The Freedom to Refuse Love by Henri Nouwen

Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward.  But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.

God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus.  God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey.  God is love and only love.  In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished.  God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home.  But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God’s love even at the risk of destroying ourselves.   Hell is not God’s choice.  It is ours.
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“Remember you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be a great many things about which you care nothing.” –St. Teresa of Avila

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Becoming Like Children by Richard Rohr

Some years ago I visited an old Franciscan who lived in Gallup, New Mexico. He spent most of his life working with the native people, and he loved them deeply. When I knew him, he was probably in his late eighties. He was bent over and he would walk the streets of downtown Gallup in his Franciscan robe and sandals, carrying a cane. He would lift his bent head and greet everybody with the greeting of St. Francis: “Good morning, good people!” Our job is to remind people of their inherent goodness, and this is what this dear man did.

On his cane he had strung a string of battery-powered, blinking Christmas lights. Now to anyone who is a tourist in town, they must think him quite the old fool—bent over, in a brown robe and sandals, with blinking Christmas lights on his cane! And it was not even Christmas time.

One day I asked him, “Father, why do you put those blinking Christmas lights on your cane?”

He cocked his head toward me, looked up grinning, and said, “Richard, it makes for good conversation. See, you are talking to me now. Everybody asks about them, and I am able to talk to everybody because of my Christmas lights.”

Now, was he a fool in most peoples’ eyes? Was he a naïve innocent? Yes, I guess he was. The “holy fool” is the final stage of the full human journey. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is those who become like little children who will enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus, in his frequent allusion to children, was in his own way describing this final stage of life. We return to that early childhood, as it were, running naked and exposed into the great room of life and death. “I am who I am who I am” now. God has accepted me in my most naked being, and I can now give it all back to God exactly as it is with conscious loving trust that it will be received. What else would God want?

from The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis

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