Monday, February 3, 2014

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me

I saw a quote today from St. John Bosco (allegedly, one can never be 100% certain with these facebook things) that said, “It is not enough to love the children, it is necessary that they are aware that they are loved.”

On the same day I read this quote from Sr. Faustina:
“God's mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God's powerful, final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sins and punishment, while outwardly it shows no signs either of repentance or contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God's mercy! (Diary, 1698).”

At the same time I was reading the book, “Not For Sale,” by David Batstone on one of my lifelong obsessions, the protection and care of abused, exploited or neglected children. Many of the activists, or abolitionists as he prefers to call them, emphasized the primary need of these children being the need to be loved.

It is a pattern that I have noticed in my life, that sometimes a number of different sources will all speak to me about the same thing at the same time. I try to pay attention to such things. The skeptic in me assumes that on some subconscious level I am looking for connections, and creating significance from random events. The man of faith in there somewhere likes to think that God is trying to speak to me.

(Oh, and Matthew 18:1-14 was emailed to me by my "Gospels in a year" subscription.)
There is a deep connection between the three sources above, which speaks to me very deep within my heart. There is a passage from 1 John 4:20 which I am fond of “misquoting.” The verse reads “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” I often misquote it saying, “How can anyone believe in the love of the God whom they have not seen if they have never known the love of the brother they can see.”

You see, I often think about all the children who will never know love. Most of them will probably end up dead, or as petty criminals, or perhaps not so petty. One has to wonder how much love was known in the Bin Laden or Hussein households, or the Stalin or Hitler households when those infamous men were growing up. I think also of the men who are not criminals, but who nevertheless take part in the subjugation, mutilation or sexual exploitation of women out of sheer ignorance. That is what they saw their fathers doing, that is all they know about manhood.

This is not a statement or even a speculation about their subjective guilt. On this level guilt or innocence is not of very much concern to me. My cousin and I were talking about C. S. Lewis the other day and he mentioned the hope that C. S. Lewis died in perfect intellectual honesty about his faith, given that he chose not to become Catholic. I countered that whether or not his intellectual honesty was perfect he died in need of mercy as we all will. The same is true of rapists, murderers, dictators and abusers. There is no human being who does not need mercy, and there is no person to whom mercy will not be offered at the moment of death. The question is whether or not we will be able to recognize and accept it.

Love can be a frightening thing. Even those who know what love is and have experienced it can very easily come to fear love, to feel unworthy of it, to become so caught up in their unworthiness that they refuse love, run away from it, deny it when it is offered. The technical word for that state of mind is “despair,” and a little imagination reveals it as not too far removed from pride.

Now imagine a terrible sinner, a crack whore who has been selling her body for drugs, who has aborted several of her own children and witnessed others of her children spiral into the same black pit she has lived in, raped and pimped by her boyfriends, starving, addicted, despairing, worse than dead. Lest you think that I am engaging in sensationalism, I am not. I am describing women that I have seen and treated, that my fiancée has seen and treated, and if you live in any major city in America I am describing your neighbor who lives within a few miles of you. I could as easily have described Pol Pot or St. Augustine or myself for all the difference it would have made.

This woman will die someday. In the moment of her death she will see God, and be exposed to pure, unadulterated love. As much as she may have loathed herself before, she will immediately see her sinfulness in all its ugliness, and if I may trust my own inclination, she will likely be overwhelmed with sorrow. The next question will be what she does with that sorrow. Will she recognize unconditional love and accept it, allow it to wash her clean, embrace it, even rejoice in her cleansing?

Will I be able to rejoice in my own shame, simply for the sake of the glory of God, for the opportunity it provides for Him to show His mercy?

I think that transition will be easier for those who have seen love. A few days ago in prayer with my fiancée (via video chat, which is an experience in and of itself) we prayed for those children who have never known love, that they would be shown enough love in their lives so that at the very end when God shows Himself they will recognize love. It will not be a total shock.

I suppose that is the whole purpose of human love.

What I did not realize until writing this last sentence is that in doing so we accomplished on some level what we were praying for. We loved them. I doubt they know that now, or knew it at the moment of our prayer (although you never know) but someday I have faith that they will know that they were loved even when they didn’t know it.

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