John 3:16 – Aaron’s Story

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.

–John 3:16–

Just this past week, a friend sent me a YouTube link to a video by a young man named Aaron Harburg.  It’s a remarkable video.  Aaron tells how he was raised Catholic, but at a certain point in his life, he began to experience same-sex attractions.  Unfortunately he engaged in behaviors the Church does not condone.  Yet eventually and incredibly, Aaron found his way back to the Catholic Church.  Rejecting his former lifestyle, Aaron describes himself as a traditional Catholic, and he places everything he says under the judgment of the Church.

Now, to tell you the truth, most of the time Aaron’s video—he’s speaking to a small group of people in a church basement—most of the time Aaron’s video did not resonate with me because much of the time, it seems to me, he is speaking out of his head rather than out of his heart.  But toward the end of his hour-and-eighteen-minute presentation (I really hung in there), Aaron does speak from his heart.  What he says throws an incredibly wonderful light on this morning’s Gospel, and I think it’s something we would all benefit from hearing.  This is what Aaron says:

I kind of ran into something that, to this day, I don’t know quite how to process, which is that with God it’s all charity.  And everything in me that I thought repulsed God actually attracted Him.  Evil is the absence of goodness, and God hates a vacuum.  And so where there was a lack in my life, God’s mercy was being drawn down.  So while the shame and the fear caused me to withdraw from God, I really should have stopped and recognized that what was causing them was actually drawing God to me.  And as I let go of my defenses and actually began to embrace the pain, I discovered that “In this is love: not that we love God but that God has first loved us and has sent his Son as an expiation for our sins.”  I just quoted 1 John.

God is the Lover.  We are the beloved.  Any love we have for God is nothing.  We have nothing to offer God.  He has no reason to create us other than love.  It was my shame, it was my sin and the dark things that I’m not going to pronounce here, that forced me to recognize that I have nothing t o offer Him.  And I began to embrace that, and it has seriously transformed who I am.  Everything’s not all better.  I still struggle with sin.  But now I know what to do, which is to allow God to accept me for who I am where I am right now.

So if you don’t take anything else away, I want you to remember this: that God loves you, and that every single one of you at this very moment is being willed by God with the same power and majesty with which God willed the entire [creation]… of the universe at the dawn of time—He’s not just the Creator; He’s the Sustainer—and that He accepts each and every one of you as you are., because in any way He expects you to change, He will always provide the grace, and that the whole premise of Christianity is that we ourselves are insufficient, and that God sent His Son in order to take on our weakness.  If you’re not convinced of that, how are you going to convince anyone else of it?

So says Aaron Harburg, November 2012.

Wow!  Sin is really only nothingness.  Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so the nothingness of sin actually attracts God’s mercy to us!  I think Saint Faustina would agree.

            I’ve been thinking.  Each one of our lives is like an empty chalice.  Sometimes, as our Blessed Mother did, we can offer God the emptiness of virginity in order to bring forth Christ in the world today.  Sometimes, as Caryll Houselander says, our emptiness is like that of a hollow reed through which the Holy Spirit can pipe His music.  Sometimes, as good mothers and fathers, we can offer God the comfortable emptiness of a home for the reception and rearing of children.  Sometimes, as with the death of a loved one, our emptiness is like that of a vacant chair at table.  Sometimes, as with many hidden saints, we can offer God the emptiness of monotonous work, which, as Saint Therese says, is often the safest way to holiness.

            But I think more often than not, the best we can do, like young Aaron Harburg, is to offer Jesus the emptiness of our sin.  Even this Jesus will fill.  Even this Jesus will heal.  Even this Jesus will transform.  Even this Jesus will eventually sanctify.  Why else do we have the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion?  As Our Lord says in the great poem The Hound of Heaven, “Who but I makes much of nught?”

            And doesn’t all this throw a wonderful light on our Gospel today?  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to fill our emptiness, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

After listening to Aaron Harburg, I will never be able to look at John 3:16 in the same way!

God bless you.