Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Through Being a Wretch

During this Season of Lent we have been singing the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” I am puzzled by the thought that amazing grace has “saved a wretch like me.” What disturbs me is that I am described as a ‘wretch’ and so are others.

All the time when I am taking part in discussions on social issues such as human sexuality, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, I speak of ‘self-esteem’ and ‘self-respect.’ Such a positive approach provides strong motivation for living worthwhile lives. If we believe that we are wretches we shall be discouraged from making the effort.

So where does this leave me? Confused! I can see that the cultural environment of modern society is wretched. There is so much violence – domestic and community. So much corruption and dishonesty. Also, there seems to be a breakdown in family and social values. We have lost our way. What we have is ugly, wretched. I belong to this environment. The whole situation needs to be saved.

When I look to myself I cannot be entirely happy by what I find. Like everyone else, I have my sins. These I regret. For these I repent. How I wish that this were not necessary. Though I can point to a certain goodness in my life, I must admit that this has not come easily.

With St Paul, I labour under the tension between my good intentions and my actual performance.
“I know of nothing good living in me – in my natural self, that is – for the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I do” (Rom 7:18-19)

We must allow for a certain amount of exaggeration. It was not true that St Paul never did the good thing he wanted to do. Nor is it true of you and me. Nor do we always do the evil thing that we do not want to do. All the same, it is something wretched that we have to struggle to live a virtuous life. The stark reality of this, together with our record of lapses, does lower our self-esteem.

This, in itself, caused St Paul much anguish, as it does me. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?” His answer, “God – thanks be to Him through Jesus Christ, Our Lord,” (Rom 7: 24, 25).

In another of his letters, St Paul pleaded for deliverance from what he described as a thorn in his flesh. This time it was God Himself who provided the answer. “My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness,” (2 Cor. 7. 7).

Now I come to terms with the confusion in me over singing about myself as being a wretch while at the same time insisting that I should regard myself with esteem and respect. The wretchedness lies in my sinfulness and in my being prone to sin. My self-esteem comes from God restoring and safe-guarding my worth by His amazing, saving grace.

This led St Paul, as it leads me, to a surprising conclusion. “It is then, about my weakness that I am happiest to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” (2 Cor. 7: 9)

I must confess that I would have preferred an easier way of reaching God – a more peaceful one devoid of a sense of wretchedness and the need to struggle for wholesomeness. But God has allowed it to be otherwise. It is through my admitting that I am a wretch that I come to appreciate how much God loves me. I need His amazing, saving grace. I can rely upon this and reach God – MY WAY, GOD’S WAY… through being a wretch.

On Saturday Isidore will reflect on Meeting God in Emptiness

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