Posted February 15, 2016:
My Unforgivable Sin

by Peter Gravelle.

God’s love is strong, stronger than anything in my life. I started to learn about this about ten years ago, when I was going through a fairly major struggle, which came out in a sinful addiction I could not overcome.

My spiritual director told me that if I really wanted to get over this, there was something I could do.

Well, I very much did want to get over it, because I knew these actions were powerfully leading me away from Madonna House and I didn’t want to leave.

So, he put me under obedience to spend an hour in prayer every day. He said it may take a while before something changed, and he was right.

The first couple of weeks, as I was sitting up in the chapel, I tried to open up my heart to the love of God. But as soon as I did so, I could feel my heart, not just closing but slamming shut.

In fact, I just shut down emotionally for a week or two. Then I tried again, and again my heart shut down. This happened over and over.

It became difficult for me to pray, so I just sat there in the chapel with my arms folded and dared God to do something.

For two years, I was there in that chapel every day—the hour shortened mostly to 50 minutes, sometimes 45—but still I was there. And nothing was happening.

I continued to dare God. Sometimes I would go off into some kind of fantasy while I was sitting there, daring God to either strike me dead or get me through this.

Other times, I would just sit there fantasizing about the pleasures I would get from giving in to my temptations. Or I would think about and feel dread about going to confession. My sinfulness, instead of getting better, was getting worse.

I knew I should go to confession, but I was afraid that if I did, the priest would say, "That’s it. No more forgiveness for you. You’ve filled your quota." So I was terrified of going to confession.

Then one Sunday, Fr Pelton was the main celebrant at Mass, and somewhere in his homily, he started talking about confession. That got my interest. And then he posed this question: "How can God forget sins?"

And this little voice in me said, "Yeah, how can he?"

Then Fr. Pelton said, "He can’t. He’s omniscient; he’s all-knowing. How can someone all-knowing forget anything?"

I said to myself, "Yes! I knew that all the time." And I was sort of heckling Fr. Pelton in my mind, just egging him on, saying, "Yes, Yes, Yes," until he said his punch line:

"No. God cannot forget."

And I thought, "Okay! I’ve always thought that."

Then Fr. Pelton said, "What God does is this: once we confess our sins, once he has forgiven them, he sees them as stepping stones that become a pathway that lead us to him."

I don’t remember the rest of the homily, and I don’t remember any of the rest of the Mass. I was caught. God had me hook, line, and sinker.

I just sat there and an image came to mind, an image of a little boy who was me. This little boy had committed an unforgiveable sin. He was in his little pit surrounded by a wall of stones and every sin he/I committed was a stone making the walls around it higher and higher.

I just sat there thinking about this and looking around at these walls, and suddenly they sort of fell back making something like a great staircase. And these stairs were a pathway that I knew would lead me to God!

The little boy walked up those stairs, up and up, out of the pit. Suddenly he came to a new land, a land where he/I knew that love is possible, a land where love lives.

Suddenly I knew that love is stronger than my sense of sinfulness and stronger than my sin. In fact, it is stronger than anything in the world. Love is what God gave me, what kept me sitting in that chapel, what had led me on the path, what had brought me to that place where I could open my heart.

After that, I was able to go to confession, and I was a new man. Now, when I went to prayer I could open my heart up, for I knew that God loved me and that I could love him back. It was a very wonderful thing.

But God had more to teach me about all of this. One day a few years later, during a time when I was undergoing healing for sexual abuse, I was once again at prayer. My mind went back to the story about the little boy.

Suddenly, I knew what my unforgiveable sin was. Or rather, what an eleven-year old boy thought was an unforgiveable sin.

What was my "unforgiveable sin"? When I was abused at age eleven, I thought I consented. I thought that because I had not stopped the abuse with my life, I had committed an unforgiveable sin.

Part of what caused me to think that way was that at around that time in my life, I heard the story of St. Maria Goretti, who died at the hand of her would-be abuser. Why didn’t I let myself be killed like she was, rather than be abused? That was what I had seen, all those years, as my unforgiveable sin.

And suddenly I knew that it was this thought that was at the root of my sinful addiction.

But God is stronger; love is stronger than all of that. That is the one thing I have learned, that God can take these things, my misunderstanding and feelings of guilt, and anything else, and turn them into something good. God can use my pain.

When I lift my pain up to him, he can use it to help others. He has used it to make me more merciful to others.

But the really great grace in all this is that now I am able to sit in the chapel and open my heart to God knowing that no matter how sinful I am or was, he loves me.

Though my obedience to pray in the chapel for an hour a day has not been lifted, obedience to my spiritual director is no longer why I do it. I do it because I know that God’s love is stronger than anything in my life, and I want to be with him, to experience that love.

Would all of this have happened in me if I had not been faithful to that one hour of prayer a day? Somehow, I don’t think so.


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