Recently I started a new job. I work with at risk young people. Many of which are on probation and many of which are under some form of court ordered supervision. Whether it be electronic monitering or spending time in the juvenile detention center. The department I work for is called diversion. We offer different programs and groups to help them re-order the way they think and act. During group tonight, the conversation came around to change. One of the young ladies, said that people cannot change. She clarified for me when I asked for it, "people absolutely cannot change, they are who they are." This sort of hopelessness effects many of the young people that I work with. They have in a sense lost their innocence and their purity. By purity I am not speaking of merely sexual purity, rather, purity of heart. Yet, as I have said ad nauseum and will continue to say, conversion is real, people really do change, and hearts are really purified by the grace of God. We can suppose and we should that these young people in the depths of their being still maintain an openness to truth, love, and God. It may not be visible to us because it remains mostly hidden as a result of new compromises and union with evil and sin which rob them of their purity. Introduced to impurity at a young age, they have tethered themselves to vice as if it were the only way to live. But their "thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul (Spe Salvi 46)." I see it when I finally get one of them to laugh or smile a task which is not easy with many of them. What about their eternal end? Is there hope?
St. Paul says:
"Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burened up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor. 3: 13-15). There is a universal certainty that will touch all of us, that is our finality. Death. Even these young people. St. Paul reminds us of that day when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead and that judgement will be final. The actions of our lives and the disposition of our heart will be known to Jesus. The purifying fire of God's love will be set to our works and there fruit will be made known. What was the intention in our heart? Were our actions born of love for God? Some of what we have done clearly will be burnt to the ground. Clearly if we are to be saved we must pass through this fire of love, which will be painful, so that we might become "fully open to receiving God" (Spe Salvi).
Touch of His Heart
"His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation as through fire. but it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear; the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out toward Christ, toward truth, and toward love" (Spe Salvi). What was really painful for me today at group was that I could not give this young lady Jesus, I couldn't even mention His name. Yet it is His love that sears through us like a flame, purifying our hearts in prayer, drawing us closer to Him in the Eucharist. He increases our faith, He gives us greater Hope, He pours His divine charity into our souls. Our lives become lives full of hope! Our will becomes evermore conformed to the will of God. Even if we have made mistakes, even if we have lost our purity, thereby, defiling our bodies, and rejecting the truth about our humanity, that we were meant to participate in God's divinity, it does not have to be permanent. One free will choice, to take a baby step toward the purifying fire of Christ's love, is a step in a new and decisive direction. That first baby step can be our first movement toward a new life in Christ, toward truth, and of course the mercy and love of God.
Fear and Trembling
Each of us is working out our salvation with "fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Working it out, is always working toward a deeper love of Christ. When a soul has been brought down by impurity and cooperation with the sinful suggestions of Satan, it is a painful journey back. Why? Because you must walk through the purifying fire of God's love and truth. You must renounce those vices which you have embraced. Remember Christ on the cross? That is the standard for love. And Christ is asking us to willingly submit ourself to suffering and pain for the sake of redemption. By that I mean embracing the suffering and pain that always comes along with loving deeply. For these young people there is still time to rediscover purity of heart, but their lack of hope is a cause for concern. Their unwillingness to sacrifice for the good of others is cause for concern. They are afraid to love, afraid to care about anything or anyone, and they are afraid to be loved. Jesus will not purify the unwilling, just look at the rich man, the bad thief, or the scribes and the pharisees. There is a different kind of fire for the unwilling and the proud. There is always hope. Conversion and change are real and they happen, ask Saul. We need to remember St. Paul's conversion when we are working with and witnessing to the faith in the hope of drawing others to the truth. We need to remember that no matter where they are, St. Paul was a terrorist, he killed Christians. We must remember that the thirst for purity remains in every human person, no matter how deviant they may appear of may have become.
Please pray for these young people and for their conversion of heart. Pray that they may come to know hope in a life changing way.