Sunday, 10 June 2012
One of the problems that exists between Catholics and Protestants is the idea of purgatory. Protestantism, with it's sole fide doctrine appears to rule out any need for a period of purification after death. However, I believe the doctrine is Biblically true and provides us with a wonderful opportunity. Catholics don't just believe that this purification process goes on after death, but starts here on earth. It is your willingness to work with God that allows you to become purified.
I once heard the idea of salvation being expressed in this way. Most people believe that hell is like sinking sand and we are walking around the outskirts of it and, if you're not careful, you could find yourself falling in. Whereas a Christian knows that we are already in the sinking sand and Jesus reaches in to help us pull our way out because we can't do it on our own. In order for that to be successful though we have to grab on tight and hold on for dear life. That is the idea of salvation to me. Although it is God's action that ultimately saves us, we play our part.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 21 Jesus gives Peter the chance to 'undo' what he has previously done. "15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep." Notice how he asks him the question three times. The same amount of times Peter betrayed him. Peter always has the opportunity to say no, no to the literal cross Jesus gives him to carry - in the same passage he indicates the manner in which he was going to die, on a cross. Jesus asks us all to to pick up our cross and follow him, like Peter did. In doing this we become adults in the kingdom of God, taking responsibility for our actions and joining Jesus in the redemption of the world.
Although Jesus talks about entering the kingdom of heaven like children, this doesn't mean we remain children. Adult sons in ancient Israel still remained under their Father's care and guidance as they remained in their family clan. We take on our share of adult responsibilities in this kingdom but continue to trusting and respecting our Father's will for us. I look around at the opportunities that God has given me to redeem myself and grow into adulthood in his kingdom. This doesn't mean that I think it's my efforts that help me succeed. I couldn't and wouldn't be sucesful without God's help and guidance; his strength when I am weak, his consolation at times when I've despaired and more.
This understanding has grown even more to me recently because of my personal circumstances. When I was 19 I had an abortion. My mum, a very holy woman, found out and she asked me "Did you think about it?" I relied with indignation; "Of course I did!"
The truth is I didn't. I was afraid and I just wanted out of trouble, so I just did it. When I returned to faith in my 30s I started to question my decision. I'd had a conversion experience, sensed the presence of God. Although I'd always believed in God, I now had faith. If God is real, in spite of my natural fears at any given situation, then he would rescue me. If I'd had that baby then God would help me. As a result I went to confession and all the pain I never knew I had was released. God was merciful.
Later on, when I started to teach RE to secondary school pupils, I taught genetic engineering, IVF etc. As a result I always taught the development of the embryo so pupils new the lie of the 'It's just a bunch of cells' argument. I never knew. I don't know whether I would have looked when I was pregnant.
In my later 30s my husband and I started trying for children. It was a very difficult journey. At one point I became pregnant and lost the baby. I had been doing all the things all expectant mothers do, looking at the baby books and seeing what my baby was like at that period of gestation. I miscarried early on, about six weeks. The image of the six weeks foetus, with its bud arms and legs, remain with me. More importantly, the understanding that I mourned and had named this child, but my others had had no such recognition.
As we failed to conceive again we looked at fertility options and it was very quickly apparent that we would have to go through IVF if we were able to conceive at all. However as I had taught this in school I knew what this meant. I discussed this with the fertility nurse and was told that for Catholics they would only remove two eggs, so no destruction of embryos would occur.
I had tried to explain before coming to this part to my mum and others why I felt so deeply uncomfortable with this. They thought this was a simple solution embryos would not be destroyed. But I knew, if you agree to this you add to the culture of creating and destroying life. The more I read about it, the more uncomfortable I became. My husband, who is not a Christian, but is a wonderful man, wanted children. I didn't know how to say no without saying no to him. I think, therefore, I was the only person at that clinic praying that it wouldn't be an option for us. I remember repeating the words of the 'Our Father' over and over again; Lord, keep me from temptation.
It wasn't an option and I thanked God for keeping me safe. Although I felt incredibly guilty for this.
We started to look into adoption. The first agency we made enquires with told us in interview that they were going to recommend us. Then we received a letter turning us down, I think that was even more devastating than the miscarriage. The fear began to creep in; other humans with all their prejudices and bias would be deciding whether we had a child. What if they said no?
We were told to apply again in six months. We decided to move. We were in an area we never liked and, through God's grace, had come out of a period of intense financial pressure just when everyone else was going into one! Suddenly we managed to buy a home by the sea, a lovely area to bring up children. We applied to adopt again and were accepted through a Catholic adoption agency; Cabrini.
Three and a half years later we are going to meet our new little girl next week. I can't tell you all the pain that three and a half years held. It's true that it held happiness as well, but it was so painful at times.
However out of it my marriage strengthened and we now have our little girl to look forward to. In a few years we will, with God's grace, adopt again. The other evening I sat in a restaurant with my husband and we discussed it all. I tentatively put the question to him; if he could go back and change things, would he prefer to have children naturally. He echoed my thoughts - No! She was going to be ours and, although this wasn't the option we would have chosen for ourselves, it was the better option. It was the one that God has chosen for us.
God had given me the option to 'undo' what I had done. Despite all my fears his plan for me, for us, was perfect. Like Peter I had succumbed to fear but, when I trusted in God despite fear, my own resurrection happened.
People always say to me; but where would you have been if you hadn't had the abortion? You wouldn't have what you have now! The truth is I don't know where I would be. God's plan might have always been for me to be with Toby, always to have our little girl. It may just have been better. I can therefore regret what I did and rejoice in what God has given me.
Please pray for me as a mother so I can respond to Jesus' call to 'feed his lambs'. I want my little girl to know that God is real and she can trust in him. One day, when she's old enough, I will tell her about the decisions I made and the gifts that God continued to give in spite of this; my husband and her.