It’s not a part of my journey that I’m bragging about or proud of—far from it. In fact, for a long time I kept this in the dark and it was a major source of personal shame and embarrassment. But it’s an essential element of my story from which I’ve personally experienced the mercy that God offers to every person, even to the most stubborn of sinners (that’s me).
It wasn’t planned. I was never the “player” in school. I was the “nice guy,” I attended my high school youth group, and I always thought I would wait until marriage before “crossing that line.” But like a frog in a boiling pot that is oblivious to the heat being risen around it, sin got the best of me when I let down my guard (St. Paul warns us that “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall,” or as the prophet Han Solo put it, “Don’t get cocky”). The “line” got pushed further, and further, until one night in college it went too far.
Sin, as philosopher Peter Kreeft says, “makes us phonies.” Sin steals our humanity, kills our joy, and leaves us as empty shells of true selves. The character Gollum from The Lord of the Rings embodies the deteriorating effect that sin has upon us. Gollum’s very body has become corrupted by his idolization of the Ring (his “precious”), an object that is the very impetus of his misery and despair. He is addicted. His senses are dulled and vision blackened. Sin does the same to us. Pre-marital sex, while idolized by the world and packaged as “real love,” is actually the opposite, as I found out first hand. Rather than being free to love, I became enslaved to lust. With darkened intellect and twisted desires, I rationalized. I made up excuses for my behavior. I never was further from “myself” and from God than in that period of my life. I feared bringing any details of the relationship to the light. So, like Gollum, I stayed in the darkness.
But darkness can never overcome the light.
“O happy fault!” The phrase felix culpa (Latin for “happy fall” or “blessed guilt”) that we proclaim at the Easter Vigil fleshes out this wonderful paradox—through some of the greatest evils, God can pour out a greater love and mercy upon mankind. St. Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans: where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20). From Adam’s sin came the glory of Jesus Christ. From my own sin and selfishness, God mercifully cleansed and humbled me in the years of seminary formation to form me into the spouse I would one day become.
For a while, though, I lost hope in a happy ending to my story. I thought I was “tainted” or “damaged goods.” I didn’t know Jackie was coming (if I had, I would never have left my room!). She’s been saving herself for marriage, and I had to confess to her that I didn’t. I messed up. But the way that Jackie loves me—in such a pure, disinterested, and benevolent way—has brought so much healing. She told me one night that she doesn’t want the “Bobby of 2007” or the “Bobby of 2010;” she wants the “Bobby of now.” I’ve been to confession. I’ve been made a new creation. And it was time to start living like it.
The band Mumford & Sons has a song off their latest album called “Lover of the Light.” It illustrates well how goodness trumps selfishness and how beauty dispels the shadows that enslave our hearts (even the music video depicts a blind man who runs freely out of his darkness into the freedom of the light). No matter how long we’ve been living in the shadows, we are all called to be “lovers of the light.” A part of my story that I kept in the dark for many years has been transformed into a testimony that I’m now sharing (through Jackie’s support) with teens and young adults. One teen recently wrote us and said that our witness to her Confirmation group convicted her to keep her virginity even though her boyfriend was pressuring her to give it away to him. Praise God! Even if one young person turns back to God’s light because of our humble witnessing, this is all worth it.
I read recently that, “conversion involves the transformation of all our fragmented experiences, all our disjointed and painful memories, all our divisive and frustrating moments of unachieved hopes, yearning and dreams, failures and loss of self-esteem or sense of worth resulting from the destructive power of evil” (M. Gaudoin-Parker).
No one is ever “too far gone.” Some of the greatest sinners have become the greatest saints. God is calling all of us out of the darkness and into the light. He wants to use our faults and failings for His glory. Let’s give Him permission to do so.