Felix Culpa

    At the bank a few years back, my friendly teller and I were chatting in the way that sometimes happens when you are about the same age as the person helping you, and one of you goes, “Oh my gosh, I love your eyelashes!”

    And the other one goes, “Oh WOW, that is so sweet. Your necklace is adorable.”

    Then, “I am so serious, though. What mascara do you use? It’s, like, magical….”

    I could continue—because this is fascinating, I know—but I have more important things to talk about.

    (But in case you were wondering: Big Fatty Mascara by Urban Decay. You’re welcome.)

    ANYWAY. During the course of our intellectual conversation, I noticed a tattoo on her forearm: a cross, with the words “felix culpa” wrapped around it. She saw me looking at it and explained that it was in memory of her dad who, she said, had told her that even though he had done a lot to screw up his life, nothing was lost because out of that he experienced the grace of forgiveness.


    At the time, I was made very uncomfortable by her words. The idea of a “happy fault” was much too contradictory an idea for me to swallow.

    In my mind, to screw up, to sin, meant the end. Of course God can forgive you, but you should never sin in the first place. So even though he forgives you, you’ve still FAILED. You’ve still been bad. Failure,  at the time, seemed bigger and more important than the whole forgiveness aspect.

    Something similar happened when my junior high religion teacher posed the question: “Which scenario is better: walking in the Garden of Eden with God, or having God-made-man come down to earth and lay down his life for us?”

    I struggled for about 2.5 seconds with that one. Obviously the former situation is the best option. That idiotic apple eating fest and the enormity of that mistake kind of outweighs the fact that God actually shed his blood. Forgiveness, mercy, is a minor player in the enormity that is sinfulness.

    So I stayed in that place for a few years. In retrospect, it was a hard place to stay, let me tell you.

    But then, gradually, there was a shift in me. All of a sudden I started to see the beauty in forgiveness after the fall. That scene from Brideshead Revisited where Lord Marchmain shakily crosses himself, at last acknowledging the God he had tried so hard to run from, seemed to be more important than all the previous transgressions.

    In fact, it began to seem as if if that moment of collapse into the arms of grace is sometimes only made possible because of, and not in spite of, all the dirt that comes before.

    I should emphasize that one shouldn’t sin just to experience forgiveness, and that, yes, it is better not to sin.

    BUT. But…we are human, and therefore, idiotic. This means that, for the most part, we don’t even realize how incredibly much we need God. We completely ignore that Bible verse from Second Corinthians about “I am strong, when I am weak.”

    And this is where sin comes in. Sometimes the effects of our sins are precisely the smack upside the head that we need. We are brought face to face with our weakness. We can not ignore it, and we can not run away from it. Those moments where we are brought low and have no choice but to whisper out a desperate “help”—those moments are when we are filled with the strength, the grace, the forgiveness we need.

    That grace, that strength is always available. It is always here. But we are descendants of people who ate the one thing God told them not to, when they had everything else they needed. We believe we can do it all, have it all, without God’s help. Sometimes we need to be brought to ours knees. We need it proven to us that we can’t, we really can’t, do anything outside of him.

    Sin has a funny way of making us aware of that.

    People think of moments of grace as those times when you are generously forgiven or abundantly helped or made aware of love, or any other good thing.

    Perhaps moments of grace are also way before the good that befalls us. Perhaps moments of grace are also when we are allowed to fall flat on our face, so that we can look up to see the hand held out to us, realize it was there all along, and that we need to grasp it and hold on with all our strength.

    In some odd way, sin doesn’t have to be the end, it might very well be the beginning.

    Happy the fault, then, which makes us aware of a love that we can’t even fathom and a forgiveness that we can not understand.