Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 30, 2002
God's grace can stick in our bitter craw
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
God is love and God cannot not love and cannot be discriminating in love.
God's love isn't a reward for being good, doing our duty, resisting temptation, bearing the heat of the day in fidelity, saying our prayers, remaining pure, or offering worship, good and important though these are. God loves us because God is love and God cannot not love and cannot be discriminating in love. God's love, as Scripture says, shines on the good and bad alike.
That's nice to know when we need forgiveness and unmerited love, but it's hard to accept when that forgiveness and love is given to those whom we deem less worthy of it, to those who didn't seem to do their duty. It's not easy to accept that God's love does not discriminate, especially when God's blessings go out lavishly to those who don't seem to deserve them.
When I as first ordained, I lived for a time in one of our Oblate rectories with a semi-retired priest, a wonderfully gracious man, who had been a faithful priest for 50 years. One evening, I asked him: "If you had your priesthood to do over again, would you do anything differently?"
The answer he gave me was not the one I'd anticipated. "Yes," he said, "I would do some things differently. I'd be easier on people than I was this time. I'd risk the mercy and forgiveness of God more." Then he grew silent and added: "Let me say this too: As I get older I'm finding it harder and harder to accept the ways of God. I've been a priest for 50 years and I've been faithful. I can honestly say, in so far as I know, that in my whole life I've never committed a mortal sin. I've always tried my best and done my duty. It wasn't easy, but I did it with essential fidelity.
"And you know something? Now that I'm old, I'm struggling with all kinds of bitterness and doubt. What upsets me is that I look around me and I see all kinds of people, young people and others, who've never been faithful, who've lived selfish lives, and they're full of faith and are speaking in tongues! I've been faithful and I'm full of anger and doubt.
"Tell me, is that fair?"
In the end, we need to forgive God and that might be the hardest forgiveness of all. It's hard to accept that God loves everyone equally - even our enemies, even those who hate us, even those who don't work as hard as we do, even those who reject duty for selfishness, and even those who give in to all the temptations we resist.
Like the workers in the Parable of the Vineyard who toiled the whole day and then saw those who had worked just one hour get the same wage as theirs, we often let God's generosity to others warp both our joy and our eyesight.
But that struggle points us in the right direction. Grace is amazing, by disorienting us, it properly orients us.
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