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By Marian Tascio
On the Friday after the 3rd Annual Divine Mercy Conference in the Bronx on Feb. 9, my husband and I attended Stations of the Cross at our parish. We used a booklet I had never seen before called "Everyone's Way of the Cross." One reflection that stuck out for me was the one about Jesus' first fall. The writer emphasized the fact that Jesus, in that moment of physical weakness, had to accept His human body for what it was — limited and feeble — and that we have to practice that same self-acceptance if we are to follow in His footsteps.
Those words made me remember the talk I had heard at the conference from Fr. Benedict Groeschel, entitled "Divine Mercy: Psychological Benefits." Throughout his talk, Fr. Groeschel referred to the need to accept ourselves, including our sins, before we can go about the business of growing in holiness. Acceptance, he added, does not mean approval. As people with Christian consciences, we cannot and should not approve of everything we are and everything we do. We can't do anything to change ourselves, however, until we have looked honestly at the material we have to work with and accepted that it is the way it is, flaws and all.
When I considered the words of that reflection on Jesus' first fall, I realized that nowhere in Scripture can we find even a hint that Jesus ever grumbled about His human weakness. He never bemoaned all the lands He would never travel to or the people He would never preach to because His physical limitations and finite time on earth wouldn't allow Him. He never begrudged Himself sleep, imagining that He could accomplish so much more if only He would stay awake. Rather, Jesus honored His Father and blessed us by embracing His humanity with reverent love for God's creation, exactly the way He had created it.
Self-acceptance can be hard, especially when our consciences are well-formed enough to detect how often and how badly we fall. I know that I often chastise myself for my repeated sinning and for the many ways I fall short of what I expect of myself. But at the conference, Msgr. James Lisante reminded us in his talk, "Divine Mercy: Unique Hope for the World," that perfectionism is "the sin of Adam and Eve" because in refusing to forgive ourselves, we put ourselves above God. Mercilessness toward ourselves means we tell God that although He has chosen to forgive us and take away our sins, we disagree with His choice and are determined to cling to the burden He wants us to lay down. "If Jesus can forgive you," Msgr. Lisante asked, "why can't you forgive yourself? And in His Divine Mercy, He does."
Forgiving and accepting ourselves, though difficult, is crucial, and not only because failing to do so is a sin. As Christians, we are charged with the task of sharing Divine Mercy with the world, and it's a well-known truth that we can't give what we don't have. Monsignor Lisante proposed that priests themselves could end the vocation crisis by proclaiming openly, "I love being a priest. It's the greatest work in the whole world." Authentic joy is attractive; if men could see how much joy the life of a priest holds, they would want to investigate that life.
By the same principle, we can bring Christ's light to the world by proclaiming how happy His mercy has made us. "Be a witness in the context of joy," Msgr. Lisante challenged his audience. By telling the world, through our attitudes and actions, "I'm forgiven. I'm delighted to be forgiven," Msgr. Lisante said, we can draw lonely, shivering souls into the warmth of Christ's love. They will dare to come closer because they will want to find out how to have the joy we have. However, it is impossible to accomplish this if Divine Mercy does not truly permeate our beings. When we fail to forgive ourselves, we refuse God's forgiveness, too, and His light cannot shine in us with its full brightness.
And in the end, we cannot be sane, functioning human beings unless we learn how to embrace forgiveness without the barrier of self-hatred. We all have what Father Groeschel described as "dark corners" in our personalities. They are, as Father Groeschel put it, scary places to go. Yet we need to go there if we are going to let Jesus in with his cleansing, healing light. Believing we are unforgivable will plunge us into so much despair and fear that we will hide from our own eyes and from God's; our dark corners will then become darker and will spread. If a sick person believes she is incurable, she won't let a doctor near her, and gradually her illness will consume her.
The theme of this year's conference was "Healing and Forgiveness Through Divine Mercy." There truly is no hope for the health of the world except Divine Mercy, and like so many other things, that hope — that healing and forgiveness — must begin within each individual soul that aspires to bring Divine Mercy to a hurting world.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.