God, lift me up. (Psalm 69:3)
The Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains. (Psalm 69:3)
The hardest thing to do sometimes is to actually trust that He loves you. But to not trust is to turn in the direction that can lead to despair. That’s what Judas did, and he hung himself because He could not accept God’s forgiveness. Peter, who also betrayed Jesus, was on the very brink of despair, but then trusted again in God’s goodness. Peter had confessed earlier, "To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life." And so, on his hands and knees, he went back to the only place he knew he could: to the Word of eternal life.
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:14)
Jesus doesn’t ask you to be perfect so that He can love you. Christ would love you even if you were the most miserable of sinners. Listen to what He says to you through St. Faustina:
Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. My daughter, write about My mercy towards tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. —Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 1146
Jesus asks us to follow His commandments, to "become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," because in living His will perfectly, we will be our happiest! Satan has so many souls convinced that if they aren’t perfect, they are not loved by God. This is a lie. Jesus died for humanity when it was so imperfect it even killed him. But precisely in that hour, His side was opened and His mercy poured forth, first and foremost for His executioners, and then for the rest of the world.
So, if you have sinned the same sin five hundred times, then you need to repent sincerely five hundred times. And if you fall again out of weakness, you need to repent again in humility and sincerity. As Psalm 51 says, God will not spurn such a humble prayer. So here is your key to God’s heart: humility. This is the key which will unlock His mercy, and yes, even the gates of Heaven so that you no longer need be afraid. I am not saying you should keep sinning. No, for sin destroys charity in the soul, and if mortal, cuts one off from sanctifying grace necessary for entry into the eternal beatitude. But sin does not cut us off from His love. Do you see the difference? St. Paul said that not even death can separate us from His love, and that’s what mortal sin is, death of the soul. But we should not remain in that fearful state, but come back to the foot of the Cross (Confession) and ask His forgiveness and begin again. The only thing you really have to fear is pride: being too proud to accept His forgiveness, too proud to believe that He could possibly love you too. It was pride which eternally separated satan from God. This is the deadliest of sins.
Jesus said to St. Faustina:
My child, all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully as your present lack of trust does—that after so many efforts of My love and mercy, you should still doubt My goodness. —Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 1186
And so, dear daughter, let this letter be a cause of joy for you, and a reason to get down on your knees and accept the love of the Father for you. For Heaven is waiting to rush toward you, and receive you into Its arms the way the father received the prodigal son back. Remember, the prodigal son was covered in sin, sweat, and the smell of pigs when his "Jewish" father ran to embrace him. The boy hadn’t even confessed, and yet the father had already received him because the boy was on his way home.
I suspect the same with you. You are repentant, but you do not feel worthy to be His "daughter." I believe the Father already has His arms around you now, and is ready to clothe you in a new robe of Christ’s righteousness, polish the ring of sonship on your finger, and place the sandals of the Good News upon your feet. Yes, those sandals are not for you, but for your lost brothers and sisters in the world. For the Father wants you to feast upon the fatted calf of His love, and when you are full and overflowing, go out into the streets and shout from the rooftops: "BE NOT AFRAID! GOD IS MERCY! HE IS MERCY!"
Now, the second thing I wanted to say is pray… just as you carve out time for supper, carve out time for prayer. In prayer, not only will you come to know and encounter His unconditional love for you, so that letters like these will no longer be necessary, you will also begin to experience the transforming fires of the Holy Spirit who is able to lift you from the puddle of sin into the dignity of who you are: a child, made in the image of the Most High. If you have not already done so, please read Be Resolved. Remember, the journey to Heaven is through a narrow gate and along a difficult way, hence, few take it. But Christ will be with you each step of the way until He crowns you in eternal glory.
You are loved. Please pray for me, a sinner, who is also in need of God’s mercy.
The sinner who feels within himself a total deprivation of all that is holy, pure, and solemn because of sin, the sinner who in his own eyes is in utter darkness, severed from the hope of salvation, from the light of life, and from the communion of saints, is himself the friend whom Jesus invited to dinner, the one who was asked to come out from behind the hedges, the one asked to be a partner in His wedding and an heir to God… Whoever is poor, hungry, sinful, fallen or ignorant is the guest of Christ. —Matthew the Poor
- What do you say to God when you’ve really blown it? One Word