Growing Younger

This post appeared in the Sunday, September 25, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

I don’t know if this is typical for adult Christians as they try to follow Jesus more and more closely—but I often feel as though I am regressing spiritually.

It is certainly true that I don’t struggle with the more serious or habitual sins I did as a younger man, before my reversion to the faith—that is real progress. But most of sins I bring to Confession today are things any child or teen might share: short-temperedness, impatience, ingratitude, laziness, vulgarity, jealousy—smaller things deeply rooted in my heart and habits. I struggle to confess these sins, either because they are so frequent and reflexive as to defy counting, or so subtle and ingrained that I don’t perceive them at all without careful hindsight.

Many of these sins are rooted in vanity and insecurity: I become preoccupied with myself and my own needs at the expense of those around me. As a result, I am also a slave to sins of omission (good things not done), another category of wrongs it can be difficult count.

So I’ve been praying to God for an influx of charity—a stretching of my heart—so that I might better see and respond to the needs of others, when and where they exist.

Guess what? God is obliging…and it hurts.

He started by helping me to see the opportunities to love God and neighbor that I have neglected, often just a few minutes after the opportunity has passed. Perhaps its an opportunity to pray with someone who needed it or to help someone I assumed had things under control, only to learn later they truly didn’t. It hurts to see all the little ways God is moving in my day and how frequently I am oblivious or decide not to act.

Last Friday I brought a handful of these sins of omission to my confessor and told him I feel like a fool for struggling with what seems like basic human decency. He offered two insights in reply:

  • I am hearing God’s voice (even if it’s after the fact) and having a dialogue with Him—and that is a huge blessing I didn’t experience when I was immersed in more serious sins.
  • I am reaching a point at which the efforts required to “save” me are no longer my own. I have weeded a number of bad behaviors out of my life; now the issue is more fundamental: a flawed heart in a fallen world.

I can’t fix my heart—but He can.

What I was experiencing as slipping backward is, in this light, actually spiritual maturation. Jesus tells us, “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Luke 18:17). How does a child receive? With open hands and mouth, and eyes wide and expectant, looking to the One who gives him every good thing.

I cannot feed myself—but He can.

Last Sunday my family and I were blessed to attend Fr. Tim Tran’s Mass of Thanksgiving here at our church.  In his homily, Fr. Tran mentioned that his second niece had been born just a couple weeks before, and that seeing her revealed a profound truth about the way we receive God’s blessings.

“In a baby’s tiny hands,” he said, “every gift is huge.”

O Lord, help me to regress. Help me be born anew as your little child, completely reliant on you for every good thing. Like St. Therese, help me to cease trying to scale the mountain and extend my hands to you instead, know you can lift me to the heights. Amen.

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