(Good Friday, 2014)
I have no idea if I am going to heaven or hell, and that's the truth.
I say this to my students and they don't understand. All of my outward signs of piety tell them otherwise. This only tells me that I have done a good job whitewashing my sepulcher.
My wife tells me that I am a good man and that I shouldn't let the devil give me doubt. She is wiser and holier than I, but I constantly feel the ugliness in my own soul.
So as I ask You, my Lord Jesus: can you save a man like me?
I am so petty. Even the smallest perceived slights or insults will set the wheels of my mind spinning. When things don't go my way, I huff and I sigh and I have to let everyone know how upset I am. Even now, on this the morning of Your Passion, I have already complained about how hungry I am.
I am often filled with envy. When I see someone who is wiser, holier, more talented, more well-liked, better looking, wealthier, and more capable than I, my first instinct is recoil at my own shortcomings. At work, when students prefer other teachers to me I feel that first pang of jealousy. And their judgment rings true because I can see in them all that I lack.
My mind is so warped and stretched. I find it difficult to keep my mind concentrated on anything good and holy. When we are at church, my voice is raised along with my hands in prayer. But how distracted I am. From thoughts innocuous to sinful, my thoughts can be as far away from that Church as any who chose not to go. And in my private prayer time, I sometimes do no better. I cannot tell you how many times I have mouthed the rosary while recalling some movie or television show I have watched from the previous night.
There is so little good that I do. (At this point in my writing, I am looking at what is here and it sounds like I am fishing for compliments, like someone calling themselves ugly so that others should contradict them and shower them with praises of beauty. If that is what I am doing, you can add that to my list of faults. But that is not my intention now). I work as a religion teacher. But as one of my good friends reminds me, I am in the business of effecting people's souls. I have so many opportunities during the day to reach out to this or that particular student, but I don't because I am lazy or tired or distracted or I tell myself "They wouldn't listen anyway." And I can tell you that I don't give enough of my time to works of charity. To be sure I am busy, busy, busy. But that is time spent on things I want to do. I guard the ticks of my clock very selfishly. This speaks to my laziness. I look at all the tasks ahead and I ignore them.
And even when I do good things, pride and judgment cloud my thoughts.
"That person isn't singing at mass."
"I would never let a daughter of mine wear THAT!"
"Look at all these people who aren't coming to the chapel of communion."
"This person isn't praying properly."
"You shouldn't be a Eucharistic minister."
"I could do that so much better."
Even the smallest act of kindness on my part tends to darken my gaze at others who, in my extremely limited vision, I do not see do likewise.
And my faith is so weak. I have had prayer after prayer answered and yet I doubt. I have seen actual physical miracles and still I don't fully trust. Every time I sin I express my disbelief in the Gospel message.
And all of the above are the vices I am comfortable sharing online. I am not one to share all of the dark corners of my mind and heart. But even though you and others do not know them, I do. They singe the insides of my soul and turn the edges of my mind to ash. I burn in my the fire of my sinfulness, where there is heat, but no light.
So, I ask You again Lord Jesus: can you save a man like me?
And of course I already know the answer.
You cannot save a man like me.
The man I just described is not fit for the Kingdom. That man is soaked in sinfulness, not sanctity.
That man has to go away.
I think this is the part myself and others continue to get wrong. I want Jesus to save me. But the "me" I want him to save is the "me" that is crying out for help. I'm like the alcoholic who wants the bad effects of the disease to go away, but not the drinking itself. I'm like the man who wants his wife to forgive his affair, but also wants her to still be fine with his infidelity. I want him to cover my vices like a band-aid and then carry me up to Heaven as I am.
But He cannot do that.
Heaven is a place where there is no sin, no hate, not envy, no judgment, no selfishness… And if those things are in me, I cannot go into Heaven. A man like that cannot cross the threshold of salvation.
That's why Jesus did what He did on Calvary.
He did not die so that we could tramp our muddy souls into the immaculate streets of Heaven. There weren't 2 thieves crucified that day; there were 3. Jesus robbed us of our sin. He went to the cross to literally take our sins off of us and pay for them with His blood. That blood is the solvent that burns away the stain of sin from our souls and makes them as spotless as any part of Paradise.
But I have to let Him do it for me. There's the rub. He will not force Himself upon us. His arms are wide open in an invitation. He cannot save a man like me, but He came down from Heaven to reach out to men like me and He asked them to reach back. But reaching back means using both of my hands and letting go of my sin, letting go of this life, letting go of the man I am now.
And if I can do that, if I can just really and truly lay down my sins at the foot of His cross, then I will become what He wants me to be:
A new man.
And He can save a man like that.