Saturday, September 24, 2016

We are our scars.

I've had an interesting week. I've been praying for discernment for direction in my vocation for a number of months now, and this week has brought a number of changes and new assignments that will really give me an opportunity to see if what I think I want is really what I want or what would be good for me. This weekend's challenge was that I was coordinating a spirituality session for Servant School (our diocesan program for deacon and lay ministry formation), and the priest who was teaching had no one to cover a scheduled Mass at a station church. So in addition to setting up recording equipment at the location for the lesson (which turned out to be fruitless), I also had to go out to Oreana, a tiny community in Owyhee County, to preside at a communion service at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church.

The people appreciated that I came on short notice, and I made note of the fact that I scrambled to get a homily together, with some obvious issues of comedic (or literary) quality. But it was a good experience, and I saw some vistas of Southern Idaho that I'd never seen before. It's amazing how you can  live in a state and be completely oblivious to the majestic vistas it holds. The Owyhees are a perfect example.

Anyhoo, after I watched my grandson Nathyn's team trounce their opponents (with Nathyn carrying the ball for 5 yards, and playing on both offensive and defensive lines), and then watching BSU slog through a messy win over OSU (second PAC-12 win this season), I went to wash dishes. AS I usualy do, I put on Pandora to listen as I worked. One of the artists in my mix is a Christian singer who, for some reason I don't know, just tugs on my heart. Sometimes her songs strike me as sappy, but some of her early songs really capture the sense of lostness, brokenness, and darkness that we encounter. I recall reading an interview with Bono about Christian pop music, and one of the things he noted was the fact that so many of these popular artists don't grapple with the challenges of being a Christian, essentially the essence of the Christian mission itself—to pick up our cross and follow Him.

I apparently listen to a lot of Christian music that doesn't fall into that category, but I can see Bono's point. And the song from this one artist I really like falls precisely into the category he mentions.

The line in the song is, "And you wear your scars like they're who you are." The implication is, of course, that your scars don't define you.

And I was listening to that, I thought, "No, my scars ARE who I am." In a way, I thought the statement to be profoundly un-Catholic, and I should certainly expect that since the artist in question isn't Catholic...

...because while our scars don't delimit us our chain us to our past, they most certainly define us—not totally but in part.

I think of where I am in my spiritual life (and I'm by no means advanced), and I consider where I have grown the most and learned to rely on God the most. I'm sure it's no surprise to many of you that those moments of pain and wounding that have caused me to grow most. I've been a practioner of a number of martial arts over the years, and one of the points they impressed on us was that when we feel satisfied with out progress, we are not progressing. When we feel troubled, challenged,, and blocked, then we are progressing.

Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said in the Gospels of Matthew (16:24) and Luke (9:23) that we must pick up our crosses daily.

Anyway, as Catholics, we believe that our actions motivated by faith have an impact on our redemption. We are certainly saved by God's grace in faith through Jesus Christ, but we also have to assent to it, to collaborate with it, to cooperate with it. And in our assent, we are healed from those sins that have wounded us.

In the reformed economy of salvation, our sins are covered--disguised, hidden, ignored. That means that we aren't really changed in any ontological sense. We're still depraved sinners, but Jesus graciously overlooks that. I'm simplifying because reformed communities take slightly different positions here. But what they all come down to is that our choices and our growth in faith and grace isn't really a part of our salvation. Our actions have no "merit" for no better term.

In the Catholic economy, the cooperation of the faithful is critical. Our sins are not hidden at baptism but banished. If you look at all mentions of baptism in the New Testament, there is no notion of a symbolic cleansing. It replaces circumcision. It is what Peter notes as the requirement for repentance in Acts 2:38. Jesus Himself commands the Apostles to baptize all nations (28:19), and the 1st letter of Peter says "baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21).

So if our sins are covered over and ignored, any progress we have made by learning from our failings is likewise unimportant. Our scars are not who we are.

But if we are both the impact of grace in our lives, our faith, and the results of our cooperation with that grace and faith, then our scars are who we are. Our scars are the reminder of our woundedness and our decision to embark on a path of healing rather than our decision to choose a path that leads to more wounds and our destruction. Scars are a symbol of healing, not a symbol of sin. They are the sign that we have chosen the cross. The wide path is littered with those who have bled out because they never recognized their wound and sought healing. A scar is the very sign of repentance. So we are our scars. They signify our repentance, our change, and our reconciliation. They are not our totality, but if they have not shaped and formed us, then we are not truly repentant, and we have not grown spiritually. We haven't truly taken up our cross.
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