I have been discussing with a friend the tension between the Law and Grace, or the Law and Faith. This tension is an intense crucible in which God fashions us into saints–which is to say, true lovers of God. The Catholic Church teaches that we must follow the Mosaic Law. We are not saved by following the Law since Christ alone is our salvation, but there exists the real possibility of being condemned for not following the Law. And yet adhering to the Law seems beyond our capacity. St. Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19)
What are we to do then? I think St. Therese of the Child Jesus offers the best solution. In her autobiography Story of a Soul she gives an analogy in which she describes herself as a toddler at the bottom of the staircase that leads to heaven. Her sole desire is to be with her Heavenly Father, but she knows she lacks the strength to climb the stairs. In full consciousness of her inability to climb even the first step, she nevertheless “lifts her little foot” toward the staircase. As soon as she does so, she helplessly falls down. But then God the Father runs down the stairs to pick her up and carry her into heaven.
I believe we have to live in the constant tension between trying to fulfill the demands of the Law (out of genuine love for God and for our neighbor) while knowing from the outset that we will be unable to do so. And yet we try as if we were able to do so. I believe we have to be crucified between Jesus’ command to “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) on the one hand and realizing our incapacity to attain this perfection on the other hand. The tension between Jesus’ clear command and our incapacity should break our hearts. If we conclude that we are not able to be perfect and decide that the Law is too hard, then we risk befriending or accommodating sin. But if we think that we are able to be perfect (by our own efforts), then we end up thinking we can save ourselves–in which case “Christ is of no benefit to [us].” (Galatians 5:2) I believe we need to continually have our hearts broken out of love for God. He then supplies mystical graces which ultimately transform us to be perfect as He is perfect, but this happens by His efforts, not ours. The primary effort we provide is our heart-broken desire to love Him and do His will.
The Sacrament of Confession is a powerful place in which we can show our love for God. Advent is a season of penitential preparation for Christmas. I want to encourage everyone to approach the confessional as an act of love, emptying our hearts of heaviness and making room to receive the Infant Jesus.