|AUTHOR'S NOTE: Originally published during Lent, 2007
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
~ St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions of St. Augustine
"Sin" is a term we hear a lot of in this blessed penitential season, and that is as it should be. Yet in our culture, so many don't know what sin is; there is, as John Paul II called it, a "loss of the sense of sin."
According to St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, sin is "disordered love." We commonly understand sin to be a rejection of God's love and an abuse of freedom. We sin with our free will, in turning away from God, in turning away from holiness. God loves us so deeply he specially created us all to be in eternal union with him; each one of us is precious. He gives us gifts, and it is through this giving that we reject his love, which wounds him grievously.
Why would we do such a thing? Why do we constantly reject God's love?
Perhaps there is a more practical question; HOW do we reject God's love?
We reject him in simple ways, constantly, without even thinking twice about it. We personally sin when we reject gifts he has given us, and we sin socially as well, for every gift is given to us for the purpose of building up his kingdom.
I have always been on the artistic side; those things in which I always excelled surrounded the arts; music, writing, literature, theater. I have always loved beauty. I have always been drawn to that which was true and good and beautiful, but in simple ways. I have always been a romantic, even somewhat of an idealist.
Yet somehow, I rejected all of that in favor of pursuing "a career." I saw no way to "make money" through my artistic pursuits, so I gave them up. I also began to see them as a form of weakness so out of hand I saw no place for them in my life. Out the door they went.
There has always been an ache in my soul, striving to bring me back to what I had thrown away. And truth be told, I have never forgotten those things I always wanted to be, primary of which may not surprise you: a writer.
In second grade, I told my Mom that I wanted to write and illustrate my own books. Period. That's what I wanted to do and that was what I was GOING to do, gosh darn it! Oddly enough, that same year in school we learned how to make "books". We had to write a story and illustrate it on the folded construction-paper pages that made up this project. Being that we were very limited in the format, my imagination was cramped, lending to a very boring factual book about birds. It really was a terrible book. I “wrote” another one for extra credit. That was equally as bad. I'm quite sure I no longer have these books. I hope not, in any case; if I ever do succeed in becoming a famous author no doubt these atrocities would be pulled out and sent to a museum after my death.
But a spark was there, and even through the bad results my teachers encouraged me to pursue these talents and aptitudes that I had. As I matured and became more "driven" and "worldly", one by one, I began to reject my God-given gifts until there was nothing left. No wonder I've been so miserable in my professional work for so long; God gave me what I needed, and I chose to make my own path, cutting with the dull machete of my own willfulness through this jungle that is the world. God, in his infinite grace, has kept his hand upon me, yet He does not interfere with our freedom to reject him, no matter how much that rejection wounds him.
Just lately, I have realized that my rebellion was a complete rejection of God's love; I rejected Him through the gifts he so lovingly bestowed upon me. We all have talents and aptitudes in different things. We all have some sort of gift God gave us for the purpose of sharing it with others in order to build and strengthen His kingdom.
I rejected those gifts so many years ago, and now, I realize the love that went into each gift. I know that some of those will never be returned to me; others, in His infinite mercy, God has left with me, like tools just waiting to be picked up. The Kingdom still needs builders. The Kingdom needs architects. The Kingdom needs laborers, and workers for the vineyard. Our gifts are the tools He gives us for this work, and we are to use these tools with much love in order to fulfill the directive of Jesus to "love others as I have loved you."
I contemplate the words of St. Augustine, so poetic in their bittersweet testimony of love. The romantic in me recognizes the remorse of the great Saint, and my soul anguishes as I realize his very words apply to me as well. I adopt them as my own for he expressed so much better than I the understanding of the rejection of God's love.
In my search for worldly success, I rejected those things God gave me; no doubt at least ONE of them, had I been faithful enough to use it, would have lead me to a special place in which to put that gift to use. I pray it is not too late. I am late indeed, in loving God, but I pray, that in His infinite mercy, He welcomes me back to the vineyard and helps me clean and polish my rusty tools. There must be a place somewhere for me, and for all of us, in this place.
In a way, those of us who have rejected these gifts from our childhood are prodigals; we have rejected or perhaps misused our inheritance. We must be willing to come back to God and re-offer what we have, or even beg for the restoration of what he gave us before we had a chance to reject him. Maybe God has something new for us, or maybe a better version of the old gift. We won't know unless we take a step forward and ask with contrite hearts for another chance to serve Him, offering back to Him in sincerity those things he lovingly gave us so long ago.