Working in my particular branch of the Archdiocese means I typically handle calls from cranky people.
This past week I had felt incredibly bogged down with an overload of work and a litany of agitated callers. I would love to say I responded charitably and patiently with each person, but I'd be lying.
God forgive me, but Friday morning found me in an awfully foul mood. My very first caller of the day (before I'd even sat down at my desk!) was an angry person demanding to know why we were such evil, evil people. Le sigh.
I handled the call as politely as possible, but I could feel my entire mindset shift from "Good morning, world!" to "Gah, let me survive today without stabbing anyone with my letter opener."
As the day dragged on with more of the same, I actually looked up at the ceiling and said outloud, "Alright, God, what did I do? Not really sure where You're going with all of this, but You need to do something about these folks [calling in]."
No sooner did I mouth that frustration than did the Archbishop's secretary come down and request my boss. Since he was in a meeting, I asked if I could help with anything.
Turns out there was a very unhappy couple downstairs making a scene and demanding an audience with the Archbishop. Security was refusing to let them up and his secretary had no idea what else to do with them. I contemplated passing the baton to one of three directors in my office, but honestly, I knew they were all super busy and just didn't have the time to spend soothing the ire out of anyone. So, I bit the bullet and followed the Archbishop's secretary to the security desk.
It wasn't pretty when I went downstairs. They weren't just angry... they were livid. Security didn't want to let them into the building, but shoving them into the street wasn't going to help. Since our office was relatively quiet that afternoon, I agreed to have them voice their complaints upstairs and away from the gawkers who had gathered to see the spat.
The Archbishop's secretary gratefully bid us farewell as I led the couple upstairs and into our conference room. I braced myself for the onslaught of ire that had obviously welled up inside of them. I'd endured an entire week of super-charged anger. I viewed them as my last epic hurdle until my weekend which would be free from folks like this. So on the surface I treated them with careful respect and a soothing, caring manner. On the inside, though, I was recoiling from the wave of vitriol I had accepted from the Archbishop's secretary.
Oh, how I cringe at my callous heart!
This couple is middle-aged and closing in fast on retirement. The wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and her husband had been out of work due to a severe injury. They've been struggling for several years due to the mounting medical bills and lack of work. They had looked for help everywhere and found nothing. The husband pulled stacks of business cards and letters from his bag to show me regarding his efforts in securing a livelihood and subsequent help for he and his wife. The desperation and frustration were evident.
What was more evident, however, was their love and faith.
As both of them spoke over one another in their attempt to tell me why they were so frustrated and upset, I noticed how very caring they were of one another. Their body language was endearing. She kept grasping his arm and he kept patting her hand. She would sometimes hug him close when she fumbled for words and he would quickly pick up for her and explain the feelings for which she had no words.
It was a beautiful thing to witness.
And on top of that, this struggling couple did not express anger at me or at the Archdiocese. They weren't cursing God for allowing them to be in the situation they found themselves. In fact, the wife said "My breast cancer is God's will and I accept that. If He wishes to heal me, He'll heal me. If not, then I shall go with Him and that is that."
Instead, their frustration came from a simple miscommunication that served to bring them to our very doorstep. They acknowledged that had it not been for our mailing, they wouldn't have come to us and learned that we do, in fact, offer the very services they need to get back on their feet again. God used their anger and frustration as the bait to lead them into the trap of His Love. Doesn't that sound silly? But it's true. God knows what motivates us, and sometimes it's as basic as our human frustration.
Anyway, this couple vented all of their issues to me... personal, private matters that they just longed to share with another human person. They'd been kicked around so many systems, taken advantage of by so many groups that are supposed to help... they just didn't know where else to turn. So, God led them to the Archdiocesan center... specifically to me.
And I think I got more from their visit more than they did.
Seeing how much they loved each other... how willing they were to sacrifice for the other's benefit... it was almost too much for me!
In order to survive on the $16 welfare food stipend they receive, they will eat every other day. So the wife will eat one day, the husband will eat the next, etc, etc, etc. They acknowledged this as if it were perfectly normal - that anyone would do this if faced with a similar situation. The husband kept saying, "But she is my wife. Of course I will do this."
I must've had the most stupified look on my face. It was all I could do to keep from crying. How shameful I must be in the Eyes of the Lord. I'm going about my day frustrated with the very people I work to serve. To put me in my place... to show me how arrogant and thoughtless I'd become, He brought two of these very people to look me in the eye and express to me the depth of their pain.
It was like a challenge from God.
Can you dare to open your mouth against these children of Mine? To whine, complain and roll your eyes when tasked with answering their call? I put you into this position specifically so you could help my people, and what do I get from you in return? Scorn? Disdain? Arrogance? You act shameful and thus shame that which I have done for you!
Ugh - my heart must have broken into a thousand pieces. I felt so inadequate... so unworthy... so terrible. God had answered my prayer, but He had answered in a way that far exceeded what my original intention had anticipated. Forgive me my folly, Lord. Oh, forgive me my folly...
My coworkers, by this time, were growing agitated that this couple had spent so much of my time in the conference room. After all, phones needed to be answered, envelopes stuffed, and paperwork filed. The longer I was away from my desk, the less work was getting done. Thus, I guided the conversation to a close as quickly as possible with the promise of engaging all the proper channels to help them get situated.
After I escorted them out of the building, security apologized up and down for handing over what they assumed (what I had assumed!) were a couple of nut jobs. I assured them that everything was fine and the couple was actually a great gift to me. I tried to explain that to my coworkers, too. They, though, had about a thousand jokes at the ready aimed at me and my bleeding heart for allowing them to torment my patience for the better part of an hour.
I don't care, though. I recognized what that couple was. They were my stark reprimand as well as my chance for mercy. God made it so that I'd have the proper avenues at the ready to answer their needs. So not only was I reminded of the blessing it was to serve these people, God granted me the satisfaction of actually being able to do it.
It was a much needed reminder that I'm shamed to say I needed. So I hope you guys take heart in this as well. Sometimes in life there are going to be lots of angry people who want to vent at you. The best you can do is accept that God placed you there to return their anger and frustration with love and kindness as best you can, because even these folks (maybe even especially these folks) are in need of God's mercy. Be that mercy for them.
***And please, please, please keep this couple in your prayers. They deserve to be lifted to the Lord in a very special way given their overwhelming needs. Truly these folks need as many prayers as possible. Thanks!***
I currently use Earthlink as my internet provider. As you can no doubt tell by my lack of posts, this provider hasn’t been providing anything aside from agita for the last month. I’m lucky to have internet for 3 minute stretches. Most days I’m simply without. Extremely frustrating, but not exactly the worst thing ever.
Anyway, I wanted to share a fun story of Divine Providence with you.
A few months ago, I ordered a few copies of my favorite St. Joseph book. These last few months they’ve sat in a closet because I kept forgetting to bring them to their intended recipients (my mother and a priest friend… we’ll call him Fr. Happy Meal).
Every time I’d go to my mother’s house, I’d think to myself, “Darn it, not again! I left the books at home!”
Seriously… it was SO frustrating! I felt so foolish every time I’d show up without the books that were sitting pointlessly on a shelf.
Anyway, fast forward to last week. I had a last minute meeting spring up and was unable to find a sitter. I called my sister in Philly to see if she’d be able to swing by last minute to help out. She could, so she came by to sit for Vince.
While she was there, I gave her the books because I was NOT going to forget them again!
She took them home and gave them to my mother. I let my mom know that one was for her and one was for Fr. Happy Meal. She assured me she’d pass along the book to him when she saw him next.
A few days later, I got a phone call from Fr. Happy Meal. He was really happy to have received the book because he’d recently been looking for a new book to read. His bookshelf is full of theology / spirituality books, but he was craving one on a saint – any saint. He didn’t have any, though, and no real time to purchase any, so when the book on St. Joseph fell into his lap, it was a happy answer to his desire for such specific reading material.
I love stories like that. God obviously knew St. Joseph would come knocking on Fr. Happy Meal’s heart in Lent, so He made sure to plant the idea of purchasing that book into my head. He also made sure I forgot the book repeatedly until the timing was just right. Then, when things were in order and Fr. Happy Meal felt the yearning for saintly reading material, He lined things up to make certain my sister would pick up the book from me (since He couldn’t trust I’d ever remember to bring it, myself – sorry, God!). How cool is that?
Things like that are nice little reminders that God’s always thinking of us and laying down the path for us to follow. Some people might chalk all this up to a crazy set of coincidences. I feel lucky to be one of the “crazies” who not only sees, but feels, the Hand of God in these happy occurrences.
Our Lady cradles Jesus
I just got back from picking up lunch on my break. While I was waiting in line, a father came over to the condiment counter for napkins in order to wipe his son's face. The little boy was about Vincent's age. I smiled at him, and he smiled back with this huge, "the world is amazing" grin. I laughed to myself and gave his father an appreciative nod - he's raising a beautiful little boy.
The little boy's older brother came over and "nuggied" his head. The younger brother giggled as the older tousled his hair, then they both ran off to play. Their father called after them, "Vince, make sure you look after Luca."
And even remembering him calling that out makes me choke up.
I understand why I immediately felt like a ton of bricks smashed against my chest, but it still catches me off-guard.
Those little moments when I become so overcome with jealousy and grief that I don't think I can resume breathing... they give no warning. They spring upon me with no sympathy for where I am or who might see my heart break.
Luca. It wasn't even Vince's name as the older brother that knifed me to my core. It was Luca's... the little one who is about Vince's age. As soon as I heard his name, my heart first melted. What a beautiful name, I thought. I'd love to have a little Luca.
That tender appreciation for such a simple, eloquent name quickly turned into intense longing and grief. Yes, I admit there was jealousy there. But it isn't as if I wanted to snatch the child away from his father and run home. It wasn't as if I was envious to the point of wishing he were mine instead of belonging to that family. I was just a little jealous that they got to have a Luca and I did not.
Then I tried to console myself with the fact that my next little one wouldn't have been a Luca anyway. If we were to have another boy, he'd've been a Nathan. But Luca... something about that little boy's name was like a fire-brand to my heart. It just made me long for a newborn and painfully aware of my inability to have one.
And then came all the familiar self-assaults: You're cheating Vincent out of siblings. You're disappointing your parents (in-laws, too) because they deserve to have the grandkids they, too, long for. You're with-holding playmates from Arianna and Alliya. You're cheating yourself out of the fullness of your motherhood. You're... you're... you're!!!
So for those of you who ask me how I do it... or say I'm a saint for dealing with John, I assure you... I'm no saint. This is a daily struggle that sometimes becomes almost impossible. It attacks when you least expect it, and it's a daunting challenge to contain the interior emotions that threaten to suffocate you. My only advice to those of you (men and women alike) who are struggling with this cross - immediately call out to Our Lady. Offer it and just accept those sudden moments of unbearable emotional lashing as atonement for someone on the brink of mortal sin.
That thought gives me solace.
Maybe, just maybe, God allows us those tiny moments of sacrifice for someone half-way around the globe in need of spiritual assistance. I imagine that's what Christ clung to as He stumbled under the weight of the Cross along Calvary.
Hang on... call out for assistance. Those are the moments in which we are closest to Him. As such, hand over those moments immediately for whatever uses He needs them for. In return, He will promptly give you the graces necessary to prop yourself back up again.
You might not feel it right away... but in time, peace will settle back into your heart.
Who has two thumbs and a position working for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?
Okay, so I don't exactly have my thumbs pointing at myself in this one, but I look pretty awesome with those aviators (which is exactly how I feel on account of the fact that I get to work for the Archdiocese!!!).
GAH!!! THE ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA!!!
I'm so excited! To work in the service of the Archdiocese that opened the gates of the Faith to me... wow. I just can't even express how gratified I am to be given this opportunity. Given the fact that the Archdiocese is hurting right now, I am ESPECIALLY happy to be able to toss my services their way.
I will be taking a significant pay-cut, but the way I look at it, I'm gaining so much in place of it. I'll be working right next to the Basilica, I'd likely be able to stop in during lunch breaks to say "Hi" to Jesus, I'll be working with other Catholics (culture shock!), and I might even get to ride the elevator with Archbishop Chaput. Pardon me while I squeal again in girlish delight...
Instead of screaming "SANTA," though, I'd be screaming "HIS GRACE!!!"
Wow, though. I almost can't believe how this practically fell in my lap. What a gift!
A friend of mine works for the Archdiocese and let me know a position was available. Within 20 minutes of sending my resume, I had an interview scheduled. The interview, itself, was fun (I'm a nerd that way), and less than a week later I got the offer.
Attempting to convince my atheist husband that taking a pay-cut to go work for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was entertaining, but God was good and removed even that obstacle from my path. John is supportive of this move, I think, because he sees how incredibly exuberant I am. He definitely cringed a bit at first, but after explaining to him what I'd be doing (and seeing how happy just explaining it made me), he agreed it'd be a good move.
So once I made sure all was well with me leaving my current position for the Archdiocesan one, I formally accepted their offer. I begin in September. Deo gratias!
The Original "Hulk"
So a friend of mine brought up a good question while we were discussing theology yesterday. Mind you, this friend is an atheist (I wonder, sometimes, if I have any other variety), so the typical atheist "But What Abouts" came up.
But What Abouts (BWA) is my shorthand for any of the typical "But what about God telling you it's OK to kill a slave" or "But what about God allowing for rape so long as you pay the virgin's father a few shekels" arguments that arise when folks try to change a faithful person's belief in the truth of the Bible.
Anyway, the BWA that came up yesterday revolved around good old Samson. Many non-Christians are familiar with his story because he's typically portrayed as a Conan-like warrior with long, flowing locks that magically give him power to topple entire buildings with the flex of his biceps. The implication was that Christians believe in magic hair.
Unfortunately, what's typically left out of these childhood stories of Samson is anything of substance.
Samson wasn't just some Hulk-figure who had "magic hair." He was one of the Judges of the Old Testament.
Judges were God's answer to the constant failings of the Israelites during their 40 year punishment outside of the Promised Land. In the 40 year time span between Israel coming upon the Promised Land and finally inhabiting it, the Israelites went through a well documented cycle of:
"Hey, everyone, let's sin - it's fun!"
"Uh oh - now that we've sinned, we're being punished with the effects of our sin!"
"Aw, man! God, we're really sorry for disobeying Your Law again, can you please help us out by sending someone who will lead us to justice?"
God sends someone termed a "judge" to restore balance to the Israelites.
Everyone says, "Yay, God! Thanks for being awesome and saving us! We'll abide by Your Convenant forever."
A few years pass and then sin starts looking super fun again.
Repeat. A lot.
Samson was one of these judges that God raised up from amongst the Israelites to restore balance and justice to His people.
Not many people realize this, but Samson had an annunciation similar to John the Baptist. An angel appeared to his parents, too, and affirmed that, though they were barren, they'd bear a son who would save Israel from the Philistines. As such, the angel instructed his parents to raise him as a nazirite.
Now, what the heck is a nazirite?
Well, since the tribes forked over their right to perform priestly duties at both the Golden Calf incident and then again at the 1st attempt to enter Canaan, the Levites became the new priests of Israel. However, there were some "layfolk" who were permitted to help with priestly duties if they took special vows that set them apart from the general population. These were the nazirites.
One of the vows a nazirite took was the refusal to cut one's hair. Sound familiar?
Samson never cut his hair because he made a special vow to the Lord never to do so. It was this unwavering faith in God that gave Samson his strength. His hair was simply the symbol of his personal covenant with God. Samson handed over his life in service of the Lord, and in return, the Lord protected him and granted him the grace to deliver justice to the Israelites.
So to answer my friend's question regarding the "magic" of Samson's hair, I responded that no, Samson's hair wasn't magic. It was the symbol of his adherence to God's Will. It was only after Samson turned away from God's Will that his hair ended up being cut (the symbolic severance of their covenant) .
You see, Samson went and married a Philistine - TWICE - after God had specifically told the Israelites not to intermarry with them. Samson, unfortunately, allowed his personal desires to trump his duty as servant of the Lord. So he took two Philistine wives (Delilah came after his first wife was killed by her Philistine kin). In both instances, he chose to trust his wife before trusting the Will of God. Because of this disordered hierarchy of trust, Samson lost his first wife. For failing to learn this lesson the first time, Samson lost his eyes as well as his life the second time.
Hippie Justice League!
So no - Samson's hair did not hold any magical powers. His hair was a sign, however, of his adherence to God's Will. As soon as he turned away from God's Will by placing his desires above God's, he suffered the consequences.
Having his hair shorn was simply the physical desecration of the spiritual desecration that had already taken place the moment Samson committed mortal sin.
Good thing, too. Can you imagine the Hulk-smashing that would've occurred in the 60's had magic hair been the source of Samson's strength?! Yipes!
In the end, as Samson spent many sleepless, pain-filled nights begging the forgiveness of God, he made reparation for his sins. Each day of reparation drew him closer to the eventual destruction of the temple that would garner justice for himself and Israel. He spent many, many nights in atonement for his sin, so when he was finally brought to the temple as "entertainment" for the Philistines, his hair had grown back in. Again, this isn't pointing to Samson having magic hair... it's highlighting that Samson had spent time reflecting on and atoning for his sins against God. God then gifted Mercy to Samson through blessing him with the strength to dole out justice to the Philistines.
His hair was simply a symbolic manifestation of the blessing God bestowed in return for Samson's faithful service.
It takes a village.
Or in this man's case - a town.
We need more stories like this depicting the incredible beauty that humanity is capable of.
God bless the people of Bussey, Iowa.
My oldest friend from high school, Theresa, got married last weekend. I can't wait to see the professional pictures of her because none of the ones I snapped do her or her dress justice.
As a married woman who was over the moon for her own wedding dress, I can honestly say that Theresa's out-shone mine by at least 10 light years! Her train was beyond magnificent. The lace, jewels and satin made her look exactly like the princess she's always wanted to be. I was (and am) so happy she and John finally exchanged vows!!!
Vince was her ring-bearer. He escorted a beautiful little girl named Allison down the aisle. They were SO CUTE together!!!
Unfortunately, Vince was a bit of a terror during the service. During rehearsal, the priest allowed Vince to run around the sanctuary. I had specifically corrected Vince three times, but the priest told me not to bother each time. He said, "Don't worry - it'll make for a cute photo op."
I knew, as any parent of a toddler would, that allowing that behavior during rehearsal was just about the worst idea ever. Vincent doesn't understand the difference between a rehearsal and the "real thing." Thus, if it's okay to run amok in a church Thursday night, it should be perfectly fine to do the same on a Saturday.
As predicted, that's exactly what happened.
I wonder how long it's going to take me to re-teach him that we don't act that way in a church. *Sigh*
Luckily he didn't knock the candles over or rip Theresa's dress. He basically ran up and down the sanctuary steps a few times during the exchange of vows and climbed into Father's seat, evading the attempts of groomsmen to wrangle him in.
Ah well... at least he was attempting to mimic a priest. I can't be entirely upset about that prospect. Ha ha ha!
Speaking of priests, the one presiding at Theresa's wedding Mass was the president of our now defunct Cardinal Dougherty High. It was fabulous to see him. He looks wonderful and his personality is still gentle and welcoming. As I watching him go through the rehearsal, I couldn't help but think that his handling of people was the primary reason God chose him to be a priest.
He is so incredibly genuine when he's in priest mode. He goes out of his way to make sure everyone feels welcomed and cared about. It's rare to be able to pull that off with a huge group of people so effortlessly, but he's incredibly consistent (which is probably why they made him President of Dougherty).
Anyway, his homily was great. He should make it available to other priests as a general "go-to" wedding homily. He gave a lot of good advice - chief among them to remember that God blessed them with one another. In order to make it to Heaven, they NEED each other. They need to rely on one another precisely because God brought them together for the purpose of reaching Heaven. The unique challenges they each bring will compliment the unique strengths they have, and together, they will live a life which aims for Heaven.
Married couples would do well to understand this. Our spouses are NECESSARY. They are the ones we are given precisely because they will challenge us to grow in love. They will challenge us to sacrifice... to hope... to trust.
It was a wonderful reminder to me, and it made my heart sing a hymn of thanks for such a beautiful reminder that I've been truly blessed with John. He has challenged me to trust... to hope and to sacrifice. All of that has deepened my capacity to love and has very much led me down the road towards my rekindling of faith. I am a better Catholic today because of John (something he'd probably be loathe to acknowledge - ha).
So yes... your husband or wife is a blessing sent directly from God, Himself, for the express purpose of ensuring your soul gets into Heaven. How wonderful is that? :)
Believe it or not, this atheist will get me to Heaven, but I'll drag him along too!
Apparently God's got an incredibly messed up sense of humor. I found this in my mail:
Apparently spending a few days last week being humiliated repeatedly for naught wasn't enough. Thus, another round I can offer up for whatever expiation I need accomplished.
That's how I'm looking at it, anyway. I've always asked Him to make sure I accomplish my Purgatory on Earth so I can greet Him right away upon death. Things like this just let me know my prayer was heard. Ha ha!
In brighter news, Auggie's still making incredible progress! Here's the newest comparison pictures. The day-by-day is fabulous!
He's still lethargic for much of the day, but his energy level is definitely improving. He is finally eating and drinking on his own (I've had to hold his can or plate under his mouth because he couldn't stand long enough to eat properly). He's also using the litter box like a pro. Best news of all is that he's beginning to act like a normal kitten! He swatted for my camera cord a few times while I snapped his photo today, and he narrowly escaped diving off the edge of my desk (I caught him as he tumbled over the side).
That's right, Auggie! I'm glad to see him with the strength to play. :)
Again, thanks to everyone for the notes and messages of love and prayers for him. They've done wonders in helping him heal. Thank you!!!
Ajax after his first bath around 2pm yesterday. You can see his right eye is oozing with puss. His left eye is completely swollen shut. Even removing the crusted puss didn't help. He's super boney and very lethargic.
Here's Ajax this morning (after 4 rounds of drops and 3 rounds of oral antibiotics). He's much more alert, his eyes are able to focus, and though he's still super skinny, he's gonna get fat soon enough with all the yumminess at his disposal.
With all the rescues I've nursed back to health, it never ceases to amaze me how much progress can be made in so short a time (with such minimal effort!!!). It's a wonderful reminder that God doesn't ask us for huge, amazing feats of faith. He asks us for little things, because it's the little things that count.
The guy who contacted John about the kitten made the decision to care about a stray kitten. He didn't have to. He could've easily let nature take it's course. Instead, he called for help.
John, who really doesn't want to deal with any more fosters, made the decision to call me. He had pushed off the guy for a few days, but in the end, he made the right decision by calling me and allowing me to check the kitten out myself. Had he gone with Plan A (dropping it off at the shelter), this kitten would have been euthanized.
Then me... when I first saw Ajax, I was honestly horrified by his condition. His eye had actually bubbled over, and I thought for sure he had been born with a genetic defect which claimed it. He was infested with fleas, and I worried about bringing them home. However, the least I could do was give this kitten a proper cleaning.
Then the vet tech who gave me a pass at the clinic because of my past experience there. She didn't have to "break the rules" but she did. She understood a serious need was present, and she silently added my name to the top of the list.
Also the vet, herself. She went out of her way to ensure Ajax had fluids and food to spare. She didn't have to pack on the extras, but again... she made the decision to pay attention to the little things.
And all these little things... they add up to something incredible. Each "little action" is what helped Ajax along the road of Divine Providence. Each of us played a part in the miracle of Ajax's recovery. And though his story is not complete, at least it's taken a dramatic turn in the right direction.
So thanks to all of you, too, who have made the "small" decision to share Ajax's pictures and stories with others. I've gotten so many e-mails about him. Please keep sharing. Eventually, one of you who makes the "small" decision to share his story will share it with the family who needs him to complete their portrait.
In the end, it's all about the small things. No masterpiece was ever created with one brushstroke, no quilt with one thread, and no feat of architecture in one day. The same is true of our lives and of our faith.
Blessings, and again - thank you so much for spreading the word about Ajax. My appreciation is immeasurable.
This entire entry stems from a thread regarding the "creation of evil" and free will. I wanted to post it here as well because I think it's a great conversation!
God grants us Free Will
God is the Supreme Author of creation... all things visible and invisible. Our creed states as much. However, does this mean He created evil as well?
My answer is no. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a choice. One cannot "create" love, one can only choose it, right?
The same holds true for evil. One cannot "create" evil. One can only choose it. God, being Supremely wise, holy and loving, has the capacity for evil.
However (and this is a big however), being that He is Supremely wise, holy and loving, He eternally CHOOSES goodness. He eternally chooses love. THIS is the gift of Free Will that He imparted to us. If God doesn't have the capacity for evil, then God is not all-powerful. God wouldn't 'need' free will because He'd be incapable of evil. However, God IS all-powerful. The difference between Him and the rest of us, however, is that He's always chosen goodness and love over evil and hatred. Thus, God must have free will if He was able to grant it to us as a gift.
So, keeping His Perfect Example of free will in mind, let's move on.
God created the angels before humanity. Angels are purely spiritual beings that were also granted the grace of free will. We are taught through tradition that one third of these angels utilized their free will in opposition to the Divine Will of God (His Divine Will being Supreme Goodness). As a result, these angels were cast away from His Divine Presence (since to be united to God is to be united with His Will - which is Love above all else).
God did not cast them aside in judgement. They chose to dislodge themselves from His Goodness through pride. As a result, God, in His Goodness, created a place for them separate from the other angels who chose Goodness. Basically, He put the "bad kids" in the corner so they didn't disrupt the rest of the class. Those who wanted to continue to grow in love and understanding of God could remain with Him in Heaven.
Then God deemed it time for the physical realm to spring forth. After setting things into motion, He chose to bestow upon humanity the same gift given to the angels - free will. However, humans are intrinsically different from angels. Angels are purely spiritual beings. Humans are the union of body and soul (which is why Catholics believe in the "resurrection of the dead"). As such, our free will is going to be utilized differently from that of the angels (though with the same premise... freely choosing good over evil).
Eden was a physical realm that was in perfect union with the Will of God - Adam and Eve included. Genesis states as much when it writes of Adam "walking blameless before God." Adam's will was united to that of God's Divine Will, and there was peace. Eve, too, lived in union with God's Will. Until, that is, she meets up with a pesky little snake.
As we all remember from our elementary days, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were located in the center of Eden. The Tree of Knowledge, when we trace it back to it's Jewish roots, was known as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is an important distinction because Jewish tradition understands this Tree to be the mixture of good and evil. Until humanity (through Adam and Eve) ingested this fruit (thus introducing the conflict of evil), good was humanity's nature. Evil was something altogether separate that had no place in the nature of humanity. We simply understood and trusted that God knew best, and we willingly went along with the plans He set forth because we naturally understood Him to have our best interests at heart.
That changed due to the 1st sin (which was Pride, not disobedience). When the serpent suggested to Eve that she could gain the knowledge that God had and begin making her OWN plans that would be even better than those of God, she was feeling the temptation of pride. When she acted out in eating the fruit, it was not disobedience that goaded her... it was her own pride. Her mistaken belief that she could somehow gain wisdom above God's. That given the chance, her will could rival that of God's. Sound familiar? It was the very same sin that Lucifer introduced to the other angels. It was the very sin that caused their downfall as well.
This was the first time humanity said "No" to the Divine Will. The second time was when Adam came along and accepted Eve's sin into the family line. In allowing himself (as head of creation) to sully humanity by not only accepting this sin, but taking part in it, Adam solidified our downfall. Now that both of our parents (Adam and Eve) have sullied themselves with the stain of sin, all subsequent generations would feel the smudge on our natures. This is original sin. It's not an actual "sin" that newborns are held accountable for. It's the tendency towards sin that we have inherited from our ancestors. Much like the child of an alcoholic is more likely to become an alcoholic himself, the children of sinners are more likely to sin. We are children of Adam and Eve. The tendency has been passed from generation to generation, and with the exception of Our Lady, all of humanity has been marred by the stain of this original "No" to Divine Will... this original misuse of free will.
Out of love, God sentenced us to a physical death so that we might once more reunite ourselves to His Will. Since humanity had marred its nature through sin, God rightly passed judgement on us, deeming us unfit to reside in Eden as that was a place of peace and unity with God's Will. Humanity, having now turned from God's Will, would be forced to work their way back to their original Divine Inheritance. Free will, having been gifted at our time of creation, was not taken away. Instead, as punishment for misusing this gift to alter our purely good nature, we would need to learn to properly use this gift for love.
That is what our lives on Earth are all about. We are learning to love. We are learning to consistently choose good over evil. We are learning to trust the Will of God and allow ourselves to take part in His plans for Divine Providence. THAT is the meaning of our earthly lives.
Upon death, we are judged on how well we learned this lesson. Did we consistently strive to love others? Did we consistently choose good over evil? Did we trust in the Will of God to move our lives in the direction necessary to once more gain eternal happiness?
If the answer is a resounding "Yes," we gain entrance to Heaven. If the answer is "Eh, it was a hell of a struggle, and I've got a ways to go, but I at least learned that Your Will is right" we gain entrance to Purgatory with the promise of Heaven. Finally, if the answer is, "No, this is all bull, God, you're just a big bully" we cast ourselves into Hell.
And yes, I said we cast ourselves. Much as those original fallen angels had.
At judgement, we see our own lives in the Light of Divine Truth. We see our souls as God sees them, and in the face of this Truth, we cannot help but understand our successes and failings. We, ourselves, pass sentence before the Throne of God (before which no sin or dishonesty can stand). We accept whatever "reward" we are given because at that moment, we cannot help but understand God to be Supreme Justice. Thus, our soul either joyfully enters Heaven (where our free will exists, but has been perfected so that it is united always to the Will of God), willingly enters Purgatory (with the understanding that our free will can be cleansed through the fires of God's Love in order for us to prepare for Heaven), or willingly seeks Hell as the only respite from ourselves away from the burning Justice of God's Truth.
Christ as Judge
God is mercifully patient, this is true. However, He is Divine Justice as well, and this Justice is not simply meant to punish - it is meant to protect and nurture those who wish to remain true to His Divine Will.
In His Mercy, God grants us enough trials and experiences through our lives in order for us to properly learn Love. This was revealed by Saint Michael to someone whose name escapes me.
St. Michael the Archangel revealed that every person on earth is given exactly what he or she needs to learn how to live by God's Will. It is up to us to heed these lessons. They don't continue in Heaven because at that point, all free will ceases to formulate through one's own accord. It is either solidified with access to Heaven, becoming engulfed in the Divine Will, forged through Divine Love in the embers of Purgatory, or left to fester with no hope of respite in the bowels of Hell. Our actions on earth determine which area our free will goes for a make-over (if one is necessary) after earthly death.