Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Prodigal Son and Our Lady’s Forgiveness
Saint of the Day, Friday, February 27, 1970
Today there is no saint on our calendar. Someone wrote me a touching note, to which I am not quite sure how to respond. It is an anonymous person who writes from soul to soul, telling me that he is desperate, very anguished, and asking me to say a word at the Saint of the Day.
I must say something to that person if he is present here because it is the only way he allows me to communicate with him.
The person says he has many problems he is unable to say anything about calmly and confidently; that he lives in absolute disorder, is unable to see Our Lady as a Mother. He is the last of men and feels abandoned by everyone, so he asks me to say a word about it. Naturally, I receive this vague request with great affection, I can only give it a vague answer, but I will try to do something.
I would like this soul to consider the following. Either his messed-up situation is due to his fault, or it is not his. If it is his fault, he has two splendid trump cards on his side. The first is the fact that she continues to have a vocation. One can see the authenticity and liveliness of this vocation in the dramatic way he makes this request. Only a person with a strong instinct of self-preservation struggles a lot at the time of the shipwreck. Only someone who loves his vocation becomes that much distressed when he ultimately feels that his vocation is in some danger.
This is a positive factor that this person must take into account that if Our Lady maintains his vocation, Our Lady continues to love and attract him, rather than cancel his vocation on account of his faults or sins. On the contrary, Our Lady is giving him the desire to pray, the desire to appeal to others, the desire to hear a word of advice in the Saint of the Day to find a way to obtain Her mercy.
Now, if the person is in this situation due to his own fault, he must remember that Our Lady often uses trials that happen to us through our own to raise us very high. While sufficient grace is never lacking to anyone, sometimes She allows a person to fall. Of course, the person is to blame, but Our Lady lovingly waits for the person at a certain point along the way and then touches him with grace and him much more than he could ever imagine.
For example, take the parable of the prodigal son. He had left his father's house, had committed all kinds of sins, but Providence was waiting far away from his father's house. Providence was waiting for him inside a pigsty to make him go back. Sometimes we go a long way, but Providence keeps accompanying our itinerary point by point, and the more we have the impression that we are running away, the closer we are to a certain point where She waits for us. She awaits with strength, solicitude, and with a commitment that we could never imagine, and then we go back.
Accordingly, this afflicted person will understand that although he may be in great confusion, Providence may intentionally allow this confusion to give him a special grace afterward. There is more: these obscure, nebulous spiritual trials out of which a person does not know how to get, in which he is completely stunned, they are the best spiritual tests because in confusion, the person does not know how to cope and is completely dependent on Providence. He depends on prayer because he has no other way, and then he prays and, by praying, he ultimately receives the graces he wants.
I have often seen souls make more progress in a week of confusion than in a day of normal spiritual life. I have even witnessed certain situations in which everything appears to conspire against the person to aggravate the confusion. He gets haunted by the circumstances, and everything involves him. While there is no bad luck, it would seem that the person is unlucky and that everything competes to put him in even greater darkness. Later it turns out that during this darkness, the person prayed, asked for someone’s help, turned to Our Lady, and ended up being helped. So that what seems to be the worst of abandonments is often one of Providence's most solicitous acts.
If the person is in this state of confusion through no fault of his own, I tell him that he is blessed because there's nothing better than having such trials without one’s own fault. That is exactly the way a person flies the highest in the spiritual life. For the good and righteous, feeling confused, disturbed, and even feeling doubt about whether he is doing well or not, all this is for him a kind of spiritual elevator in which he ascends perpendicularly. I understand this is a very unpleasant ascension process, but it is one of the most direct and best ascension processes.
In any case, this person says he does not know how to see Our Lady as Mother. I believe this person does not know how to see Our Lady as Mother because he has some inner psychological obstacle, and in general, such objections stem from two circumstances. First, two psychological dispositions: first, when a person does not have a clear idea of the seriousness of sin and of the unworthiness of every human creature--even the best—because of their sins to please God and obtain from God what they want. Therefore, the person has no idea of how indispensable it is to have recourse to an Immaculate Mediatrix who is the Mother of God Himself, to obtain what man is incapable of.
If a person lacks a sufficient idea of what sin is—even venial--, and how it drives God away from the person in different degrees and ways, he is unable to understand the role of a Mediatrix. The Mediatrix is an intermediary whose role bridges a distance, fills a gap. One does not understand her role where that does not exist. We know that role in an excellent way precisely when we grasp the gravity of our sin. Then the person needs to meditate a little on what mortal sin is, what a venial sin is, what an offense to God is.
If we treated the last beggar on the street as we treated God, the beggar would not tolerate it. The indignity of men's treatment of God is inconceivable. Even good men sometimes are rude toward God and lack gentleness in their dealings or gentleness of soul toward God, frightening things. How to remedy this situation without a Mediatrix, an unfathomably good person whose supplications to God are omnipotent, intercede, and establish that link that our imperfections are constantly destroying? If I do not have a clear notion of this, it is not possible to fully understand the role of the Mediatrix. I have the impression that many people have difficulties in their devotion to Our Lady because of this.
Another difficulty is that people do not quite understand the role of Our Lady because they have the impression that they look at the spiritual life like a kind of accounting. I give God such a thing, and because of that, God is obliged to give me such a payment. My good deed is a check I write to the bank of heaven. I did such a good thing, now God comes and pays me, and no one needs to be intervening.
It would be like having a check or funds in the bank. I show up with a check to cash and someone says to me: You have gotten a lot of protection. That is absurd: I [have protection] because I make a deposit here. No sir. I here is my check, give me the money. Many people conceive of spiritual life as such and relationships with God as such. They say: God only accepts from me a serious and strong act of the will, a sacrifice that I wrench from myself. If I do that, God gives me the paycheck. If I do not, God kicks me and I roll down to hell. Each plays the role of banker and depositor with the other. God creates me and wants payment from me. If I don't pay, He casts me in hell. God creates me, I do something good and want His payment, and if He does not pay, I say that it is an absurdity, that He's upset with me. The whole thing is tit-for-tat, from the depositor to bank, reciprocal relationships between depositor and banker. Therefore, the role of a Mother of mercy is meaningless.
This attitude is very egalitarian because it ultimately makes us believe that we can do something without God. It completely denies the true Catholic doctrine on the role of grace, as I will explain in a moment. Catholic doctrine in this matter is altogether different. It begins by teaching us that God created us but that we cannot do any action of supernatural value without the aid of grace. So God takes a first and gratuitous step toward us, free, which is not at all founded on us but only on His goodness, which makes us draw near to Him. We draw near to Him by corresponding to the grace He gives us, but because of human misery, it is extremely difficult for man to correspond adequately to grace. Even when a saint corresponds to a grace, he somehow does not correspond as adequately as the nature of that favor would ask.
This causes a retraction on God’s part. So that if God does not give us at all times a new pardon that we do not deserve given a greater or lesser offense that we commit, we are unable to please Him. Accordingly, at every moment, His goodness takes another step that restores once again a situation, coming once again after us. This happens continuously, even with holy souls.
Holy souls, from time to time, have something through which they have a little flexion like this, but like all small flexions, it can turn into a hole like this. If it is not the mercy of God at every moment forgiving, at every moment restoring a situation that man will at every moment, in different degrees and ways, destroy. This is what we need to keep in mind to understand what our famous checks with God are. It is such an incomplete and insubstantial thing that without divine mercy one cannot stand at all. This is, by the way, in one of the Psalms that says: If you listen, Lord, to iniquities, who will sustain before You?
Everyone has greater or lesser iniquities so that no one stands before God. We live on mercy. Someone may say: But what about the role of God's justice? Does God not render justice to men? One could say that God combines justice with mercy. If He were to have no mercy and only justice, we would dissipate, we would crumble. So we are all the time having recourse to His mercy and live on that mercy. ateaqui
Once again, Our Lady’s role comes into play. If I have offended God and live on His continual mercy; if I cannot take seriously the idea of drawing continual checks against Him but at all times need Him to give me fresh money that I spent erroneously, either I have a mother who feels sorry—like good mothers who feel sorry for their bad children—and is protecting me all the time, or I am completely lost. We must see here a characteristic of maternal love which not even paternal love has. Paternal love has something strong and hard that makes it less profound in forgiveness than maternal love.
Maternal love goes further in forgiveness than paternal love. And that is why it is very appropriate for us to compare Our Lady with good earthly mothers because they know how to forgive to such an extent that often outdistances paternal love. Wherever there is a good mother, there is forgiveness. Even if her son does something terrible to her, if she can do something to make the son repent, she will do it. A small sign of repentance from the son will suffice for her to forgive him and even for drawing closer and caressing him, trying to heal that wound.
Our Lady is better than the grand total of all earthly mothers who have ever been, are, and will ever be, including saints. And She is is like that to the worst of her children. So she has an inexhaustible and unimaginable degree of kindness, tenderness, and patience for me and each of you. We need to have the Catholic faith to be able to believe such a thing. That is how we can turn to her at all times, believing in forgiveness. She gives us completely without taking our grievous failures into account: continuous forgiveness that is continually renewed.
If the soul who wrote to me has the patience to meditate on these points, I believe very much that he will find Our Lady’s help. At any rate, our prayers tonight will be for him. May Our Lady help him!