Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Grace Not to get Tired of Asking

   Annie Dillard tells about worshipping for a season at a little church on Puget Sound. One Sunday, the priest was kneeling, guiding the congregation through the service – when he paused, looked up, and said “Lord, we say these same prayers every week!” Dillard said “Because of this, I like him very much.”

Church has a repetitiveness. It’s not like going to the movies, or reading books, or buying gadgets, where you are one and done, you move on to the next thing. Church is more like the film Groundhog Day. You worship, then repeat, again, and again. Malcolm Gladwell explained how amazing sports or music stars we admire only got to be so good because they repeated what they do over and over – 10,000 times is the number he points to.

Something we redo every week is our ask for forgiveness. You’d think you could ask for forgiveness for past sins, then ask for a clean heart, and then be totally holy moving forward. But no, we lapse every week. Even if you’re making considerable spiritual progress, you realize new sins, new ways of being distant from God and ignoring God’s calling. Ash Wednesday (day after tomorrow) always looms large.

In True Detective, Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConoughey) is great at nosing out criminals. When asked his secret, he replies, “Look – everybody knows there’s something wrong with them. They just don’t know what it is. Everybody wants confession, everybody wants some cathartic narrative for it. The guilty especially. And everybody’s guilty.”

I love what Pope Francis wrote – that mercy is the main thing, and those who miss the joy and healing wonder of mercy are those who judge others and are sure of their own goodness.  Others, feel they are irredeemable, and can’t point to much progress in holiness.

Pope Francis once spoke with a man about God’s mercy. The man said “Oh, Father, if you knew my life you wouldn’t talk to me like that! I’ve done some terrible things.” Francis replied, “Even better! Go to Jesus. He likes to hear about these things. He forgets, he has a special knack for forgetting. He forgets, he kisses you, he embraces you and says ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ That is his only advice. If things haven’t changed in a month, you keep going back to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving – never! It is we who tire of asking him for forgiveness. We need to ask for the grace not to get tired of asking for forgiveness, because he never gets tired of forgiving.”

And for the grace not to get tired of forgiving others, which oddly is harder – but only because we like to be in control, and we don’t feel our own immense need for forgiveness. The more you pray for forgiveness, the more you know your need, and then the more you can forgive yourself and others.

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