Pope Francis declared 2016 a jubilee year for the Church known as “The Year of Mercy.” For me, this was indeed a year of great mercy. It was in this year I came forward about being sexually abused in my hometown parish. It was the year I came to really know the person of Christ. It was the year Love found me in my misery.
In February of 2015, a month prior to the announcement of the jubilee year, I finally had the trust and courage to confide in another person about everything that had happened to me. I can remember the details of that day so distinctly. There was a place on campus I would often go to sit in silence and pray. It was right off of a creek in a wooded area at UC Berkeley. I headed there after class on a particularly rough day and found my best friend sitting in that spot waiting for me. I asked her “hey what are you doing here?” She said “I had a feeling you would be here!”
In everything that happened following this greeting, I have no doubt she was prompted by the Holy Spirit to meet me there that day. I told her everything. I trusted her with my heart and the things I suffered the most humiliation from. I believed I was “unlovable, unworthy of relationship, and intrinsically flawed” (although at the time I couldn’t put these beliefs into words I couldn’t really put these beliefs into words). I told her how embarrassed I was about the sexual relationship “I had engaged in” with a much older man at my church. While this relationship had started while I was still a minor in high school, I continued to receive messages from this individual into my freshmen year of college, at the time of this conversation. As her eyes teared up, she lovingly helped me see that I had been manipulated due to my age and vulnerability. Because of this, my culpability in the situation had been compromised.
I had been living in the lie that everything that had happened was entirely my fault and I could not forgive myself. Although I had made efforts to cut off communication throughout the course of this relationship, he kept coming back, and I kept responding because I felt a guilt in not doing so. I felt I owed him for paying attention to me. I also felt a sense of attachment to this individual that had developed over the course of few years. Because of this attachment I believed I had complete freedom to choose and continually attempted to minimize what had happened. This was not the first time I had ever been trapped in a lie like this, but perhaps the most shameful I had ever felt. My friend’s empathetic and loving response was exactly what I needed to be free of this lie.
Her compassion was a reflection of Christ’s compassion. He was saddened by my hiding from others and most especially from Him as it prevented our relationship from growing. My greatest sin in this situation was the inability to forgive myself and give my woundedness completely to Jesus. While God is perfectly just He is also abundantly merciful. Like many others before me, I tended to focus on just one of those. I’ve come to know since this day that that is how I hurt Christ most, through my failure to acknowledge his Divine Mercy.
Just prior to this experience I had become familiar with the devotion of Divine Mercy thanks to the same friend I had confided in. She had begun reading a book about St. Faustina and would share what she had read with me. In these discussion I came to once again realize that Christ wanted me to come to Him above all else. I came to understand the actual person of Christ, not just the idea of Christ.
The biggest obstacle in my journey to find mercy and forgiveness throughout my life has been myself. It’s way too easy to believe that you’re the only one whose ever committed the wrongdoing that you can’t forgive yourself for or are afraid to talk to anyone about. That’s pride talking, pride disguised as humility. There is a 99.9999999% chance that the wrongdoing you’re afraid to talk to anyone about is not unique to you. The only thing unique to your sin is you. One of the things I’ve come to learn about what we call “sin” is that it is NOT creative in any sense of the word. I lived in this false humility for a long time in my struggles with sex and abuse.
There’s something particularly shame-inducing and painful when it comes to sexual sins. Why is that? Perhaps it is because our sexuality is very personal or sacred part of who we are. A different friend of mine once confided in me that they were struggling with the sin of masturbation. “I can’t even say that word” my friend said. What stuck out to me most about this conversation is that I had to say the word “masturbation” for them. It was physically painful for them to say what they were trapped in. But once they did, they felt a power to overcome it. I myself, knew the pain of not being able to speak truth. My friend was able to take it to the Sacrament of Confession and felt a freedom they had never known. Christ was waiting for them there just as He had been waiting for me.
It was at the very beginning of the Year of Mercy I came to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession and confided in him my inability to give all of my woundedness completely to Christ. He listened to my entire story and met with me after the confession to help me navigate how to come forward with my abuse. With the help of this amazing spiritual father, and through a miraculous moment in adoration, Jesus said “Yes” After months of getting “No” to my question “Should I come forward?” I got a “Yes” And at the moment I felt this “Yes,” I believe I saw the face of Jesus in tears in front of the monstrance I was gazing at. He was weeping for me. This gave me strength to do what I had to do.
In hindsight I recognize that Jesus waited to give me this “Yes” until I was strong enough to bear the fallout of coming forward. I had to be completely rooted in my relationship with Him before I could endure the losses that would come. Perhaps there are elements of His timing that I have yet to see or may never know. But I completely trust that it was His will.
Recently I have found a renewed fire for the Devotion to Divine Mercy and have cracked open the Diary of St. Faustina that has been sitting on my book shelf for quite some time. In March of 2015, Pope Francis announced the 2016 jubilee year would be called “The Year of Mercy.” In January of 2016, following months of discernment with a spiritual director and daily conversations with Christ, I came forward to Church officials and my family about what had happened. That year April 3rd, my birthday, fell on Divine Mercy Sunday. I believe that through this providential landing Christ was telling me that everything that had happened in this year had a purpose and His mercy was with me in it all.
Just as Christ desperately desired my vulnerability He desperately wants yours. Bring them to the foot of His cross and let Him love you!
5 thoughts on “The Year My Birthday Fell On Divine Mercy Sunday”
Thanks for your courage in sharing your story of pain and healing. You have been immersed in the Paschal Mystery, the dying and the rising of Christ! May your story help others to receive the healing that only Jesus can bestow!
Thank you Fr. Joe for your vocation and spiritual fatherhood!