If you’re like me, you have a set of snippets from favourite You-Tube videos that you watch to cheer you up and inspire you.
One that puts me in a good mood is American Catholic author and radio host Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story, where at 17 minutes in she shares the moment that she came to offer her first prayer.
Until that moment, Jennifer had been a life-long atheist, and the catalyst for causing her to question if God did in fact exist was the overwhelmingly strong love she had for her first born son, Donnell.
When she was holding her newborn, transfixed by the fluttering of his eyelashes and possessed of a great love for her infant, she challenged herself as to whether the love she felt was merely the result of chemical reactions in her brain. Deciding that her love for her son was more than ordinary human love, she became aware that her maternal love had a higher ‘Source’, and reaching out to that ‘Source’, Jen said, “I don’t know Who You are, I don’t know What You are, but if You’re out there, holler at me.”
This first prayer set in motion a chain of events that led to her converting from atheism to Catholicism, which would be the subject of her memoir, Something Other Than God, where she shared her revelation that through her love for her children, she began to fathom that God loved her as His child.
Now Jennifer has edited a book entitled, The Our Father, Word by Word, which is a collection of essays by various Catholic writers. Not done with the profit margin in mind, Jennifer is giving away the book for free.
Each essay is dedicated to a word of the Lord’s Prayer and seeks to elevate the reader to greater holiness. Underestimating the e-book, before reading it I asked myself how an author would wring a meaty treatise out of a word such as ‘into’, as in “lead us not into temptation”. I was pleasantly surprised and not a little humbled by the piece devoted to ‘into’ which is written by Jennifer.
In a gutsy way, Jennifer details the importance of not getting ‘into’ near occasions of sin by showing that sin makes us less loving towards others: “During my conversion, I discovered that sin — objective right and wrong — does exist, and I saw just how damaging our sins are to ourselves, to others, and to God…And so, this idea of avoiding near occasions of sin was a great revelation. I found that there is hope for overcoming those bad things we do that keep us from being loving — and it all starts with not getting into situations where we’ll be tempted to do them.”
If Jennifer’s realisation that her love for her son had its source ultimately in God and caused her to offer her first prayer, now her awareness of the effects of sin as an impediment to love inform an important theme of this book on the Pater Noster.
Indeed, the ways in which we distance ourselves from God’s love are an integral theme of Jennifer’s writings. But the discovery of God’s love is the beating heart of Jennifer’s Faith life, her memoir Something Other Than God and now this dynamic e-book, written out of a desire to love and honour Our Lord and to bring others to love Him.
A good few years ago someone took advantage of me for money. At the time and for years afterwards I felt mistreated, yet the loss of money and was never the reason for my pain. No, the sickening sorrow that stirred in my gut accrued with interest because the person who did something regrettable to me thought they had done absolutely nothing wrong.
I wasn’t looking for the money back. Yet they strangely claimed they had done something positive and told me they were being “charitable” by “persuading” me into doing a “good work” that benefited them. It didn’t matter that I suffered hideously.
At that point in my very young life I believed in God and understood that the Church taught about sin, repentance and forgiveness but truly it was all a bit of an abstraction still. I was confused and scrupulous and learning that the world at large didn’t concern itself with ‘sin’ as a supernatural affront to God’s order, or even really acknowledge it, except in the context of that which was clearly criminal or proscribed by the coarsest of secular norms. As a Catholic woman growing in my faith however, I did make some effort to discern my own sin.
The only itchy contention I had was that whenever I was sinned against, I felt I had to keep quiet, for it seemed somewhat hysterical by modern standards to say I had been the casualty of sin. You can say ‘wronged’ or ‘mistreated’, but you will get called judgmental and told you are a hypocrite for uttering the s-word, that dark relic of the Victorian or Medieval ages. And how dare you note sin in others, especially when you sin yourself?
In any event, it seemed plain to my younger self that most modern folk don’t even want to be reminded of the concept. So for years I told myself that the person who took advantage was not the problem; I was the problem for ruminating on their obliviousness to the pain they had caused me.
But then I found healing – when I read the text of Pope Pius XII’s bracing and brilliant radio message from 1946 – where the war-time Pope boldly articulated that ‘perhaps the greatest sin’ of our times is ‘the loss of the sense of sin’.
I read this quote for the first time when I was editing John Carmichael’s Drunks & Monks, as he recounted his own startling discovery of it, and the clarifying effect it had on him before making his general confession.
Pope Pius XII gave the radio broadcast to a catechetical congress in America.
Now 70 years later, reading his words finally made plain to me that God is offended when we sin against ourselves and others. As Pope Pius XII explained so compellingly, ‘to know Jesus crucified is to know God’s horror of sin; its guilt could be washed away only in the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son become man.’
What I’d like to suggest very simply is that reading Pope Pius XII’s rousing radio broadcast can actually be a healing experience, it lays waste to the confusion of whether or not being sinned against is really all that serious.
To know the lengths God the Father went to in order to save us and others from our sins, you just have to look at His beloved Son nailed to a cross.