Umbrellas, sinners and God’s mercy

John 8:2-11

One of the greatest gifts that has come to me from working within the institutional Church over 25 years is having been able to meet and learn from such a great diversity of remarkable men and women of faith. Almost every day yields a new encounter, a fresh dose of wisdom, and I feel it is a noblesse oblige that God has placed within me to share that wisdom for others’ benefit.

Mercy’s way of imperfection

This particular wisdom is used with permission…

I was recently speaking with a woman who shared with me a number of the difficult trials she was undergoing, and it was very clear that she felt her response to those trials was consistently weak, inconsistently strong and overall “pathetic.” She’s a bit hard on herself, I said.

She has been active in her Catholic faith after having left the church many years before in college where so often, as the saying goes, you lose two things: your faith and your virginity. Since she came back to the practice of her faith, she said she “discovered immediately a whole new sense of purpose and comfort in knowing my life always, no matter how bad it gets, has meaning in God.” She added that when she first came back to church, it was really tough since she had lived a “wild life” in college and into her late twenties. It “made living a totally Catholic life super hard, with a million reasons to quit the faith assaulting me every day.”

She said she found strong support in a women’s small faith community at her parish, which happened on shortly after returning. “That group was and is my salvation. Those women, a bunch of them with a past like mine, were always there for me; especially when I wanted to go bad again. We’re like sisters, there for each other.” “Those women” she continued,

helped me experience for myself, personally, God’s mercy. That’s what keeps me going every day, gets me up when I fall, lets me sleep at night when I am haunted by my own sins or failings with my husband and kids and my in-laws or anybody else that pushes my buttons. When I think about all the pile of ‘me-junk,’ I just say: Jesus, it’s all yours, take this mess away and give it back to me when you’re done fixing it. When I do that it’s like a thousand pound weight is lifted from my shoulders. And that’s actually why I’m totally in love with Confession — I give Jesus my heart made of black coal and ask him to make it into a diamond. I always walk out of the confessional feeling beautiful and new.

…so when I see like three people at Confession at Saturday Confession, I think: Hello? People! Duh! Don’t you get it? This is God saying ‘bring me all your crap and all your burdens and I’ll make them beautiful and light!’ I’ve thought God’s made it my mission to do PR work and get more people to go to Confession. Most people just have no clue. I tell my pastor he needs to let all of us heavy burdened people out there who carry guilt and shame all the time that God’s got the perfect weight loss program — his mercy — and its free here at St. X every Saturday!

I then shared with her that fabulous story of the Visitation nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who, after she had received several visions of Christ and his Sacred Heart, told her mother superior about them. The rightly skeptical Mother de Saumaise, trying to test the truthfulness of her claims, asked Sr. Margaret to ask Jesus in the next vision what Mother de Saumaise’s last confessed mortal sin was. When Margaret (I imagine, reluctantly!) asked Jesus, the Lord replied to her,

Tell her, I forgot.

What a gorgeous manner of expressing Isaiah’s prayerful cry,

You have preserved my life from the pit of destruction, When you cast behind your back all my sins. — Isaiah 39:17

Dismas at the Door

G.K. Chesterton once said that his umbrella helped reveal to him why he knew the Catholic church was for him. He said that whenever he went to the non-Catholic churches, he would customarily leave his umbrella by the back door during the worship service. In these churches, his umbrella would always be there waiting for him when he went back out. But the first time went into a Catholic church to hear Mass, his umbrella disappeared from the back of the church. Someone had stolen it.

His conclusion? Chesterton, the self-confessed “sinner,” came to believe that if the Catholic church offered such a generous and open doorway to the rabble, being a “home” for both sinners and saints, then he had indeed found a home where he could also fumble along into the Kingdom.

Elsewhere, Chesterton says,

Every one on this earth should believe, amid whatever madness or moral failure, that his life and temperament have some object on the earth. Every one on the earth should believe that he has something to give to the world which cannot otherwise be given.

Never lose heart or hope. For those prepared to confess their unworthiness, God’s mercy is unbounded in its capacity to make us worthy, and bewildering in its mysterious power to cause even the Omniscient One to forget.

If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you. — Psalm 130:3-4


2 comments on “Umbrellas, sinners and God’s mercy

  1. Pat Beckett says:

    Thanks, Tom. I needed this. I have been having a few trials since we retired and have been hard on myself about how I responded. Being with adult children can be challenging! It is good to be reminded of God’s mercy for all of us and especially when relationships are strained and I say and do the wrong thing.

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