Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column – O Happy Fault!

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Since the first time I attended the Easter Vigil and took in the beautiful recitation of the Exsultet, I have pondered the phrase "O happy fault" in this love story of God for His People that tells of how, from the start of creation, through infidelities, rejections, destruction, God persisted in His love for us. That love is more powerful than anything, including our sinfulness; He will reach us one way or the other. And in our deepest sinfulness, He hovers even closer, sending His own son in our flesh to bring us back. And if Adam's fall made necessary God's ultimate sacrifice of love, well… O happy fault!!

While we may never be worthy of God's love, we can never be unworthy of it either. This is the point of the cross on which Christ hung for everyone; in fact, for the worst of everyone. We need not keep our distance from God because of our imperfections and failures. In fact, Christ comes for the lost: the lost coin, lost sheep, lost son and adulterous woman.

I wish my father had comprehended this. Born about a hundred years ago in China and educated as a young boy in a Catholic boarding school away from home, he became a Catholic. I doubt if the catechesis and the environment could really foster a deep faith in him. Still, while my father did not practice the faith, he made sure all his children received the sacraments and were enrolled in Catholic schools. Each Sunday he would drive us to Mass, but never went into Church himself. On the only occasion when I asked about the reason for his staying away, he mentioned that his past decisions and life choices would not be in line with the Catholic Church. He did not try to justify his actions. He assumed that God would not approve of a person like him. The last five years of his life were difficult, and he had regrets. On my father's last ambulance ride, he expressed his remorse to Gaga, a beloved servant who had cared for the family for over thirty years.

The people like my father, who think that God has given up on them for their transgressions, will find the opposite in the lives of the faithful like Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day or Henri Nouwen. Each of these individuals came to know and love God deeply all the more because of their failings: respectively an illegitimate child, an abortion and pride. Merton characterized mercy as epiphany, an act by which God reveals himself and makes known the presence of the divine among us. God's mercy works in such a way so that "the value of our weakness and of our poverty is that they are the earth in which God sows the seed of desire." (Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Ch 11).

To remind us that mercy is the Gospel message, Pope Francis has proclaimed an "Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy," to begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2015 and end on the Feast of Christ the King 2016. He calls us to "find the joy of rediscovering and making fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time" and to do so by "welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world." (Pope Francis, March 13, 2015). I cheer for this if it brings just one person like my father back to the joy of God's boundless love.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service. You can follow Dr. Woo on Twitter at @WooCRS.

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