“It was the stupidest thing I could have done. I brought two people on my team to lead music, and then, when the time came for them to ‘do their stuff’, they were so slow getting things started, and I felt the energy leaving the room, so I just jumped up there with my guitar and took over. How could I have been so thoughtless?”
“I am so ashamed of the choice I made back then, Father. I was a teenager, scared, alone. My boyfriend had dumped me when he heard the news. I couldn’t tell my parents or anyone. So I went to the clinic and had my “problem” taken care of. And now, every time I see a child about the age mine would have been, I want to run and hide and scream. How could God possibly love me after THAT kind of choice?”
“I was an impetuous, self-centered little snot. I believed that life owed me something. So I took all my father would give me, burned all my bridges behind me and went off to live life as it should be lived. It didn’t take long for the money to run out. Or for my new found ‘friends’ to abandon me. And now, there’s nothing for me. Nothing.”
Do you believe in life after failure? When you have fallen flat on your face, do you believe that there is a grace strong enough and persistent enough and loving enough to raise you up? Do you really believe that someone – not you – but that someone – a higher power – actually has the last word? You see, that is the promise that our scriptures hold out for us today.
The last story – I hope you recognized the prodigal son and the story of a God who despite the son’s failures, sought him out to love him and heal him. He deserved ‘nothing’. There was no amount of groveling he could do to ‘earn’ his status as son back. But that didn’t stop God. And this man who deserved nothing received everything!
The middle one – well, that would be a version of St. Paul’s life in this era of elective abortions – one who had become a mass murderer for the sake of all that is holy and righteous. She was a woman I was introduced to by a mutual friend – in need of help and hope and healing. And through the grace, not of a light coming out of the sky, but a program called Project Rachel, she is a healed and happy mother of 3 very bright and lively children.
The first one – that was me in my very early days of priesthood – on a Search retreat program. I knew how to be a musician on those retreats – I had played that role for years. I didn’t know how to be a priest on that retreat – and I botched it very badly. And to this day, I can close my eyes and picture that cafeteria in the old Mercy High School where I heard those healing words with Joe’s hand on my right shoulder and Donna’s on my left: “We forgive you.” And I learned so much about love and forgiveness and grace and humility in that moment.
Do you believe in life after failure? Moses certainly did, as he pleaded before God for his people. He believed in a dignity that went beyond their failures and moral flaws. And knew they were worth fighting for. And he reminded God that God believed the same thing about them.
Do YOU believe in life after failure? Will you let YOUR failures have the final word in your life? Or will you trust that God is more interested in what you can become after the failure, and even because of the failure, than any mistake or sin you have committed. Will you trust that like the people of Israel, like Paul, like the prodigal son, like my friend’s friend, like me, our loving father has so much more in store for us? -That God wants to restore you to the dignity of his sons and daughters? And often, it is only through our failures that we learn about life and love, about who we are and whose we are. Only there on the bottom, do we learn about God’s embrace that will always have the last word in our lives. Today, and this week, let us give God a chance to do what He does best – to welcome each and every one of us, each least and last and lost one of us, to the embrace of grace that always brings life after our failures…