There are some things that make the experience of a convert really amazing. While I constantly feel several steps behind when cradle Catholics get going about the corporal works of mercy or St. John Chrysostom (or any other saint who’s not really in the familiar lexicon), it’s all worth it when I stumble across amazing, miraculous events that make Protestant in me want to shout “Hoax! Catholic trickery!”, but that the Catholic in me can accept with wonder and gratitude.
Today it was the events at Akita. I had never even heard about Akita before stumbling across a mention of it while reading an article about Fatima (also unfamiliar and recently discovered) and I was immediately struck. Something about the beauty of the statue, the utter reality of the tears, the conversation with Sister Agnes, and the desperate pleas of our Lady for souls to repent to soften the anger of the Father made me feel repentant in a way that I haven’t in a long time.
Usually my repentance comes in this form: “God, I’m sorry for XY and Z really bad things that I did. Please forgive me. (subconsciously: I’m still way ahead of the game. I’m not nearly as bad as 90% of the population. Those suckers are really in for it. Oh yeah, I know there are Catholics who are better than me, but I’ll get there one day. Maybe. As long as it doesn’t require wearing skirts.)”
There are so many things wrong with this that, sadly, I’m just realizing today. I’m not even sure where to start, but I’ll begin with the idea of sins of omission. This is a completely foreign concept to the Protestant mind, because we’re taught that 1) works mean nothing because 2) humanity is not capable of any good because 3) we are irrevocably corrupted by original sin and 4) any good works we do are only done through the power of the Holy Spirit and basically function as proof that we are “saved”. I no longer believe this; in fact, I reject it utterly with quite a bit of anger and vehemence. Anyone who has decided to stop and help someone change a tire or who has decided not to put those five dollars in the collection basket knows that these are acts of the will; humanity is free to choose good or to choose evil. Grace is there, given to us, and we must only accept it and cooperate with God and the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. But that’s the key; we can’t just say a prayer and poof, we get a one-way ticket to heaven stamped on our souls. We have to consciously accept, every single moment of every single day, to work with God and to do His will. And that includes doing things we don’t want to, not just abstaining from those things we know are sins. That means me choosing to stop what I’m doing in the kitchen or on the computer and have a conversation with my children, or look at a picture, or show Sienna how to write an H for the hundred millionth time. Every moment I choose to ignore them is a moment in which I am rejecting my vocation of motherhood and sinning by omission. (I’m being a little dramatic here; I think it’s okay to have an hour or so where they play quietly while Mom takes a break, but for me that hour too often stretches into two, or four.) Additionally, I don’t pray nearly enough. I don’t even know the Rosary; in fact, I don’t think that I’ve said the entire Rosary on my own once in my entire Catholic life. I’ve started it with my handy cue card a few times, but never made it all the way through. How’s that for a sin of omission? Particularly since our Lady has been begging the faithful to concentrate particularly on the prayer of the Rosary. Formatted prayers are hard for an ex-Protestant to come around to, but I don’t think I realized until today just how important they are. And to tell you the truth, I don’t understand why the Rosary is so important, but I know that it is, and I know that to continue to neglect it would be shameful and even more painful to Christ and His Mother.
The other seriously wicked part of my previous “repentant” mindset was the crippling pride and utter lack of charity it involved. I used to think of sin as a “me against them” sort of thing. For example: “at least 50% of America thinks that abortion is okay. That puts me in the 50% that doesn’t, so I have a 50% lead in the heaven race. Then of those 50% who think abortion is wrong, probably only 30% are Christians, and probably only 10% of those are non-contracepting Christians who “get it”, so I’m in the top 10%. Surely God’s letting 10% of America into heaven.”
This is really exaggerated; I never boiled it down to mathematical formulas but there was that sort of underlying mentality. I was really stricken by our Lady begging Sister Agnes to pray in reparation for the sins of men. These are my brothers and sisters that I’m pridefully considering myself better than! How horrible of me to feel superior to them, how horrible of me to triumph in their disbelief! It makes me sick to realize that I never once had the realization that these are souls that I’m so proud of being “better than.” They are as precious to our Father as my children are to me. How dare I consider myself superior? The only thing I should be doing is praying constantly for their conversion and offering sacrifices in my own life to appease all that justified anger of the Lord. After all, how much of that anger have I earned with my despicable pride and lack of charity? How many prayers of the faithful, many of them my own friends and relatives, has the Lord received and answered by showing me mercy, grace, love and guidance? How dare I hope for anything other than the same for every single other human being who has ever lived?
It’s hard to remember that God’s love is boundless. Sometimes I slip into thinking that it’s portioned out, and if this faithful person gets X amount, that leaves only half as much for me. But it’s not! There is no limit to grace, no limit to God’s love, and no limit to heaven other than the limits we impose by our own choices. Any man or woman who takes the wide path out of favor of our Lord goes there willingly. I shudder to think of how many times I’ve skipped unawares down that path, blithely confident that my own meager knowledge of right and wrong would take me to God. And I’m so grateful for the graces present in that Catholic faith, graces like Akita and Fatima and the lives of the saints, graces that God gives us to remind the faithful to stay faithful and that serve as catalysts for conversion among those precious souls who don’t know the abyss they are wandering into.