July 22, 2019

Trusting in His Grace

Once upon a time there was a poor, unremarkable kingdom that had only one claim to fame: its king owned, as a family heirloom, a magnificent diamond of amazing beauty and perfection. He kept this treasure on display in a special room in his castle, and his subjects enjoyed viewing it and praising its incomparable brilliance. The diamond was a source of national pride, and even people from far distant lands came to marvel at it. Then one morning a soldier ran to the king with terrible news: even though no one had touched the carefully-guarded diamond, somehow during the night it had developed a terrible crack. The king rushed to the display room and saw the tragedy for himself. Sure enough, there was a crack right down the middle of the diamond. All the jewelers of the land were summoned; each one examined the diamond, and they all agreed: the formerly priceless gem was now ruined and worthless. The entire kingdom went into mourning; it was as if they had lost everything. Then an old man, a foreigner who happened to be in the kingdom visiting relatives, presented himself at the castle. He looked at the diamond, and then confidently announced, “I can fix this; in fact, I can make it better than before.” The king was doubtful, but the man insisted that in one week’s time, he could make the diamond more valuable than ever. Having nothing to lose, the king ordered that the man be given a room in the castle, along with all the tools he needed.

The next seven days passed very slowly for the king and his subjects, but finally the old man came out of the room and gently handed the diamond to its owner. The king was amazed; it was more beautiful than before! The old man, who was obviously a master jeweler, had used the crack in the middle of the diamond as a stem, and carved around it a lovely rose, including leaves and thorns branching off from what used to be merely an ugly crack. The king and the people were delighted, but the old man modestly explained, “All I did was to take something flawed and cracked and turn it into something beautiful” (Megan McKenna, Parables: The Arrows of God, p. 3). This is what God is able to do with each one of us. He created all of us to be something beautiful and priceless. We became flawed through our sins—but His grace can turn us into something even better than before.

The Lord has a knack of accomplishing His will by means of unlikely and unpromising servants. When Peter said to Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” he wasn’t engaging in false humility; he was speaking the truth. Brash, impetuous, big-mouthed Peter had many faults and weaknesses, and we might say that a crack or scar of sinfulness ran right down the middle of his character. Jesus knew this. He chose Peter anyhow, and eventually the blustering fisherman became the unshakable Rock upon which the Church was built, and thus one of the greatest saints of all. The prophet Isaiah was similarly aware of his own unworthiness, calling himself a man of unclean lips, yet he responded in obedience and trust when given a mission by God. St. Paul had a similar experience. He knew he didn’t deserve to be called an apostle because of his earlier persecution of the Church—but because he was chosen by God despite his sins, he fulfilled his mission boldly and confidently. This is the type of response Jesus desires from each of us; He wants us to remember not that we are sinners, but that we are redeemed sinners—for our gratitude over this gift will make us eager to share it with others.

We can all identify with Peter’s confession; we can all say, “Don’t choose me, Lord, for I am a sinful man or woman . . . I’m not that well-educated about my religion . . . I’m just an ordinary person . . . I’m not all that comfortable sharing my faith with others . . . there surely must be other people better qualified than me . . . I don’t do well under pressure . . . I’ve got too many other things going on in my life right now . . . all I want to do is mind my own business and stay out of trouble . . . please choose someone else, Lord—not me.” Whether we say these or similar things merely as excuses not to get involved, or because we genuinely believe we’re unworthy to serve God and have nothing to offer, the fact is that the Lord does call each one of us, and He gives us a role to play in His plan of salvation, in spite of our sins. If God only used and associated with perfect people, the Virgin Mary would be very lonely up in Heaven. As it happens, Heaven is filled with saints, all of whom were sinners on earth. God’s grace made each one of them perfect, and this is His plan for us, too.

This means we must not give up on ourselves or judge ourselves too harshly; we must also avoid underestimating what we’re capable of doing with God’s help. When we see a problem or an injustice, our first thought shouldn’t be “That’s too bad—somebody should do something,” but rather, “Lord, what are you asking me to do in response to this?” Because we’re redeemed sinners, we shouldn’t think, “I’ll try to be a good or decent person, but as for actually being holy—well, that’s for monks and mystics and other special people like that”; instead, we should say, “Lord, I surrender myself to You; mold me and fashion me in Your image.” It’s also important that we not judge other people or give up on them; what we see as a weakness or character flaw may one day become a source of grace and an illustration of God’s mercy. Many times, people who’ve hit rock bottom have turned their lives completely over to God and have gone on to witness to His love in wonderful and powerful ways.

Each one of us can rightly be called a diamond in the rough. Whether the crack running through the middle of your life is one of alcoholism, stubbornness, physical incapacity, a judgmental spirit, an aggressive personality, excessive shyness, extreme sensitivity, an inability to admit you’re wrong, a lack of self-confidence, or anything else, Jesus says in response the same thing He said to Peter: “Do not be afraid.” Peter and his companions thereupon left behind everything in order to follow Jesus. May we also be given the wisdom, courage, and grace to make this same response.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper

REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.

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Written by Fr Joseph Esper