The Death of Guilt (and the Birth of Parenting)

My son turned one yesterday. All in all, it’s been a great year, but I will say the beginning of his life was a little rough. He had a really hard time gaining weight, in large part due to his incessant projectile vomiting. I would look at his lovable face, and about nine times a day it would end something like this:

Gross.

But we got past that, and now he’s walking all over, banging his big ol’ head on everything in sight, and filling our hearts with joy with his toothy smile and insatiable affinity for kisses.

I think the understanding I’ve recently been graced with regarding what it means that we are adopted sons and daughters of God has shaped my heart more than just about anything else I can think of. As I look at my children and see how I, sinful and sorrowful though I am, burst with love for them and delight in every bit of their growth and cry when they’ve had health challenges, I cannot help but wonder at the love God must have for each of us. I feel privileged to be a parent, truly. To think that He might feel the same when He looks at me is incomprehensibly humbling and uplifting.

The danger of writing a bunch of posts about the Seven Deadly Sins is that people will start throwing around the term “Catholic guilt” a lot. I get it. I’ve made the joke myself. It’s an easy cliche to laugh about.

And I don’t even disagree that being Catholic comes with guilt. We have some pretty clear teachings about what sin is and what actions constitute a sin.

But how many souls have been lost when no one told them about the hope beyond the guilt? How many people felt sick with sin and did not know about their Divine Physician? Or, more likely, how many stayed away from the Doctor’s office altogether, figuring it wasn’t that big of a deal, or I’ll just figure it out myself, or he’s just going to lecture me on health stuff, or he’s going to think I’m gross or weird or ugly?

I think the idea of God as Divine Physician is a beautiful one, a hopeful one, because I know I need healing, I know I can get healthier and stronger and I know that God wants to lead me into that. But I also think there’s a reason Jesus didn’t lead with the vision of God the Doctor.

He first had us know about the Father.

Yes, good fathers discipline. They tell you if you’ve done something wrong. But they do so because they want you to grow, to learn to stand up straight, to open up your life to the infinite possibilities it can contain, to strengthen you to fight for the goods around you in a world that wants to hide them from you.

A Father loves.

Pope Francis tells us that the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son must have been waiting on the terrace of his home every day, looking out for his son, hoping that he might one day return. How else would he have known he was coming and run out to meet him?

This is our Father. This is the Catholic faith. Guilt? Maybe sometimes. Love? Always, unceasing, inconceivably patient and hopeful and steadfast.

So are there sins that can kill the life of our souls? Yes. Does everyone struggle with them at some point or to some degree? Yes, me especially.

But our God is one who, in some of my favorite words from the Catechism, “like a physician [probing] the wound before treating it…casts a living light on sin.”

He shows us our wounds so He can heal them. He wants to save our lives.

Or, better still, he is our Father who allows us to get hurt so that we learn what we really want, but He is always there to hold us close as we cry, is always ready to give us guidance if we ask, and is always ready to forgive the sin because He sees who we really are and who we might someday be.

And so even talking about sin is a hopeful thing for Catholics. Because sin never has the last word. There is always hope when we trust in our Father.

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