Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Arriving at the parish church one morning recently, I encountered one of my parishioners in the parking lot. Her face appeared agitated – and I quickly learned why. The week’s mail had brought with it one of those infamous chain letters. Now, this was not the usual piece of junk mail, which assures a quick fortune. This one promised grace! If the reader did such-and-such – and, of course, sent the letter to X number of others – then this certain saint in heaven would open the tap on the eternal storehouse of grace, and the recipient’s prayers would be answered – guaranteed!
“For God’s sake!” my frustrated parishioner howled. And rightfully so.
Heatedly pacing the parking lot, she protested that her intelligence had been insulted. She personally had been offended that someone would think that she would buy into such a contorted sense of spirituality. Moreover, how could anyone think that God’s favor could be bought, sold, or won over by any of our human machinations? A quick glance assured that it was nothing personal toward me. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Good thing I had not sent the letter!
Pausing for a moment, another expectant look beckoned some kind of theological or spiritual rebuttal. I had none, and assured her so. There was nothing faulty with her protest. She had every right to be disturbed. Undoubtedly, whoever had mailed this chain letter would offer their own protest – and certainly the one that the required process worked for them and many others.
These kinds of letters seem to be rather frequent. And I am told their cousins are appearing with increasing frequency on the Internet. With a far greater degree of assurance of success than winning the state lottery, these mailers (and e-mailers) claim a fortune in grace. Aside from the offensiveness of imposing this kind of spirituality on unsuspecting people at their personal mail boxes, grace-by-mail letters manifest an equally abusive sense of spirituality. The nature of God’s loving presence is such that it cannot be earned, won or purchased. God’s grace or favor is totally unconditional. Even when that love is revealed in unique ways in personal lives – even to the point of the miraculous – it is gift.
Our Christian spirituality is born of God’s unconditional love made manifest in human history in the person of Jesus. If we want to learn how God relates to us in our needs, we can look to him. There is nothing in the ministry of Jesus which even hints that the faithful need go through any material, emotional or psychological contortions to receive God’s salvation. If anything, Jesus angrily confronts this self-serving and guilt-creating mentality discovered so prominently in the Pharisees of his day who tried their best to tie grace to the detailed performance of this or that action.
One thing stands clear in the ministry of Jesus: The believer does not need to manipulate God. God cannot be so moved. Respectful as God is of our immaturity in spirituality, God’s favor cannot be won, earned or forced. What freedom there is in that! We need not worry about getting the mechanics right. My parishioner friend insisted that we priests needed to work on freeing people from the kinds of pious practices which inhibit good Christian spirituality. I agreed. She returned to her home comforted in knowing that her protest was rooted in good principles. I returned to mine to write this column.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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