A very devout and holy woman is trying to pray, but she isn’t feeling very much comfort. She’s been struggling with temptations (of the flesh) lately, and has been wondering where God is in all this. In her frustration she actually calls out: “Lord, where were you when my heart was being tormented by so many temptations?” And the Lord replies: “I was in your heart”. And the woman says: “How can I believe that you were living in my heart, when it was full of unclean and selfish thoughts?” And the Lord answers: “Those thoughts and temptations: did they gladden your heart, or sadden it? Did they bring you pleasure, or displeasure?” And the woman replies: “Great pain and great displeasure.” And the Lord answers: “Who was it who made you feel displeasure, if not I who was hiding in the center of your heart?” The devout woman in this story is St. Catherine of Siena who lived in medieval times.
What’s the purpose of my story? Well, the reason why I tell you this story is to let you know that even those who are called saints—-who are known to be holy—-struggled with sin and temptation. I don’t know about you, but knowing that gives me great comfort!
Also, it’s very important to know that when we think God is far away from us, he’s actually closer than ever, even if we conclude that we don’t deserve this proximity. And how did God let St. Catherine know that despite her feelings of temptation and unworthiness, she was still moving in the right direction? By reminding Catherine that her feelings of “displeasure and pain” were from God, himself! God was letting her know that even though she was struggling, she was still connected and God and that He had no intention of “cutting the tie with her”. God was doing to use that struggle to transform her. And so it is with us!
I love this verse from St Paul: “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called and apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. But Paul didn’t let his past sins weigh him down or become an obstacle to what God wanted him to do.
Look at St Peter. Here are his words in the face of Jesus’ miraculous powers: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In other words, “I am not worthy to be in your presence of part of your group.” And Peter would eventually betray Christ! Still Jesus didn’t cut the tie with him. He used those very things to change him. Just like he used Paul’s persecution of Christians to change his life. Both men would come to a point of such confidence in Jesus’ words that they would be able to acknowledge their sins but would also have the courage to stop looking back. They moved forward in Christ and accomplished the task given them.
I would say this: if you have no struggles at all in your life, then be afraid and question yourself. So, don’t let your doubts or negative attitudes cause you to miss the power of Christ in your life. Our sins and failings should not cause us to avoid Jesus, but instead to cry out: Stay with me, Lord, for I am a sinful person. The Lord wants to save us from what otherwise would shame us. So, do not be afraid.
I will let St Theresa of Avila have the last word this evening (today):
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patient endurance attains all things;
One who possesses God
Is wanting in nothing;
God alone suffices.