Photo: Felix Carroll
I want to share with you some thoughts on my personal struggle with bad habits.
As you know, some of our habits — like smoking — are addictive, while others are more amenable to change. Habits are like gum sticking to the sole of a shoe, and yet these imperfections have deep roots, like a weed in the garden. We may think we can easily get rid of these habits, but unless we pull the weed out by the roots it will grow back. And working on these imperfections, small as some may be, are important in the spiritual journey. Saint Faustina wrote that, "A magnificent building will never rise if we reject the insignificant bricks" (Diary of St. Faustina, 112).
When dealing with these weeds, at the first attempt at tilling our spiritual garden we may simply kill the superficial part of the weed. This may happen after a conference or retreat or spiritual pilgrimage; we are on such a high that we wonder how we could ever sin again! Yet, over time we realize that we have slipped back into our bad habits.
It was like that with me after a pilgrimage to Medjugorge in 1991. It was such a rewarding and uplifting trip. Yet for me, one year later I had fallen back into bad ways because I had not gotten to the root of many of my bad ways. And that next step is when we attack the problem. The next purgation must go down all the way to the root system to remove the weed. It is like the tile in our bathroom; we can easily clean the superficial stains but the deep ones embedded in the tile and grout require much more effort to remove. I can tell you without reservation that "old habits die hard!" And I know well that one cannot coexist in perfect union with the God of love with all these imperfections. Whether it be an imperfection the size of a pinhead or as large as an elephant, experience has shown me that none of my earthly desires for earthly goods can fulfill me as much as the God of love.
All of our imperfections and our battles to grow closer to God at times make us wonder if we are making any spiritual progress. Discouragement can set in, yet another obstacle to holiness. Some days we take two steps forward, and others, three steps backwards. But we know that God rewards for the effort and not the results, and we must continue to walk "by faith, and not by sight." The irony of life is that we must die to self to bear fruit. It is the concept of the "upside-down kingdom." That is, the last shall be first, the poor will be rich, and the humbled shall be exalted.
When walking with God we find another paradox; we find joy in suffering, as St. Paul did, because he understood the saving power of suffering united to our Lord's suffering on the Cross. And, as St. Faustina wrote, "I fixed my gaze upon His sacred wounds and felt happy to suffer with Him. I suffered, and yet I did not suffer, because I felt happy to know the depth of His love, and the hour passed like a minute" (Diary, 252).
Like St. Paul, she understood the power of salvific suffering. "Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love" (Diary, 57). Suffering and love must be synonymous. Like Christ, we must suffer out of love and love while we suffer.
Like understanding joy in suffering, walking with God allows us to know hope in time of despair, and life in death. These paradoxes of the "upside-down kingdom" make perfect sense to a soul tested by fire. It is these fires and stresses of life that compress and turn our beings of carbon and coal into the carbon of a diamond. You see, we are all diamonds in the rough, constantly being molded and undergoing the purgation of our souls by the trials of life.
Yet in spite of our frequent falls, God graces us with a special gift of fortitude. So many times I have felt like throwing in the towel, yet got up and kept going. A recent song spoke about how the saints are the ones who "fall down and get up." Yet if we keep trying, the Lord will refresh us with a cool drink of spring water at just the right time. Never give in to despair or hopelessness, for these are not of God.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage you today as you struggle with your own imperfections. God told St. Faustina that He did not allot only a certain number of pardons. We must try to attack our imperfections, but first pray for the grace to know they exist! And then, we must keep trekking along the path of life and have trust in His mercy. For trust is faith in action. Let us be people of faith and joy and icons of mercy to a hurting world. And in your moments of discouragement and struggle as you sweat and toil in your spiritual garden, remember these words: "Jesus I Trust in You!"
Dr. Bryan Thatcher is the founder of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM). He is the co-host of the Cenacle of The Divine Mercy, Series II. The half-hour shows air weekly on EWTN on Mondays at 2:30 p.m. (EST) and Saturdays at 6:30 a.m. (EST).