Saturday, March 10, 2012
Redemption does not mean success or a happy ending...
Recently I watched an old movie, a favorite of mine, called True Confessions. It is in part the story of a brutal murder and the unseemly side of life. Underneath, it is the story of redemption. In this story a priest has become captive to corporate church mentality. He has become the go to guy for the diocese. He has specialized in making things happen -- the things the bishop wants done. He has moved priests around, put them out to pasture, cut deals with less than honorable contractors and all in the name of the good of the church. But in the midst of it all he almost lost his soul. He was on the cusp of success -- an auxiliary bishop -- when his life came crumbling down. His brother the cop was responsible in some measure for everything going astray. At the end of the movie, he is dying and his brother comes to visit the disgraced priest now serving St. Francis in the middle of nowhere out in a desert. The brother apologizes but the priest says no, "You were my salvation..."
I have often pondered on just that -- that earthly success and the salvation of our souls can often be at odds with each other. Well, who am I kidding. They are mostly at odds with each other. The earthly esteem that we yearn for and the earthly marks of success by which our lives are often judged have little to do with God's purpose or the goal of our lives -- our redemption. Maybe it is because I am old enough to be at that juncture of earthly success or its lack and the point when most of your life is already lived. If I think about this within the veil of life as Pastor, I am sure that those outside the sacred halls feel the same tension. The call to be holy and the need to be a success are diverging paths in the yellow wood of our lives. In order to be holy, we risk being judged a failure and in order to be a success we often have to sacrifice virtue on the altar of expediency. This is neither a new nor a profound observation. It is simply the way it is.
As I write this I think of Abraham and Sarah and the promise of God that persisted while their lives waited for a son. Or Paul's addressing the suffering that produces endurance, endurance character, character hope... but hope does not disappoint us. Or Jesus who calls us to take up the cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him.
Sometimes we like to believe that politicians are the only ones who choose between principles and success. We all live within this tension and we all have tarnished our baptismal lives with repeated words and acts of unrighteousness. But in the midst of this, we hear the Gospel that God loves us not for what we can do for Him but in spite of our flaws and failures. At the same time, He refuses to forgive us and leave us in our mess. He forgives us so that we might follow Him, renouncing the old ways to learn with halting steps the new way of life in the Kingdom. Here we find redemption... and, thanks be to God, it is not the fleeting achievement of success but the eternal gift and promise of God that is ours in Christ.
Just a few thoughts from a sinner whom God has declared forgiven in Christ as we make our way, now the second week, through Lent...