The Salvation History of Each Human Heart

Happy Easter!

If you are reading this, that means you have recovered from your Peep-induced sugar coma and are once again sitting upright and taking nourishment. Some of you are back on the Web again after a mighty 40-day blackout. Welcome back!

The joy of Easter and the hatching of spring have lifted our spirits. I know this blog connects me to people all over the world, in very different climates. But here in Milwaukee, at least, the sustained double-digit weather makes me feel like I can conquer anything. The consoling new weather, the resurrection of Christ--these things produce a climate of victory. A climate of victory. That's what Easter brings to the world. Jesus' victory over sin and death increase faith, hope, and love in our hearts.

St. Ignatius of Loyola calls consolation everything that causes an increase in faith, hope, and love. Consolation is the inner joy we experience when we see God's power in the world around us and enjoy the peace Christ brings. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius provides a rule for discernment that advises us to store up our strength when we are in a time of consolation--that is, when it feels easy to praise the Lord and remember his great love. Easter can be deeply consoling as we take to heart the mercy of God. Most parents I know let their children go a little crazy with sweets on Easter; the sweetness of Easter candy gives us a tiny taste of the sweetness of salvation purchased for us by Jesus. In the spirit of St. Ignatius, store up this sweetness!

The Bible proclaims boldly that Jesus' sacrifice is universal. He offers sweet salvation to the whole world:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
-John 3:16-17
Everyone who believes in Jesus may be saved. Everyone. In fact, I'm pretty sure "everyone" was in my church this Sunday: every seat was taken in the overly warm church; the walls were lined with people fanning themselves with Easter hats; the sound system broke; babies were chattering--I drank in the hugeness of the Easter celebration and never wanted it to end! Jesus' universal offer of salvation attracts huge crowds to church, consoling us, bringing us peace, and drawing us closer to God.

"Huge crowds join Pope Francis for Easter"
(my church in Milwaukee was slightly less crowded, I guess) 

Salvation is for everyone. Most of us can wrap our heads around that just fine. Our culture can be very sensitive to inclusivity, so we easily celebrate the universal, non-preferential mercy the Lord offers. What is sometimes more difficult for us to understand (at least it can be for me) is the particularity of Jesus' saving power--Jesus died to save me personally. Each of us can imagine this in our hearts: Jesus would have endured his Passion and death even if I were the only person on earth. God, being God, saves the whole world in one perfect sacrifice, and we celebrate this with the universal church. At the same time, each of us encounters universal salvation in an intensely personal way. In our astonshing freedom, we choose to accept Jesus' offer of salvation--or not--in our heart of hearts.

One way I have prayed about Jesus' plan to save me personally has been to write my own salvation history. I got the idea from the Bible. Bible scholar Dr. Scott Hahn, founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, describes the Bible not as a random collection of independent Books, but as a single story, a coherent salvation history:
The Bible tells the story of salvation history. Salvation history is the story of God’s marvelous work, since the creation of the world, to make all men and women His children, to form from the family of mankind a family of God. He does this through a series of covenants that He makes with key figures at key points in the Bible.
I love considering the covenants God has made with the entire human race, his adopted children. The Bible is a long and many-splendored tome, so it's immensely helpful to read it, as Dr. Hahn suggests, with this unifying principle in mind: the Bible tells the story of our relationship with the God who saves the human race. It's also immensely helpful to consider our individual lives as a chronicle of God's saving power in our daily circumstances. Each of us can indeed write our own story, the salvation history of one human heart.

When the idea of writing my own salvation history first occurred to me, it struck me as presumptuous: people don't just write their own Bibles, after all. But the more I reflected on my life and recognized key moments when God clearly was guiding me, the more I realized I couldn't not consider my life as a personal salvation story. Over and over again, God has offered his grace to me
to give me knowledge of my salvation through the forgiveness of my sins. In the tender compassion of my Lord, the dawn from on high breaks upon me, to shine on me, who dwells in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide my feet into the way of peace.                        -adapted from Luke 1:77-79

I just finished reading Left To Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Toward the end of her gripping story, Immaculée narrates an encounter she has with Fari, a fellow survivor she meets at the UN headquarters in Kigali. "Be strong," he says to her, "God has spared you for a reason . . . you can stay with us until you find out what that reason is" (p. 181). Essentially, Left To Tell is that reason. It is the story of Immaculée's salvation, her own personal salvation history. Immaculée discovers God "spared" her, saved her, so she could help others discover God's message of forgiveness.

Most of us do not have stories of genocide as part of our salvation history, but we can identify with Immaculée's testimony of God's continued activity in her daily life.
God remains part of my life every day and in every way; He sustains me, protects me, and fulfills me. He makes me a better wife, a better mother, and a better person. And He's helped me make a career for myself as well. (p. 208)
Immaculée's words can inspire us all to identify the ways God offers us life each day--in big and small ways, in dramatic and boring moments, with obvious and subtle signs. Our individual salvation history may not be as long as the Bible, or as terrifying as Left To Tell; it may never be read by anyone else. But each of us has a salvation history. Each of us can reflect on the ways God has offered us his life and strength. We can, this Easter season, throw open the doors to our hearts and see how God has made his home there (see John 14:23).

I close today's post with the words of the Easter Vigil blessing of the baptismal water. As I heard these words Saturday night, my heart thrilled to recognize in them an account of our universal salvation. Each baptized Christian is a part of this history. This prayer can serve as a template for us as we pray about key moments in our own individual salvation histories. Alleluia!

The blessing of the baptismal water
O God, who by invisible power
accomplish a wondrous effect
through sacramental signs
and who in many ways have prepared water, your creation,
to show forth the grace of Baptism;

O God, whose Spirit
in the first moments of the world’s creation
hovered over the waters,
so that the very substance of water
would even then take to itself the power to sanctify;

O God, who by the outpouring of the flood
foreshadowed regeneration,
so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water
would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue;

O God, who caused the children of Abraham
to pass dry-shod through the Red Sea,
so that the chosen people,
set free from slavery to Pharaoh,
would prefigure the people of the baptized;

O God, whose Son,
baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan,
was anointed with the Holy Spirit,
and, as he hung upon the Cross,
gave forth water from his side along with blood,
and after his Resurrection, commanded his disciples:
“Go forth, teach all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
look now, we pray, upon the face of your Church
and graciously unseal for her the fountain of Baptism.

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image
and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.

May the power of the Holy Spirit,
O Lord, we pray,
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise again to life with him.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.