A good friend of mine from high school died recently. It was a tragic death. This was not at all surprising to me because I worried that he would meet an early and untimely death. He died at the age of 37. The sadness and grief I feel are even greater because I knew deep down it would happen. We were very close during a time when youth mingled with deep pain. Both of us struggled with backgrounds marred by broken and dysfunctional forms of love. It was our brokenness that brought us even closer as friends. We had an understanding that our other friends did not. Our wounds bound us together, even if our choices were very different.
As we grew into adulthood, our lives took different paths. We lost touch when I returned to my Catholic roots about ten years ago after a period of wandering and he began to remind me of the tragic character Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. In fact, it even appears that my friend suffered a violent end in Morocco. Strange since Sebastian spent time in Morocco before finishing his days in Tunisia. He so desperately wanted to be truly loved, but looked in all of the wrong places. The anger, resentment, abandonment, and weakness of the flesh made this journey even more difficult. It makes it even harder for many of us to see God through our own choices, our family backgrounds, and the real and perceived abandonment by others. I have no doubt that the “Hound of Heaven” was on his heels at every turn. Now, in death, I pray that he turned to the God of mercy and found the True Love he sought his whole life.
These last couple of weeks since I learned of his passing, I have spent a lot of time remembering. It has made me realize even more why we need mercy. Many of us are dealt difficult hands in this life. Our crosses vary. Some of us may be born into poverty, become chronically ill, battle mental illness, come up in dysfunctional homes, and the list goes on and on. We can become battle worn and wounded to the point of which we are barely making it. There are so many people around us, in our homes, or even ourselves who are deeply lonely.
We are made for love and by Love. This reality at the very depths of our being is the driving force of our actions. We may not consciously realize it at the time. In fact, our sinful choices can blind us to this truth. Even our sin points to a longing within us to be loved. We choose pleasure and the easy road precisely because we want to grasp at something tangible, something that looks like love. We want to feel good because we either mistake it for love, or, we want to deaden the ache within us.
Many of us do not have a healthy understanding of love. This may be because we have never seen real love in action. This is especially true in families torn apart by dysfunction, pride, and generational behavior that continues on down through the ages. A painful childhood has life-long consequences. It can make an encounter with the Living God difficult. Many of us struggle with dictatorial understandings of God. It takes being beaten, broken, and left bare in His presence to truly encounter grace, mercy, and love. For some of us, there is no other way. God must break us open so that he can heal the deepest of wounds within us.
This brokenness of so many in our midst is something we need to keep in mind for evangelization. In our boldness, righteousness, and desire to draw others in, we can forget that far too many people are deeply wounded and afflicted. They need tender and merciful care. Beating someone over the head with their sins only furthers this pain. The wounded who have darkened our doors already know they’ve made wrong and sinful choices. It may take them a while to heal enough to seek forgiveness from God. They must learn to trust. If a person has never seen love mirroring the Holy Trinity, then they find it difficult to trust others. Mercy does not mean abandoning objective truth and the moral law, but browbeating others points more to our own pride than it does to loving a person where they are in their brokenness. Do we truly want those wounds to heal or do we want to inflict even more in our desire to be right?
I know something of this because I am one of those wounded. I am still learning to trust God and His unconditional love. I know something of dysfunctional understandings of love, abandonment, feeling unworthy, and fearing a dictatorial God seeking vengeance upon me for my actions. I am not the only one. Far too many people are unable to drag themselves, even crawling, to our churches because they truly believe they are worthless, hopeless, unlovable, unforgiveable, and left to a wrathful God. Not because these things are true, but because they have spent their lives being told these things and they have used, and been used, by other people to the point that love is a meaningless to them. Love is relegated to the status of fable or fairy tale.
When I read Catholic threads online, I see that this understanding of our brokenness is missing in far too many circles. We are all broken in one way or another since we are all in a battle with sin and Satan. We make assumptions or we discard others because our experiences differ greatly from them. We do not seek to understand how someone can fall so low. We don’t try to extend a hand to the drowning. The balance of justice and mercy is found in Our Savior. Both. It is not one or the other. Far too many people pick one of these and discard the other. Yes, objective moral truth exists and we must work to encourage people to live the tenets of the Faith, but on the flip side, we must invite others to experience the Living God. It is an encounter with Christ that leads to conversion and healing. The One who takes away our sins and heals our gaping wounds. For many, that healing must come first. For all, that encounter with Christ must come first. We cannot expect people to submit to God in blind obedience. We must help them to come to know Jesus Christ, the real, tangible, God-man who loves all people. How many people in our families, churches, communities, cities, etc. are seeking love in all of the wrong places? What are we doing about it before tragedy strikes?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught,” He said,
“And human love needs human meriting,
How hast thou merited–
Of all man’s clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for the at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
Francis Thompson, excerpt from “The Hound of Heaven”