Loose Ends and Lessons

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

This is my twentieth post related to the Sacred Heart in twenty-one days. As I mentioned in the first one, my motivation for this series was to break into bite-size pieces what promised to be a sprawling single post about how Christ has been drawing me toward His love and mercy via His Sacred Heart (with a secondary motive of breaking through writer’s block to begin writing daily again).

The result has been bigger and more sprawling than I thought, with a longer timeline and deeper connections than expected. In this final, formal post of the series, I’ll share three last connections from along The Way. Continue reading

In a Heartwardly Direction…

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this spring I brought the various tugs on my heart—Divine Mercy, Salesian spirituality, and Sacred Heart—to my spiritual director to consider whether and which of them to pursue. He asked me what I knew about the Sacred Heart revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—what was the meaning, or what was Jesus trying to share.

At that point, I knew only what I had picked up in the second of the Divine Mercy video series my men’s group is watching: The Church was battling the Jansenist heresy, which said that salvation was only for the elite few, that you had to earn God’s love, and that most people weren’t good enough to receive the Eucharist or salvation—but the message of Jesus’ Sacred Heart message was that God’s love is an endless, burning love for all of mankind regardless of sin or station. He loves us deeply and He deeply desires our love in return.

He told me that was right, then explained that the message of Divine Mercy was a deepening of the Sacred Heart message—that Jesus wants to save all of humanity, and that no one on earth gets to say who is worthy of God’s love and mercy: “It is above our pay-grade.” Continue reading

Love In the Present Tense

Already last night’s timeline is incomplete: today I was reminded that my first real, in-depth exposure to St. Faustina and Divine Mercy came in February 2016, five months before we left for Poland. Fr. Chris Allar of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, keepers of the Shrine of Divine Mercy here in the United States, came to St. Michael to lead our annual parish retreat, and despite having a full agenda, managed to infuse the occasion with enough about St. Faustina, the Divine Mercy image, and the revelations of God’s boundless love and mercy that my curiosity was sparked.

His message seemed almost to good to be true: God loves us and wants us all to be saved. To do so, we must A) ask for His mercy, B) be merciful to others, and C) completely trust in Him.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Hope swells in the heart at the thought it might be that simple, doesn’t it? (Too simple, some would argue–where’s the judgement and justice in that?) Of course, trust in God is not always easy, nor is humbling ourselves to ask for mercy or extend it to others. Continue reading

Chains of Memory

The past couple of days I’ve been plagued by memories: guilty recollections of past sins, glimpses of images I never should have seen, bits of off-color or debauched “humor,” lyrics to songs that should not be sung.

Beginning in college, this was my rebellion. I looked at, listened to, and watched whatever I wanted. And in short order, I proved the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” During much of my college years, I swore like a sailor; I told dirty jokes to old friends and new acquaintances, and I made excuses for my behavior—to others and to myself.

“It could be worse,” I said, and I knew I was right. I had a vivid imagination, and worse played out in my mind if I lingered too long on any impure thing.

Thanks be to God, over the first ten year of my marriage to Jodi, I weeded these things out of my life. Little by little I dropped the jokes, kicked my swearing habit, left porn behind, stopped watching racy movies, and cleaned up my taste in music. And beginning with one no-nonsense confession with Fr. Siebenaler, in which he politely but firmly questioned my resolve to actually amend my life and advised me to open myself to Jodi and ask for her help, I left off making excuses, and began instead to apologize.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and the Enemy is at work again: I find myself mindlessly mouthing the music in my head, only to realize it’s some obscene gangster rap fantasy or metal mayhem I laughed at as a younger man. In my mind’s eye I see images I haven’t looked upon in years, like a sin scrapbook I can’t help but leaf through, gazing at memories best forgotten.

That’s the first point of this ramble: you can’t forget. What your brain takes in is filed away for later reference. Every image, every word, is there, tying you to past experience. And those things you subject yourself to again and again, out of desire or habit? Your mind naturally assumes they are important, forging shorter, stronger connections so they can be easily accessed.

I can’t recall yesterday’s discussion with my bride, but I remember every detail of my past sins, with a clarity that repels the spirit and tempts the flesh anew. The Accuser seeks to set me against myself—but I know now I must seek every day, every moment, to purify both body and soul.

That’s the second point: The struggle against sin is noble and never-ending, to be sure, but all struggles are not created equal. The struggle of the rabbit in the snare speeds its demise; it kicks and thrashes against the noose, which only tightens against its efforts.

That was me, in the confessional all those years ago—declaring sorrow for my sins but unwilling to even attempt to remove my head from the strangling wire. The death brought about by sin cannot be escaped by panic, emotionalism, or bodily struggle. It is a spiritual struggle, requiring prayer, persistence, and genuine love of neighbor and of self. At some point, all the plans, safeguards, and accountability measures boil down to a decision: Am I going to stop doing these things or not?

How does one become a saint? Will it.

Finally, the third point: We don’t have to remain bound in these chains of memory, because God’s love is mercy.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled with recalling past sins and feeling old remorse and new temptation. The last time I remember it as strongly as this, our pastor, Fr. Richards, advised that I repeat the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

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At the time he told me this, it didn’t click with me that these are the words of the inscription at the bottom of St. Faustina’s image of Divine Mercy. (“Jezu ufam tobie” in the original Polish, above.)

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust in your mercy. I trust that you have forgiven these past, confessed sins. I trust that you continue to forgive me. I trust that you love me.

We are washed clean in the blood and water that flow from His Sacred Heart. We need not linger in darkness or doubt. He loves us. He forgives us. He saves.

Pinkie-Toe Problems

This is not the post I intended to write today, but something struck me in a new way at Mass this morning, and I wanted to share it.

Sometimes I become so self-focused that I fail to see the joys and sorrows of those around me—even those close to me. I get so wrapped up in my own little sufferings, injuries, and humiliations that I lose perspective and wallow in woe-is-me.

I do not suffer well, even in small ways. Continue reading