A spurious conceit informs the mantra of our age, drilled into our children at every turn, that you can do anything if you just try hard enough. The knowledge that I, from time to time, find myself teaching this foolish notion or some form of it to my own children leaves me abashed. My years of life cause me to hold few dogmas but I hold fast to this one, that this particular hubris commonly precedes sin.
Early youth and old age sustain a wisdom that the intervening years regretfully diminish, that to reach a goal one must often ask for help.
The saying goes that the hypocrite looks upon the sinner and thanks God that he is not like them. The saint looks upon the sinner and thanks God because he is like them. The saint knows that without grace, sin would be his lot. No amount of effort, no amount of hard work can keep us from sin. Try as we may, without grace, sin and its consequences would be all we know. An unearned gift, grace is that help for which, too often in our pride, we do not ask. No amount of effort, no matter how well intentioned, can restore that which is lost through sin. Only God can do that. And here is the crazy thing, He has.
This is why the notion that some people have that Catholics believe they can earn their way into heaven seems so silly. Without grace, I could not resist sin for even a moment.
I have long since determined that the silliest phrase in the English language is “I would never do that.” There is no sin, no matter how heinous or repugnant, of which I am not capable. It is only this gift from God that gives me the ability to resist sin at all. I must, at every turn, ask for help. I can’t do it on my own.
Greatest among the graces of a good God, and the most frequently neglected or even maligned, we find the Church. For it is through the gift of the Church that all other graces necessary for our salvation become available. Yet, we often view this gift as encumbrance upon our ability to do it “our way,” even though our way is the way of sin.
The Church is the place where all the graces necessary for our salvation are made available to us. I can’t imagine trying to get to heaven without the Church. Camel, eye of the needle, and all that.
My name is Patrick and I am a sinner and I need help. So when someone asks me what I am doing Sunday morning, I answer. I am going to Graceland.