• Sarah Raad


And as I stand outside the Church to pray, I bow my head, and weep… For all the hurt that I caused my God…

The Martyrdom of Saint Paul (Mattia Preti)

Yesterday, once again – like last year – we could not attend Mass, we could not gather in our homes, we could not drive away on holidays, and we could not even go out to work if our work could be done at home. Life has suddenly became very very slow again.

At around this time last year – when we had first been plunged into this sort of lockdown – things were very different for me. My beautiful little niece had not yet been born, and I had experienced no great conversion. To topple an already wavering tower, my business had never had to operate exclusively online before, and I was dealing with change on every different level at a time when I was already spiritually destitute.

To top this all off, I was completely and utterly heartbroken that the Churches had closed their doors to us. My faith – which was only weakly hanging on by a thread for years and years before this had happened – was now completely destroyed and shattered.

I was defeated by that lockdown last year. It completely broke me.

In those days, when the priests and the bishops closed our Churches, and I stood outside the locked doors of the churches and looking into the darkened space, I truly felt that God Himself had shut me out. I retaliated violently. I proclaimed far and wide – I would not return to Mass until the churches stop this stupidity and reopen. This is ridiculous. They have betrayed us.

It was as dark inside my soul as it was inside those now darkened Churches.

This was all – of course – only months (mere weeks really) before the great miracle of my conversion when my beautiful little niece was born…

Now, I can remember something that I was unable to process at that time inside those darkened churches… For inside the Church – even when the lights are off – a candle or a lamp burns beside the Tabernacle while the Blessed Sacrament is inside it. That lamp burns to show us that God Himself is inside the Tabernacle, and this is the reason we genuflect when we enter a Church – to show respect in our greeting of God.

This time around I can see that lamp…

Yesterday we celebrated the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Saint Peter was martyred by being crucified on an upside-down cross for preaching the Good News of Salvation to the Jews, and Saint Paul was martyred by beheading for preaching the Good News of Salvation to the Gentiles.

Each of those men had felt the darkness before.

Saint Peter, on a cold dark lonely night denied his beloved Saviour three times. This was after years of promising to stand by Him, and years of saying that He would follow Christ even unto death. Then, at the most crucial of times, in abject terror, Saint Peter denied Christ three times. But those denials did not come out of nowhere...

When the soldiers had arrived in the Garden to arrest Christ, Peter had responded rapidly and violently in his attempt to protect his Beloved… “Then Simon Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. ‘Put your sword back in its sheath!’ Jesus said to Peter. ‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?’” (John 18:10-11).

Peter thought he was doing what God wanted. He thought he was supposed to protect the Christ. And he defended Christ in the only way he could see would work because he did not understand God’s own plan of salvation. And when that plan did not work out – when Christ Himself stopped Peter – Peter’s whole world fell away into darkness. He could not understand and he could not see. And so, later that same night, when he was asked three times if he was a disciple of Christ – he denied Him… “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’” (Luke 22:60-61).

I was Peter standing outside that Church last year. I had my sword in my hand and was busy cutting off the servant’s ear, but Christ firmly barred my way. He stopped me… ‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?’” (John 18:11)…

And what I remember from this story of Saint Peter, is not so much the denial – though that is what we hear over and again during the Easter Liturgies… I remember the bitterness of his weeping afterwards, “And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62). One of my sisters told me that she read that Saint Peter continued to cry those bitter tears as he was being crucified – for he carried such sorrow for his earlier denials of his Lord.

I too continue to weep for what I previously misunderstood…

Saint Paul also thought he was doing what God wanted. He was a Pharisee who thought that it was his job to kill off the Catholic Church by martyring all the Christians. And then, when he heard the voice of Christ on that road to Damascus, he was cast quite literally into darkness when he was struck with blindness. “And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts, 9:7-9).

As with the story of Saint Peter’s denial, it is not the voice or the blindness that I remember from this story – though I have heard the story told over and again… I remember Saint Paul’s fast – three days without food or drink. I imagine his grief at realising that the actions which he had performed so diligently in order to please God had actually hurt Him instead. I imagine his tears as they led him to the block on the day of his execution as he surely wept for all the times when he had so greatly misunderstood God…

I too continue to weep for what I previously misunderstood…

And so now, though the churches are closed and there is darkness within, when I look through the windows, I see the light – glowing faintly next to my God… And as I stand outside the Church to pray, I bow my head, and weep… For all the hurt that I caused my God…

For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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