Grace and Generosity

Today in the car my eldest daughter was wishing for soft, cushion-y flip-flops.  “Maybe for your birthday,” I say.

“My birthday is in February.”

“So write a letter to Santa now, telling him what to look for on summer clearance in August.”

Children start composing letters aloud.

Then I suggest, “Wait a minute.  Not Santa.  Write to the Easter Bunny.”

Mr. Boy begins: “Dear Easter Bunny, I have been very good this year . . .

And I correct: “No.  It’s Dear Easter Bunny, I have been very bad this year.  That is why I am thankful for Easter. If I were good, I wouldn’t need it . . .


–> One of the advantages of homeschooling, is that the children labor under no illusions about mom’s sins.

Sometimes people who see me teach as a catechist get the wrong idea.  They see how I run a class for an hour (So much energy! So focused on the children! So kind! So enthusiastic!) and imagine my own kids must be getting that 16 hours a day.

Um, no.

Just because I can do something for an hour does not mean I can do it all day every day.

But the thing about being a catechist, is that there’s a certain pressure to be an unrealistically good person.  Talking to friends who have worked in ministry elsewhere (non-catholic, as it happens), it seems to be par for the course.  You’re a Christian Leader.  You’re a Teacher and an Example.  And if you screw-up, You’re Fired.

It isn’t enough to be competent at your work.  Your work is not only to teach what is right and wrong, but to somehow meet spec.  Our #1 message is that we are all wretched sinners in need of a Savior, but if you’re a priest / minister / catechist, you’d better not be especially needful of that Savior.

That’s not real.

I’m fortunate, in that although I certainly get tempted to commit enormous sins, I mostly stick to goofing off and yelling at my kids as the bread and butter of my sinfulness.  So I guess I have a job as long as I can keep that up.

But here’s what: Everybody faces temptation.  I have been very moved by the humility of ordinary Christians who will openly acknowledge horrid sins.  I did it, I should not have done it, I am sorry I did it, I will never do it again so help me God. 

Public ministry discourages that humility.  It discourages it slowly and insidiously, by first teaching you to deny the venial sins.  What will people think if they find out I ______?  Will they refuse to let me minister to _______ if they hear that I _______?  I am not alone among catholic volunteers in being a tad nervous about confessing to my own parish priest.  I work for the guy — what if he gets the wrong idea when he hears my confession?

[I do, anyway, though not as often as would be good for me.  A lousy prayer life is one of my other besetting sins.]

So I am unsurprised when I hear that some Famous Catholic is by all appearances guilty of some tremendous sin, but is unable to admit to having done wrong.  To see clerics justify their serious sins, and maybe even leave the church over them?  Well, I’ve seen other ministers brush off lesser sins.  It is a staircase.  At the bottom you put on a good face for the public; as unseemly bits seep out here and there, what you cannot hide, you must somehow justify.  By the time a serious temptation comes along, the habit of fleeing condemnation is long since engrained.

Forgiveness is only way out.

You want honest clergy?  Learn to forgive.  Not to deny, not to downplay, not to ignore.  To forgive.   Where sin abounds, grace must abound all the more.

The Christian paradox is that where grace abounds, sin loses its hold.  For if I know I will be forgiven, then I can admit I was wrong.  And if I can admit I was wrong, and only if I can admit I was wrong, then I can begin the work of repairing my soul.

2 thoughts on “Grace and Generosity

  1. Forgiveness is difficult for anyone. But for me, the trick is in figuring out exactly where to draw the line b/w “Let’s put this behind us,” and “No, I am not going to let you physically/verbally/emotionally/spiritually punch me in the face again. We’re done.”

    As I see it, anyway.

    1. Yes, absolutely. There’s that line in the Lord’s Prayer about “lead me not into temptation.” It points us to a need not to lead others into temptation — if I know you’re prone to a particular sin, I have a responsibility to not set you up for failure. [For example, by keeping my gut away from your fist.]

      That’s different, though, then the vitriol that gets levied at select sinners.

      –> I see in ministry, a two-sided conspiracy not to forgive. Pressure for the minister to act perfect, and for the congregation to pretend not to see failings. See no evil, forgive no evil. But if you have no practice acknowledging and apologizing for and forgiving the small stuff, it sets you up for a big disaster down the road.

      There are certainly types of sins where the person needs to just not ever be put anywhere near the occasion of sin again. Either the temptation is too powerful or the risk is too great. There’s nothing “forgiving” about leaving someone to hang themselves by putting them in a position to fail. But plenty of mortal sins are worked up to bit by bit, a little here a little there, and are in no way inevitable.

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