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November 2020

Absolute Grace and Acceptance

I loved this by Richard Rohr today.

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Absolute Grace and Acceptance

After high school seminary, my [Richard’s] next step toward becoming a Franciscan was a year-long novitiate in Cincinnati, Ohio. In those days we knelt a lot. I had calluses on my knees because we knelt so much. It was not modern spirituality, but it was a wonderful container that kept me in myself, in my inner world, in the silence. Most of the day we had to keep quiet. This was a medieval novitiate still based on asceticism. Before Vatican II, the Catholic Church was still law-based, disconnected from experience, and not incarnational. It all circled around priests and their ministrations.

I was nineteen years old and trying to be the most fervent student possible: on time, clean, reverent, and respectful, like a Boy Scout. “Yes, Father. No, Father. Whatever you want, Father.” I’d had such a good father, and I knew how to be a good son. I didn’t have the usual opposition toward authority figures, but I was still going crazy with trying to be perfect. Fortunately, over time, I discovered it was my definition of perfection, not God’s, so I learned not to take it too seriously. Everyone creates their own definition of perfection that they try to live up to, and then they experience the illusion that they’re either perfectly wonderful or completely inadequate.

Sometime in the middle of that year, I was kneeling in the choir in the Franciscan community’s novitiate house on Colerain Avenue. Suddenly, I felt chains fly in all directions. The Scripture that I had read that day was Philippians 3:7­–9: “What I once considered an asset, now I consider a liability. The law that I thought was going to save me, now is my curse” (my paraphrase). Not coincidentally, I had just read the autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux. She can change anybody.

Suddenly, I knew that God’s love did not depend on me following all these laws and mandates or being worthy. I knew I wasn’t worthy, and yet here I was experiencing absolute grace and absolute acceptance. The whole system I’d grown up with had implied that God will love us if we change. That day I realized God’s love enables and energizes us to change.

I already had that boyhood secret discovered gratuitously in front of the Christmas tree: where I felt I had been taken over to another world, which was really this world as it truly is. I’d realized, “My God, this is inside of what everybody is living, and they don’t see it!” Now once again, I somehow knew that I was good, God is good, life is good. And I didn’t have to achieve that goodness by any performance whatsoever. At that point, I was—like a good Lutheran—saved by grace. Grace was everything!

In one moment, I got the Gospel! And I knew it had nothing to do with legalism, priestcraft, or punitiveness. I hadn’t studied theology yet, so I had no intellectual foundation by which to justify it, but I just knew that everything was grace. I was very free—inside—after that. ~Richard Rohr