He kept a secret bottled up for as long as he could remember. Protecting it became a priority reflex that influenced all the decisions of his life. Afterwards, he wasn’t sure if he knew what he was doing or not. He thought perhaps he did know, sometimes, and then repressed or forgot it. He kept the secret secret even from himself though he knew more about it than anyone. Was it the actual event that had happened or the reason it had happened or the shame it had inexplicably left him carrying? What drove him to construct an identity whose falsity only increased his shame?
The event was an abominable abuse of adult power over a child, a degradation and confusion of what the child had the right to expect, to be sure and confident that he was loved and cared for. The reasons for this betrayal of the child were part of an adult world of revenge and power incomprehensible to him as a child. It had left him with a shame he could not cast off. It clung to him beneath a persona which the world found charming and enviable. But, since childhood, it had made him unable to yield himself, to love or to relate seriously to another except for short periods before it became impossible not to run away again.
His was a particularly intense case. But all of us have this tendency to keep secret what has once hurt us and caused the cloak of shame to be wrapped around us. This whole system of hurt, shame and secrecy can be called sin. The Fall of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis describes it with precise honesty. Anyone who does not see him or herself in the story should learn it by heart.
Lent is an opportunity to consider what we understand by sin. Until we get it straight, we will not understand grace. It is a severe handicap to be prevented from recognising grace. I have noticed recently how many advertising campaigns selling pleasures (chocolate, Netflix series, health spas) use even the term ‘sin’ itself to attract our attention or just tease us by the lure of the naughty or forbidden. It looks harmless but is dangerously stupid because it limits sin to its seven deadly manifestations and distracts us from the true nature of sin and its deep stain on the human condition.
Where sin is, grace abounds all the more. Grace is the divinely unconditional and never-withdrawn offer of help. All it needs to be released is to confess our need for help, our having got it wrong and wanting now to get it right. Then an amazing grace comes in the revelation that all healing – and forgiveness is healing – is self-healing. This tears away the cloak of shame with the discovery that we have, by God’s grace, immense powers within us greater than anything that could enchain or disgrace us.
On Holy Saturday night in the dark lit only by the Paschal candle we sing gratitude for the Fall because it brought a grace vastly greater than itself. ‘O Felix Culpa: O Happy fault of Adam that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer’.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021