What Is The True Nature of God?

Recently someone who came across my Top Ten Life Changing Reads mentioned that they also liked C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and I found myself full of nostalgia slremembering the first time I ever read it. (Book nerd problems.) It’s an excellent read and full of the sharp wit that is the hallmark of British humor. I was about 19 years old at the time and actually listened to it on tape while I was working on a very monotonous project for my internship and looking for ways to sort of keep my brain alert as I worked. Listening to books out loud is just the best and it gave me much to ponder as I scanned document after document. However, I also remember reading that book and feeling very afraid because I recognized the sins of the protagonist in myself, sins so subtle I had never really noticed them before, and the realization threatened to put a wedge between myself and God, Who I was really beginning to encounter for the first time as an adult that summer.

This worry struck at a weak spot in my faith. I’m not a very trusting person by nature and while I believed God was love I had my doubts. I had read about the love of God and the wrath of God side by side and I was wondering, which one is He? Is His nature love or judgment and how can those two things exist simultaneously?

It was these questions that led me to reading the first book on my  “Top Ten Life Changing Reads” list: Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. I had come across that book by accident mabut never was I more relieved. It truly was a life changer because this book not only showed a more loving side of God, it drew on Br. Lawrence’s prayer of the present moment, the idea that best way to please God is to simply be with Him, to learn to live constantly in His presence. And where is God present? He is the Eternal Being. He lives in the now, in the present moment and within the hearts of His children (and because of Jesus and the new covenant He ushered in, anyone can be a child of God through baptism). If I had not read this book I would probably still approach God with fear (the bad kind) and trembling, never comfortable and never able to be myself because myself is not worthy or good enough. Yet this book convinced me that while it remains perfectly true that I’m unworthy of God, it did not stop God from loving me or wanting to share Himself with me. And the more I sought God’s presence within myself the more I found it and the happier I became.

And while I had to re-read this book several times to get it to stick, it certainly provided an excellent foundation for my current spirituality that I describe a lot on this blog. And that matters. Because most people that meet me think that I’m just happy by default which bothers me because it gives credit where it is not due (to me) and neglects to give credit where it is due (Christ) because the truth in this instance is not politically correct and does not suit the agenda of moral relativism, which suggests that you can find lasting happiness with or without God.

And I guess because it’s the year of mercy I wanted to share that mercy is the key to everything, the answer to those questions I asked that summer before my sophomore year of college. Who is God, love or DM.jpgwrath, and if He is both how can those things exist side by side? It requires an understanding that I did not have at 19, an understanding of what mercy is. While God is a just judge and is perfect, He is also perfect love, and mercy encompasses both of those things. Because mercy is not a denial or rejection of a law, it does not claim that the original law was unjust or that no offense was committed (or that each offense is subjective to circumstance you moral relativists!), but God has a unique capacity for mercy in that even in the midst of sin and offense against Him, He does not waiver for a moment in His perfect love for us. Mercy is where the love of God and the justice of God meet.  It is the selfless love in the heart of God that prompted God to pay the price for our sins, by upholding and satisfying the demands of His perfect law Himself that we might receive this mercy and experience the fulfilment of His promise to love His people unconditionally and eternally.

And that is something worth contemplating because I would very much like to have that capacity, to be able to love perfectly in a way that does not shift based on whether or not the person is particularly loveable at any given time. But I think it is mercy  that testifies most strongly to my initial idea, and now strong conviction, that God is love and that absolutely nothing can separate us from that love, because sin itself is not strong enough to break the bond. And this realization has been the true building block for everything else.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!

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The Bicycle

So a few days back I was talking with my cousin and somehow the topic of heaven came up. I told him that I want to see what the Saints see when they die: I want the Beatific Vision, which, just to put us all on the same page, is the direct communication of God to the individual person (ie heaven in full). My cousin responded, “ooohhhh no I could never be a saint.” I insisted “anyone can be a saint!” All it takes is the will to be open to Gods love. He countered with, “oohhhhhh no I’ve done too much.” And he said it with such certainty that it made me kind of sad. Because so have I.

It’s true.  Everyone assumes that because I’m nice and usually cracking jokes and currently practicing a child-like dependence on God as a way to live out my Catholic faith that I’m somehow immune to struggle. That I’ve never tangoed with the temptations of the world. Most of all that I was simply born this way, the happy Catholic with a nice family whose goodness doesn’t count somehow because it’s easy for me.

Ha!

These are all lies. Lies that surround a lot of Christians trying to live their faith. Because when you put a genuine faith in God into practice you will bear fruit. God’s love will transform you into the beautiful new creation you were always meant to be. But this process is far from easy.

And the idea that Christianity is something reserved exclusively for “the good” is an extremely dangerous one that echoes the Jansenist heresy (the heresy that claims you have to be perfect for God to love you).

Because the truth is God loves my cousin (let’s call him Tom for the purposes of this post) and I just know that nothing would make God happier than sharing Himself with Tom, after all He’s Tom’s Father. And think about it from a parent’s perspective- is there anything your child can do that would really cause you to stop loving them?

But back to the issue at hand, Tom has realized that he is not worthy of God because of his sins. And Tom might mistakenly think that I somehow am, because I’m religious and all that. But I know my sins better than Tom and trust me I’m not worthy of God either, and certainly not the Beatific Vision I want in heaven. So why is Tom certain he won’t see it while I’m certain that I will?

To explain, I have to tell a story that involves a bicycle (if you were wondering where this post got its title). When I was a little girl I used to like to bike at warp speed down this huge hill into the cul de sac by my house. One day I turned too sharply into the cul de sac and completely bikewiped out. The bike fell on top of my fifty-pound body (I was a super scrawny kid until the delights of puberty) and I had scrapes all over, especially my knees and elbows. Pretty sure my helmet was askew too.
And I started to cry like little children do, not just from the pain but from the shock of the crash and having no idea what to do next. Fortunately, a kindly neighbor came out, picked up the bike, put me back on my feet, and escorted both myself and the bicycle back to my house where my dad was waiting. I thought he’d be mad, but instead he was compassionate, bandaged me up, and told me I’d get ’em next time.

I think the love of God goes a lot like that. We’re riding along and everything is smooth sailing and suddenly we fall into sin and were lost. I think he’s more than happy to send the right people to come help us, and ready to heal us Himself, if we would only just trust Him enough to let Him do it, to let Him close to us, even though we’re all dirty and scraped up. He’s the last to judge. He doesn’t want anything from us, no expectations or wishing we were just better like our other brothers and sisters. He just wants to love us. Each of us. He is love itself, to the point where He is so selfless that His happiness doesn’t have any self-interest in it, His only desire is to love us and see us completed and totally healed by that love. That’s what satisfies His heart.

And I try to love God, myself, and others not from some twisted, social obligation that comes from our relativistic society right after a recommendation that we buy Nike running wear and eat a holistic diet, but because I want to see the Beatific Vision when I die. And the more I practice living in love, the more I see it now, while here on earth. And my response to that love is why I come off to my cousin the way that I do.

And even though he doubts I know I’ll see Tom in heaven, especially now that he knows my secret. That I don’t deserve the Beatific Vision or any praise at all for anything, but I will accept heaven as a gift from my Father because He is generous and He loves me so much. And by being in His presence, both in my life on earth and long after my earthly death, I hope I learn to love Him too. And I hope the same for my cousin.

And in fact, I hope the same for you, whoever you are.

The Pitt 

So today I was faced with an interesting choice. Now that I’m much better at navigating Pittsburgh via public transit I know that from the stop near my office there are two bus routes that take about the same time to get back into the city. The first goes through a fairly poor rundown area before hitting the downtown. The second goes through the prestigious University of Pittsburgh. And the campus is impressively beautiful.

Guess which place my preppy white girl outward appearance fits in better?

I know the anticipation is killing you, but it was the second one. And that makes me kind of sad. Because while I’ve taken both ways, the first time I took the first way I was taken aback. Because suddenly I was launched into a world that was primarily African American and included many people with disabilities, the elderly, and had a strong presence of single mothers. One in particular who had a broken foot and was carting around her work bags and her kid on this broken foot of hers still haunts me. Because that would be damn hard. I don’t even know if I could do it. And while I hate the notion that just because I grew up with a nice, middle-class family I don’t know what suffering is (I know well enough, believe me), it would be hard to bear that particular cross. And I’m grateful that I had a really supportive family to go through it with me, because that lady was all alone with her child.

But fortunately since this is Pittsburgh, there is something sort of genuine about the people here, what you see is what you get. There’s this like prevailing blue-collar honesty, a sweet simplicity that’s hard to describe. Just know that it is the opposite of superficiality. And the people had a little community. A lot of them knew each other. And what could have been a really depressing scene (one that my more elitist but sometimes well-meaning professors and teachers would teach me to automatically pity if not outright condescend) was turned into something almost sweet. Because there’s nothing like being cared about, knowing that people have your back through thick and thin, not because of what you do for them, but because you are friends and neighbors. That is the power of Pittsburgh. And I’m sad that, being raised up and down the east coast, that I haven’t experienced anything like it in other places.

Because other places have turned their back on it as something outdated in this dog-eat-dog world where you are number one and everyone else is number two (extend the number two metaphor as far as you want). And that’s too bad. Because now there is an absence of this type of community, an absence that the world is in mourning for, whether they admit it or not.

Because the truth is the best things in life aren’t things. What makes the experience worthwhile isn’t “finding yourself” or accumulating lots of material goods or even being the best. It’s serving your neighbor. And in a community like the ones I’ve described in Pittsburgh, you get the joy not only of serving your neighbor but in having your neighbor serve you too. I’m glad they keep that tradition alive. And I’d love to see it come back to life around the world.