THIS I BELIEVE
I grew up believing the big Catch-22 of The Baltimore Catechism. It taught me I was to know, love, and serve God in this world so I could be eternally happy with Him in the next.
The big Catch-22 was that Adam and Eve’s sin and the temptations of a host of Bad Angels would make the loving and serving part one heck of a challenge. The nuns lined us up for Confession every week, challenging us to decide if our many sins were venial or mortal.
Sometimes at night, I feared my wrongdoings would plunge me into the fires of Hell. If I should die before I could awake, was mine a soul the Lord would take? Or would kicking Sammy Vargas in his privates make me the first seven-year old with a passport to Hell?
As an adult, I truly did pass through the fires of Hell, without even needing to sin or die. I was a good person—how could God have allowed me to marry a man who would hurt me so badly? I came to believe that Heaven and Hell were earth-bound, and I quit worrying altogether about the after-death part. I was barely making it through the living part.
Unable to fix my life, I surrendered. Ironically, that’s when I fell into the arms of God. And God was Love.
Oh, it didn’t happen right away. The flames of Hell burn hot and hard; they burn you until you are purged or dead. And if you don’t die, you will carry the teaching scars of Hell through every day that is left to you. The scars are there to remind you that Heaven and Hell are just around the corner for everyone. The scars teach you to be gentle with yourself and others.
Eventually, I came to believe that we are all born perfect children of God, perfect children born into an imperfect world. I had long ago followed God’s lead and banished Adam and Eve from my garden, too. I believed that Life was a journey back to the True Self described by Thomas Merton, back to the perfection that was ours when we drew our first breath.
But what about those who are corrupted in the womb? Babies absorb alcohol, crack, downers, fear, and delusion, and some are actually born broken. Where is God in that?
I wrestled with the injustice of it all, until I understood that we are all still perfect, but only in the eyes of God. That God has created each of us with a unique perfection that no one else can realize and that God is calling us to that perfection with every breath. That God’s desire is for us to realize, as soon as possible, the beautiful dream that God has chosen for us.
Today, I believe that life’s work is to understand God’s unique vision of Love for me, and to live out that vision in each choice I make. And I believe that we will all figure it out, no matter how broken we might be. If not in this world, then in the next.
I believe that broken-ness is the last thing God wants for any of us. And I believe that even in the Baltimore Catechism, heavily shrouded by the smoke from all that mortal sin, God as Perfect Love can be found.
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