A dear friend in a nursing home is always asking me if I think she will get to heaven. We are talking here about a woman who had been a nun but left after many years; gave her life to teaching small children and served her parish in sundry ministries, especially communion to the sick. We are talking about a woman who had an uncommon devotion to several saints and found joy helping others come back to the faith. Getting into heaven? She has a prepaid ticket, to be sure!
But her doubt gnaws at her. She had done something in her youth which she considers mortally wrong but has confessed to her priest-confessor. Forgiveness followed contrition and she should have been happily adjusted to God’s mercy, but alas, psychological tremors took over her innocent, needy soul. I keep trying to assure her: You have been forgiven. Stop thinking about this. God wants you in heaven. Easy for me to say, I think.
Psychologists, especially Karl Jung, who wrote deeply and convincingly of the cravings we have for spiritual consolation in prayer, tell us that when we cannot let go of something that gnaws at our psyche and keeps us from feeling forgiven and pure again—we are giving into a ‘lesser spirit’ a negative power of our ego that simply won’t let go until: We give it permission to leave and dismiss it! Meaning, the individual has the power to dismiss what holds on to the soul that keeps it from being free and open. Saint Ignatius of Loyola inserts this experience in his retreat directions by suggesting this is the force of the ‘evil one’ who wants to keep the soul from moving closer to God. We need to face this power and tell it to leave says Ignatius.
The human chains of guilt and negative memory—even if confessed—can deplete us of the freedom of guilt-free living. I have seen this in my work with alcoholics and other addicted persons in retreat ministry. They are so honest when they can finally say: I need to move on without guilt!! One of my friends from this ministry told me over the years that once he let go of the guilt, concomitant with a failed marriage, alienated children, a lost career, he found himself in God’s mercy. Who wouldn’t love him now? Desperate, under a bridge, crying for mercy? Who wouldn’t love him, he asked?
I believe totally in Jesus’s teaching found in Luke 11:5-13 where Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be open to you.” Read the whole section of this Gospel, a simple explanation of God’s mercy when we come in prayer to Him.
I tell my friend in the nursing home to believe that His mercy embraces her. According to many theological writers, there is an authentic, divine energy that incapsulates every prayer as it is offered. It’s your authentic self—which is what God wants to hear—and you offer it up, shortcomings and all—and God takes it in his hands and his heart—and you have been heard. No sin or shortcoming is greater than God’s mercy! When you knock, God comes running to answer. That’s how much he loves you. And he never thinks of that ‘whatever’ thing you felt guilty about. Never. Ever. It’s gone!! So why won’t you let go?
For this coming week, read the wonderful Gospel passage Luke 11:1-13. It’s on prayer. Reflect on whatever strikes you in this passage. You have to take time with it because the reality of ‘guilt’ is strongly implicit. And remember: No sin or shortcoming is greater than God’s mercy!
On another note: I am privileged to be leaving for the Holy Land on September 4 and returning on the 14th. My sister and I had been on this Pilgrimage for Peace for the last almost three years. It had been cancelled and then re-scheduled several times. In the meantime, she passed away. I feel very bad about her not being here because she was ecstatic to make this pilgrimage. She will be with me in spirit. I have covered my blogs in the meantime. I will bring back so much to share in my work for retreats and spiritual direction. It is a pilgrimage of peace meaning we will be praying for peace in that region and sharing with people on both sides of the conflict. I cannot wait to see the places Jesus traveled and preached and I promise to carry each of my readers with me, especially at the Temple Wall in Jerusalem. I can’t wait to share with you what I learn to deepen your spirituality and mine.