Mark was the kind of guy who had a hard time trusting in God. He also had a hard time understanding God’s mercy. He knew that it sounded strange when he tried to explain himself, but he couldn’t help it. This was how he felt. In short, he lived his life fearing God. When bad things happened to him, he felt it was because he was being punished for the wrong he had committed in his past.
Eventually, and it would take a long time, Mark would, with the help of a good spiritual director, and other faith-filled friends, realize that God did not work this way.
Here’s the realization that Mark come to understand: He had been worshipping a God of his own making—-a God born of the frustrations and difficulties of his own formation and experiences as a person.
Many of us struggle with our tendency toward sin vs. God’s willingness and desire to forgive. We constantly struggle with our desire to do good, and the attractions/distractions that lead to sin. Perhaps we see that contradiction within ourselves.
Alec Guinness was perhaps one of the greatest actors of the 20th century. He was also a convert to Catholicism. In a biography of the actor I came across this passage which made me pause. In a letter to his wife he wrote:
I have discovered, or realized for the first time, such a simple truth that I’m almost ashamed. That is that one can ask for something in one’s prayers and not quite mean it—-one can ask for faith out of a sort of politeness for instance—-one can ask to be shown the awfulness of one’s past sins just because one is told to—-a sort of formality. Or, one can ask for these things and mean it desperately—-and one’s prayer is answered—-almost unexpectedly.
Here’s what I get from this quote: Don’t keep returning to the past, or looking for the happy ending that you’ve written for yourself in your own mind. Rather, live each day and look forward to a new future—-the one that God has in mind for you. Live in the hope and confidence of God’s mercy.
It is important for us to remember that the evil spirit is never idle, always looking for opportunities to temp us. Also, we have to learn to live with the contradictions of life. We may never know the answer in this lifetime.
St. Paul had to come to the same realizations. He had to learn to allow Christ to show him a new way of looking at the course of his own life, to come to a richer understanding of how God works. Paul writes to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”
Is God merciful? Yes. Does he want to forgive us? Yes. Does he write us off when we are struggling with contradictions? No. Not al all. So, when you pray, mean it! And be open to the unexpected forgiveness and mercy that comes from our loving Father.