When I became serious about my faith, I thought it came down to “not sinning”. I would become holy because I wasn’t sinning.
So it became this important objective to be perfect. Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect, right? Well, God is perfect because he is generous in his love. I was striving for a man-made perfection that resulted in a lot of pride. Sure I didn’t have these major grave sins that I was dealing with, but I didn’t realize how sinful I still was.
Then I got married, and I became painfully aware of my sinfulness. The longer I was married and the more kids I had, I saw more and more how selfish, angry, and impatient I was. This picture I had painted of myself before marriage was totally shattered. At first, it hurt and I closed myself off to love because how could my husband love such a terrible person? How could God ever love me in all my sinfulness? I had made the mistake of thinking God would love me because of my perfectionism and good actions, not that he would love me in his merciful embrace. I had minimized the message of the cross. And I projected that on my husband.
But then I realized that this is the point of marriage. I need God precisely because I am a sinner. I need marriage precisely because it is the school of love that helps me to practice giving and receiving love.
I’m pretty sure I was actually writing to myself when I wrote this to an engaged couple in marriage prep last week:
Knowing your educational background and your firm understanding of the theology of the Sacrament, the one piece of advice we can give you is that marriage looks very different in daily married life than it does during engagement while praying in the adoration chapel! We are sure you have married friends and are aware of this, but living with another sinful human makes you recognize your sinfulness all the more! It is a painful part of being made holy. Then the kids come, and life looks nothing like the contemplative, holy family life you imagined and your weakness seems even more apparent, but God is still present. This is where the grace of the Sacraments benefits married couples and helps us to perfect our love: we love our spouse in their sinfulness so we can allow God to love us in our sinfulness and vice versa. Marriage is a school of love and graduation is in heaven! It is a work in progress until the end!
Mercy is God loving me in the midst of my sinfulness. It is a love I don’t have to prove or earn. Like the woman caught in adultery, he does not condemn her, but encourages her to go and sin no more. In fact, St. John Paul II said that mercy is love’s second name. Mercy is love when it encounters suffering, weakness, or evil. Mercy is love in that it brings an even greater good out of that suffering, weakness, or evil.
Marriage helps me to see the ways I fail to love, and God gives me the mercy to be able to try again, and to bring greater love out of my weakness and sinfulness. I need to allow Jesus and my husband to love me in my sinfulness and transform me through their mercy.
So I see now how holiness is not perfectionism, it is the humility to be aware of our dependence on God’s mercy. It is more time in the confessional, not less. Saints don’t go to confession less because they don’t need it, they go more because they realize the power of God’s mercy.
“Every confession revives our capacity to love. . . the more we approach Jesus in the Sacrament of confession, the more we share in the re-creative power of the Cross.” – Magnificat companion to year of mercy.
I feel compelled now to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation more often, to receive God’s mercy, be filled with his love, and share it with my family. In this way, my vocation is my path to holiness. I hope you will join me!