I'm sick of hearing that I'm a sinner and that Jesus died for my sins.
Now before you call me a heretic, take a deep breath (or two) and read on.
This attitude--that we are unworthy sinners--focuses my attention on the wrong thing: my sin rather than God's grace. At best I end up worrying about avoiding sin and those things that lead me to sin. Worse, I end up judging the sinfulness of others. What I really need to be worried about is how I can be a loving and compassionate person.
As I was meditating on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, I discovered that Gabriel's words to to the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God," (Luke 1:30) apply to all of us. We have all found favor with God. Jesus didn't come to save us from sin; he came to remind us that we are the beloved children of God.
When I can recognizing this divine favor, focusing on my sinfulness becomes impossible. Instead, it helps me understand these five wonderful, joyful truths:
- The defining characteristic of human life is grace, not sin. Like Mary, I have found favor with God, not because of anything I've done or will do; I have found favor because of the fact that God is love. We are made in the image and likeness of God; we are made in the image and likeness of love. We are love. This is the premise from which all joy flows; this is the basis of our hope and the foundation of our faith. This is what Jesus was trying to remind us.
- Joy flows from God's grace and nothing else. The love that is the core of my very being (that is, my soul) is not something that I can possess--it is not possible to possess it. Rather, it flows out of me and into the world, bringing joy to others. Just as Mary brought the joy of finding favor with God to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), I am called to share that same kind of joy with others because I too have found favor with God.
- Peace comes from embracing the dignity of all people. That God decided to become fully human without losing an ounce of divinity (Luke 2:1-20) reminds me that all human life has dignity. If I truly believe that, then I cannot possibly suppress, dismiss, and deny anyone who challenges or disturbs me. I have to accept people as they are because they, too, have found favor with God, just like me. This acceptance allows me seek understanding and dialogue with others; it allows me to love my enemy as myself; it allows me to be a peacemaker.
- Life is never without suffering. Divine favor is not a promise that our life will be without difficulty. The prophet Simeon warned Mary of this when he told her "and you yourself a sword will pierce." (Luke 2:33-35) Borrowing from the first noble truth of Buddhism, life is suffering, a truth acknowledged in Scripture. Divine favor allows me to be patient in the face of suffering. I do not need to engage in useless theodicies; rather, divine favor allows me to accept suffering with love and compassion.
- I can find God in all things. Yes, I will inevitably forget that I have found favor with God. That's just part of the human condition (and which explains why life is suffering). But just as Mary found the boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), I can easily remember to find divine favor if I remember where to look. Perhaps that is the goal of healthy spirituality: to discover our own personal Temple, the pace where we find ourselves in God's presence. This is the key to finding God in all things.
When I focus on my sinfulness, all I see is my sin and the sin of others. Instead of finding God in all things, I will only see temptations everywhere. I will seldom see grace. But when I recognize divine favor, I will begin to see myself, others, and the world as good and beautiful.
Truly, that is a heavenly sight.