I recently went on my annual silent retreat at the local Jesuit center. St. Ignatius advised people to prepare for retreat by praying for a certain grace or gift from God.
At Mass the day before retreat started, these words from the song Hosea touched me: Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart….Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.
Here was the grace I would seek: to know what fear was keeping me from God and to see more clearly what my new life of living deeply with God would look like.
In the silence of my retreat days, I prayed God would reveal to me what might be keeping us apart.
And then I remembered December 8, 1972, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
At Mass that day, the priest talked about Mary being an example, a role model for how to live a good life, a godly life.
I listened to him, trying to take in his words, trying to see a way Mary and I might be connected.
But I was too aware of my sinfulness. I was not living a good life. I was not living the life God wanted for me—or even the life I wanted for myself. And I seemed powerless to do anything about it. I was living out of a broken place deep inside me, an open wound that refused to heal.
The words to a popular song ran through my mind: “I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd, I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud. I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on, strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song…”
I understood. The priest’s words condemned me. I was condemnable, contemptible.
Tears fell freely as his words accused me, judged me. His words were killing me.
In my darkness, I already felt dead inside.
I was too broken, too damaged. I was sure others could see the darkness surrounding me, the turmoil enveloping me. I did not belong here, in this church on Mary’s feast day. I was a sinner. Mary had indicted me by her purity, her godliness; the priest had called me out. “
Guilty,” I pleaded.
“Please, God, help me,” I cried.
And then a vision: the floor opened and I fell through, removing me from the presence of Mary and the priest and all the good people who sat in that church, dropping me down, down—into the waiting arms of a loving God who cradled me and offered me hope.
On retreat, all these years later, I realized I was still carrying the shame of my youth, letting it get in the way of my living in total trust.