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Infinite Sin, Infinite Love, Infinite Mercy

I began to understand the need  for Christ's crucifixion when I learned about the infinite nature of sin. I think Archbishop Fulton Sheen summed it up rather well in the following quote:

“Sin is measured by the one sinned against. Man sinned against God. God is Infinite. Therefore, man’s sin is infinite."

Image Credit: Catholicism Pure and Simple
I believe that it is possible for anyone to be saved, regardless of faith because I believe in God's infinite mercy. Even so, the nature of sin is far more infinite than we can ever imagine. Let's take something like gossip. Gossip doesn't sound like the worst of sins. I once heard a story about a priest who was listening to a woman's confession and asked her, as penance, to take a stack of paper and release it from the top of a building. He told her to come back to him once she had finished this task. She did as she was told and released the stack of paper from the top of the building. The papers flew off in every direction imaginable. Some landed by the base of the building, others were carried off by the wind and disappeared from sight. The woman went back to the priest and he asked her to retrieve all of the pieces of paper that she had thrown down. When she told him that it would be impossible, he told her that it would be more possible for her to retrieve all those papers than it would be to retrieve every harsh word she had uttered against another person's character. 

Reputations can be lost with a few careless words. Secrets cannot be taken back once they have been uncovered. Gossip, likewise, has very many unforeseen consequences. We may think a few bits of gossip is okay among friends, but these few bits of gossip are hard to retrieve after they spread and end up destroying someone's life. 

Based on my own experiences with sin (as perpetrator and victim), I can say with great confidence that there are many butterfly effects when it comes to sin. We don't see every consequence of every action we make, but there are plenty of consequences and these consequences have the potential to damage people, relationships, etc. We may, in our own foolishness, believe that our sins are finite. We may believe that our water-cooler gossip never leaves the office, but it has a way of doing just that. I think all sin has the potential  for unforeseeable consequences. It is very difficult to imagine a sin as finite when you consider the limitless nature of consequences associated with sin and the hurt that these consequences can cause others. 

Now imagine sinning against the infinite....sinning against God. We have, by our nature, been guilty of sinning against God every time we listen to our natural wants and forget about our spiritual needs. It is so easy for us to sin...our physical bodies are pretty much wired for it. We may not think of some sins as a big deal, but every sin is a refusal to God's call for sanctity....and every refusal brings distance between us and a God who loves us far more than we could ever imagine. Imagine yourself refusing the love of your mother, father, your child, your spouse...refusing the person that means the most to you? Well, multiply that by infinity and you get a good picture of what occurs when we refuse God's call to sanctity. 

Fortunately for us, Christ sacrificing himself, as God and man, for the sake of sinners like us. There are also plenty of chances for salvation during our time on earth. Regardless of how much time we spend on earth, God always calls us back to Him and He will provide you with the grace necessary to come back to Him. Sin can damage the love we have for God, but God recognizes and delights in even the most broken and fragile love we have towards Him. As a result, He gives us the graces necessary to get up after we fall.

This is especially evident when Christ assumed the infinite penalty for our sins by sacrificing himself as God and man on the cross. I am sure each and every one of us was on his mind when he took each whipping and each insult. You were on his mind and in his heart when he was nailed to the cross. God, in his infinite love for us, gave us His only Son. Christ gave himself up for us out of love. God, in his infinite mercy, accepted Christ's sacrifice so that the infinite penalty of our sins could be satisfied....so justice could be satisfied. 

I don't think I will ever fully understand just how much love and mercy God is willing to share with us. All I can say is that I am not worthy of the mercy and grace that rains down upon me every time I receive Communion. Even so, I know that God calls me out of love for me and that I am called to share this message of infinite love and mercy. As for everything else, well...for now I just have to trust in Him and accept the fact that He loves me in spite of my imperfections. 

Pax Vobiscum

Everybody

Will everybody be saved?

I don't believe everyone will be saved because I believe in free will. The gift of free will comes with quite a few responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is the ability to make the choices in this life necessary to either accept or reject God's call to holiness...and accept the consequences that come with the acceptance or rejection. With that said, I believe it is possible for people to reject God's call to holiness. However, I do believe in universal reconciliation in the sense that it is POSSIBLE for anyone to accept the call to holiness and be saved. I believe that salvation is a possibility for everyone...regardless of faith or lack of faith. 

God knows your heart. He knows your struggles as well as your triumphs. He knows your doubts as well as your convictions. He knows your fears and weaknesses. He knows your strengths. He knows your failures as well as your successes. He knows you are not perfect. He knows your intentions. He knows your regrets.

He loves you anyway.

He wants you anyway.

When you fail to love, forgive, be selfless, etc. you are essentially turning your back on God's invitation towards sainthood. You are turning your back on God. Do this enough times and the decision to turn your back on God becomes a permanent one. There are not take-backs if you end up in Hell. Still, I believe there are many chances to return to God whenever someone turns away from God. In my opinion, there's a reason behind all those deathbed confessions and conversions we tend to hear about. I don't think it is fear of Hell as much as it a final realization of the love we have for God and...more importantly, the love He has for us.

I'm of the boat of people that believe that one soul in Hell is already too many for God. We certainly have a lot going against us when it comes to temptation and sin. God gets it, He loves us, and He is merciful. With all of this said, He forgives. You may not be the least sinful person out there, but He loves you and wants to forgive you. He wants you to turn from sin and He wants you to love. Fortunately for us, the way out of sin is love.

 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.- 1Peter 4:8

A few weeks ago, I came across a comic that pretty much sums up how I envision God, heaven, and God's paternal love. This comic may be treated as a universalist piece (as you can see in some of the comments on the thread associated with the image on CatholicGag)...but I think it is more of a universal reconciliation piece. Everyone can be saved...it is simply a question of whether a particular person can accept God's call to holiness. Essentially, using this comic as a reference, everybody who wants to come to God's dinner will be there. God will not force anyone to come to dinner if they do not want to be there.
Image Credit: CatholicGag
This comic brought such a nice sentiment to my heart when I saw it because it depicted God as the loving Father I believe Him to be. It also kind of reminded me of Pope Francis. Pope Francis seems to be getting some negative attention from certain circles for his emphasis on love and mercy...and lack of emphasis on (insert particular topic here). However, when you really think about it...all virtues start with love. All good causes begin with love. If the world loved as God intended the world to love, we would not have to worry about abortion, religious persecution, income inequality, immigration, etc. That is not to say that these issues aren't important. They certainly are. 

However, the root to all of the issues and disorders of this world is a lack of love. If we truly loved, we would provide for desperately poor women who feel that they cannot provide for the child in their womb. If we truly loved, we would love one another regardless of  religious differences. If we truly loved, we would not permit laws and practices that take advantage of the poor. If we truly loved, nations would protect and care for people regardless of where they were born. Pope Francis seems to get to the root of the problem in his addresses and calls for us to protect and care for the poor and most marginalized people. His actions are those of one who seeks to destroy sin with love...simple acts of love and great ones. His actions are those of one who has heard the call to holiness. His actions are those of one who is called to bring people to God through love.

The love Pope Francis proclaims is the same love I saw in this comic. I did some searching and found Jim Benton to be the artist behind the comic. However, I still don't know whether universal reconciliation was the message intended. Even so, that was the message I got out of this comic and this message is one of love. A love that calls all prodigal children back to their father. A love that is open to anyone, regardless of faith. A love with the potential to eradicate the evils of this world if more people possessed it and acted upon it. 

Pax Vobiscm

My 2013 Top Reads

Gone are the days where trashy romance can satisfy this avid reader/audiobook listener. I kicked the habit sometime in college and proceeded to move onto delectable literary treasures that tend to leave me wanting more as soon as I finish reading them. This past year I was introduced to a few books that were  incredibly good reads. I tend to review books of a religious nature here, but don't want to repeat my ravings of these books in yet another post. If you want to read those reviews...just click on the "Geeky Review" label below.

Today's post will feature books from a more secular realm, but books that are certainly worth a read from a Catholic perspective if you choose to read between the lines a bit.

1. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
I loved Rothfuss's books so much, I painted Bast.
If you read the books, you'll understand.*girly squeal*
Name of the Wind and the Wiseman's Fear have to be the top two books I read in 2013 because they are the two books that I have reread the most. These books are fantastic for those of us who enjoy folklore, stories within stories, and some pretty unforgettable characters. This is a fantasy series that follows a young protagonist who can pretty much do anything he sets his mind to. He is limited by his pride and the same foolishness that many young men tend to have, but his wit and ability to get himself out of trouble is pretty amusing. The other characters are not too bad either. One of the many, many, many things I appreciated the most about this series was that it was quite fair with regards to religion. I have no idea if this will continue in the next book of the trilogy, but I really appreciated how Rothfuss presented both the good people and the evil people that tend to follow a religion. You have good monks, you have bad monks...and nowhere near as much one-sided all-religion-is-evil mentality as I tend to come across when reading fantasy. I happen to be Catholic and I happen to be BFFs with quite a few people that are atheist, agnostic, lapsed, etc. As much as I am sure they hate being branded as heathens bound for hellfire by one extreme, I really hate being branded as a brainwashed idiot by the other extreme. It is quite refreshing to come across a well-rounded approach to religion (and these books have quite a few of these). Reader discretion is advised for this book as it contains some sex and strong language.

2. World War Z by Max Brooks
I will admit, I was pretty late getting on this bandwagon, but I made up for it as soon as I finished reading World War Z. I picked up the survival handbook and graphic novel of zombie attacks throughout history as soon as I had the chance. Who would have thought that the son of Mel Brooks could be such a fantastic author that keeps you at the edge of your seat as you read through the different narratives of people who have survived the zombie war. My favorite character? Do I even have to say it? Okay, it was Sister Montoya. I would have loved to hear her narrative of how she held off a zombie attack for days, protecting her students with nothing but an iron candlestick (and maybe a bit of divine intervention, though this was never mentioned in the book). There is quite a bit of religious references in this book, one of which involves the Pope hanging out at Ireland after the Zombie war (I wonder what St. Catherine of Sienna would have to say about this)...but overall a pretty fair collection of views. Besides Sister Montoya, there is a pretty good narrative involving the readmission of Muslims into Israel and the internal struggles that this leads to. Overall, it was a pretty exciting read...and made me work harder on my zombie apocalypse survival plans. Reader discretion is advised for strong language in some points as well as a few references to drug use, sex, etc.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This book was an absolute treat. I loved the authors ability to seamlessly integrate magic into 19th century England where gentlemen were still chivalrous and where everyone had a beautiful command of the English language. I simply loved the characters as well (Childermass, Stephen and the ever-mentioned but never seen Raven King are some of my favorites) . As  much as I don't want to make this comparison, the characters reminded me of my favorite Jane Austen characters sprinkled with the best that Shakespeare had to offer in terms of fantasy. The author's ability to describe everything in colorful detail painted quite a few memorable scenes. One of my favorites was when the stone carvings  in York Cathedral came to life under the influence of magic. The images of statues clamoring over each other in order to be heard by a few bewildered "magicians" was pretty fantastic. Yes, some parts of the book were a bit dry...but overall, I loved it so much that I ended up picking up the Ladies of Grace Adieu (a very enjoyable collection of stories that take place within the same world and even in Gaiman's village of Wall). Religion is present in this book, but as a form of normalcy rather than a contrived omnipresence or contrived absence as I have seen before. I have no idea what Susanna Clarke's religion happens to be or whether she has a religion at all...and I like that better for non-religious fiction than the extreme alternative of authors who attempt to convert readers by antagonizing another religion, etc. every other sentence. Again, everything was balanced and I appreciated it.

4. Phantastes by George MacDonald
I have only just begun to delve into the works and sermons of George MacDonald, a man who inspired quite a few Christian thinkers (among them is Tolkien and C.S.Lewis). This book was simply a well-written treat for any brain longing for good fiction. This book will bring out the nostalgic fantasy-lover in anyone. It brings nature to life with the same kind of magic that every child once used to create fairies out of fireflies and nymphs out of green trees. My perception of the natural world is a lot more grounded in science now than it was when I was a child, but I still dream of the same kind dreams about enchanted woods, elves, and all the other wonderful things that (unfortunately) tend to only exist in good fairy tales. There are plenty of free pdf versions (like this one) and even audiobook versions (like this one on librivox) for those of you on a tight budget. Don't worry about paying for it, this book is open domain material....but be sure to get it from reputable sources if you intend to listen or read.

5. Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
This book really does deserve its own post, so it will not be reviewed here. I will add a link to the appropriate review post when I get to writing it. In the meantime, just know that it is DEFINITELY WORTH READING.

In case you were wondering, pretty much all of these books were published before 2013. A number of factors can account to my late discovery of these books. Mainly, I have a Kindle now (and no longer have to make the decision between carrying back-killing books and not reading at all). I also have started listening to books on tape as I slice brains. It takes anywhere between 3-5 hours to slice a brain...which gives me more than enough time to get through quite a few chapters on a given "slicing day."

Pax Vobiscum

What we can learn from Galadriel

Firstly, I wish a very happy birthday to J.R.R. Tolkien, one of my favorite Catholics of all time.

Speaking of Catholicism and Tolkien, I had one of those "AHA!" moments after chancing upon this post titled "Tolkien and the Long Defeat." I read Lord of the Rings several times over the years, but I never really considered the weight behind the following words by Galadriel in Fellowship of the Ring:
“For the Lord of the Galadhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves in Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.”
The author of this post quoting this passage of Lord of the Rings was pretty spot on with some of the observations made regarding the portion of the passage that I have in bold....but I had a few other thoughts regarding the long defeat means with regards to Galadriel and how it could relate to a schmuck like me (and fine gentlefolk such as you). My apologies to OCD Tolkien fans for paraphrasing the very rich history of Galadriel, the creation of Middle Earth, Iluvatar, the Valar, etc. I am no Tolkien expert and hope I don't come across as pretending to be one...but I do LOVE Tolkien's works as well as his approach to Catholicism. I also feel that this passage may be a great one to apply to a few very important lessons we are to learn when it comes to accepting death and moving on to eternal life.
Galadriel from the Hildebrandt brothers calendar (1978)
because I just can't stand Jackson's LOTR version anymore

Galadriel was a pretty central figure in the events of Middle Earth preceding the Lord of the Rings. She's one of the most powerful and influential female characters in fantasy literature and she is definitely not someone who you would imagine ever being defeated. Yet, defeat is there and it is the same defeat we experience during our time here on earth. Somehow the profound nature of Galadriel's words eluded me when I last read the Fellowship and when I listened to the books on tape version. The theological significance also eluded me. Yet, as I read the aforementioned post, it hit me. Perhaps it was because this post came after reading Bradley Birzer's J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth and listening to Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.

It seems a bit strange to hear Galadriel talking about fighting a long defeat. She is one of the most powerful women in all of Middle Earth's history, has a realm of her own, owns a ring of power, and has rubbed elbows with elf, man, and wizard alike for millennia. Her kingdom is, for the most part, perfection. Her people have excelled in all manner of things...art, music, war, you name it. She does not age. She has a pretty awesome husband and she comes from a family that is full of warriors and rulers of great reknown. She has great power of her own. Her very own grand-daughter, Arwen, is compared to one of the greatest ancestors of the elven folk, Luthien Tinuviel. Her people are prosperous. She lives in a relatively comfortable setting. Sure the threat of war is never completely missing in a world where evil is real and always seeking complete dominion, but Galadriel pretty much has it made.

In spite of all of this, there is one very important fact that seems to cloud Galadriel's otherwise awesome life.... She does not belong in Middle Earth.

Galadriel is, in a sense, living in exile and is only able to make it back to the undying lands after she passes a test. What is the test? Accepting her defeat and accepting that she is not meant to be the power she would have been had she accepted the Ring. The One Ring could have given her the power necessary to continue her existence in Middle Earth even though she did not belong there and with it, she could have wielded the power to subjugate those that were meant to rule Middle Earth...the race of Men. Yet, this would not be the existence she was meant for. She is not a ruler of Middle Earth. She is not even a citizen of Middle Earth. She is a high elf that was made for and belongs in the Undying Lands...the lands where the Valar dwell. The Valar are the subcreators of the universe who were created by Iluvatar (the God of Tolkien's universe). Unlike Middle Earth, which is to be governed by men and where elves have enjoyed a long stay, elves are not the "wisest and fairest of all beings" in the Undying Lands. That position is given to the Valar.

Galadriel's choice is one that requires a lot of humility. It requires her to go from being queen in a land where she does not belong to being simply a member of the world she was made for. To all those who have read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, the following may make sense right away. To everyone else, my apologies, but you do not belong in this world. You belong in heaven and that, perhaps, is why you sometimes feel a restlessness that will not disappear no matter what you achieve, what you earn, and what goals you've accomplished. I've gotten degrees, I've gotten married, I've paid off my student debts, and I've seen so much of the world already...and still I yearn for something else. Something you cannot always pinpoint. Something that seems to be out of reach and beyond this world.

In the Great Divorce (a C.S.Lewis favorite), one of the souls who makes it to the foothills of heaven, decides to go back to purgatory/hell because they cannot become a part of a world where their talent will not stand apart from the talent of the rest. Everyone in heaven has talent, much to the bother of this soul who wants to continue standing out for their talent. What this soul does not understand is that everyone in heaven becomes a part of something that is so much greater than themselves. In turn, they become greater than they could ever imagine to be on their own. I think this is something Galadriel may understand, which makes her refusal of the Ring a very significant victory in the long defeat.

I give a lot of credit to Galadriel when she finally gave up her power and all her accomplishments in Middle Earth by rejecting the One Ring. She could have grasped at the Ring for a chance to wield the power necessary to continue her rule in Middle Earth. Another thing to note here is the absolute humility Galadriel shows in not only foregoing this chance at great power...but in accepting the forgiveness of the Valar. Can you imagine how much humility she must have had to be willing to set foot on the lands she had once forsaken? She must have remembered the reason for her exile as she was offered the Ring.* She must have remembered her mistakes and those that she had wronged. Can you imagine the humility she must have possessed at that point to seek forgiveness and accept the faults of her past...having spent so many years being venerated as a queen to such a great race? Like Galadriel, we too will one day need the humility to accept salvation on God's terms, regardless of who we are and what we become during our time on earth.

Before we can ever make it to heaven, we will have to admit that all we did have was given to us by the grace of God...so our talents and our skills will need to be left behind along with any pride we had in our accomplishments. We will have to accept heaven as God created it and accept those that God has forgiven. This path to salvation will require a love that is far more unconditional than we are accustomed to expressing. This love is only attained through humility, the kind of humility that forces us to confront our imperfections and rely on the mercy and forgiveness of someone who is much greater than we are. Until then, we continue our attempt to fight this long defeat with the hopes that we will win the victories that are important...the victories that will lead to our salvation.

Pax Vobiscum




*To make a long story short, Galadriel took part in the rebellion of the elves against the Valar (at least in the Silmarillion version of her story) and had remained in Middle Earth as an exile.