Monday, November 01, 2010

Here's Why I Love the Feast of All Saints

This morning when I woke up, it struck me clearly why I love the feast of All Saints so much. In days gone by, it seems I could never look at a human being, myself or anyone else, without getting depressed. I am by nature the type of person who sees flaws, failings and weaknesses. I see the problems in a picture. Add to this tendency having been taught the theological notions of the total depravity of man and justification as a legal fiction, and you have a recipe for a mess. I don't know how many times I heard the idea that being justified means that God looks at us with some holy sense of amnesia, "just as if" I'd never sinned. The idea was that, for Jesus' sake, He plays along with the charade and calls us holy, imputing Jesus' righteousness to us legally. Grace meant we were "covered," not changed. We stay rotten, abominable sinners, unable to do anything good. Then we die and get to heaven and finally we are really holy because we've left this world and sin behind.

It could be worse. The basic things are there: Salvation comes through Jesus, heaven is the goal, we sin. But there's this huge, gaping span called the course of human existence that gets left on the dung heap, to use the metaphor Luther was fond of. It occurred to me at one point in my life that if we were doomed to live this sort of dungy type of existence, and bliss and Jesus awaited us in heaven, why not just check out ASAP to get there? Why bother living? Why was suicide not a great option? There was a logical inconsistency here, and my life depended on it.

So, I will say that it was when I became a Catholic that things changed, although in this instance I use the phrase "becoming Catholic" in its ongoing sense of constant conversion. There wasn't one date where I suddenly believed a different doctrine and everything changed. Transformation doesn't work that way.

I learned the theology. I learned that grace as a legal fiction is inadequate, and unbiblical. I learned that grace is about sonship and entering God's covenantal family and being transformed from glory to glory. This not only was Scripturally consistent, it resonated with the deepest needs my soul had always felt: If God cannot transform me, I thought, who needs Him?

All that learning helped me understand, and my constitution requires understanding things. But where my heart is really torn open is in interaction with other people. In some ways, I only became a Catholic a couple of years ago. (In other ways, I suppose I'll only become a Catholic this afternoon or tomorrow or next month!)

How's that, you say? Well, I realized about two years ago that I had always kept a certain reservation in my heart. I think perhaps it comes from having always seen everyone primarily as a package of flaws. Oh, of course as I matured I was well aware of my own flaws and did learn to have mercy on myself, and therefore I would not go around having a cow over everyone's flaws. However, the yearning in me to behold, well, God in all His glory, just always turned me off from getting too familiar with regular ol' people. The contrast was too jarring, too sad. I couldn't stand the constant disappointment.

Then the Lord surprised me and brought me amongst a group of people whom I could trust enough, and be focused elsewhere enough (not on myself -- very important), to completely forget about my reservation. What was this reservation? I think it can be summarized thus: If all this God stuff is real, then He transforms regular Catholics. That is the proof. And I'm afraid I'll never see it. This was no conscious realization. But it seems many people I've talked with, converts at least, have a certain litmus test in their heart that either keeps them cautious or flings wide open the floodgates of their hearts. This was mine. God, if what you say is true, show me in plain ol' garden variety Catholics.

Part of how this litmus test thingy works is, of course, we fear. We hold on to the test, in the package, so to speak, unopened. We fear that we really have been deceived all along, that it is too good to be true. We know it can't be, but dang, that litmus test -- if we actually do it -- is going to show it one way or another. It's going to change things. So for many of us, it takes several years and circumstances out of our own control before heaven is able to slip in and settle (or perhaps stir up!) those fears, and let us actually run the test.

And then one day, when I wasn't concerned about being guarded, without making a big deal out of it, God seemed to pick up my litmus test, rip it open, and dip it into... my parish choir. I remember telling a group of friends at School of Community, in tears, shortly after I joined my parish choir that I knew then that it was all true. All true. All the good things I'd learned in my head over the last 15 years were all true. It was a deep, intuitive ... floodgate opening in my heart. And then I realized there was a weight of glory that had a claim on my life, and that was real, too. This was to change quite a bit.

Why? Because God allowed me to see Him in the faces of plain people who had flaws, failings and weaknesses. He was there. Just like I could perceive Him the in the Eucharist that night of my conversion on Christmas Eve (but that's another story entirely. One story at a time!)

I love the Feast of All Saints, because it gives me a completely new way of looking into the face of every person.

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