Praying with sin, whether it be our own or that of our world, does not invite a joyful response from us at first. As someone once said, “There’s nothing original about sin.” None of us likes to consider the damage of hurricanes or the destruction of wars. The more sensitive one is, the more he or she shrinks from viewing or imagining the ugliness of violence and hatred.
In praying about sin in the Exercises, the main question is whether guilt is a grace or a tangent. Perhaps I could put it this way: Does a painting receive anything from its frame? The frame should lead the eye to what it frames, obviously. In considering the rebellion and ingratitude of sin, what is the picture and what is the frame?
For most of us, our participation in the sin of the world and our own personal sins fill the whole canvas, and the surrounding frame is the somewhat arbitrary love of Jesus for this world and for us.
My father was a lawyer and his firm’s motto was “The worst injury is the one not properly represented.” Our worst sins are those we hold to ourselves, refuse to recognize, and do not allow Jesus to take into the center of his cross. He does more than represent us; he represents us back into the world that he loves and offers us as a healing gift.
There is a proper grace of guilt when it remains the frame and leads us to consider and then receive the freeing forgiveness of Jesus. Guilt is a distracting tangent when we consider that it leads us to put ourselves at the center of our unforgiveness. We can spin our spiritual wheels in the muck and mire of our own self-destruction, and in doing so, we hope that God will see how much punishment we are inflicting on ourselves so that God just has to have pity on us. That puts God not at the center, but far outside the frame of our lives. God is neither a spectator nor an art critic.The real freedom to which the Spiritual Exercises calls us is the freedom to let God be God and to allow us to be loved not only as we are now but also as we will be. In praying this week, can we be honest but not negative?
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