Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 5 (From Dust to Redemption)

Phyllis Nissila

“There’s never an end to dust
and dusting,” my aunt would say
as her rag, like a thunderhead,
scudded across the yellow oak
of her little house. There she lived
seventy years with a ball
of compulsion closed in her fist […]”

(From “Carrie,” by Poet Laureate Ted Kooser).

Every time I read this poem, I am reminded of the never-ending task of trying to attain redemption via “works-based faith,” similar to Aunt Carrie’s never-ending task of ridding her house of dust. I am reminded of the never-ending chore–the heartbreak, too—of trying to earn our salvation by what we do to try to save ourselves as opposed to faith in what Jesus did for us. And I am reminded that our salvation is a product of grace– not of the daily grind of self-improvement—and that grace is a gift for all those who will receive it (Ephesians 2:8)…


I grew up in a heavily legalistic religious system, Roman Catholicism, within which there are innumerable rites and rituals whereby, it is taught, one might somehow accrue a bit of forgiveness here, a modicum of grace there, to make up for a wide variety of sins, some deemed “commission,” others, “omission;” some deemed “venial” others, “mortal” [1].

In twelve years of Catholic schooling, for all its educational strengths, I also learned of the literally hundreds of rules [2] to keep one from displeasing God and thereby netting a torturous sentence in the hereafter of either purgatory, for an unspecified amount of time, or hell, for eternity [3].  And one’s actions might one minute deserve the former, the next, the latter. A few exceptions to the rule apply via “indulgences” imparted through observation of certain of those rites and rituals [4], or forgiveness as deemed appropriate by a priest in a confessional providing the confession was “made” correctly.

In the complex religious system of Roman Catholicism one lives in a constant state of doubt about one’s spiritual outcome although, ironically, a crucifix depicting the very act by God’s Son, Jesus, that redeems us from the need for institutional-salvation, one might call it, hangs in a prominent place in every Catholic church.

But legalism to one extent or another seems to exist in all denominations. Indeed, it is also an influencing factor in every man-made and/or man-adjusted belief system both secular and religious. And why wouldn’t it be? Like Aunt Carrie’s housecleaning dilemma, sin (known in non-religious circles as policy or standards violations, or crimes)  plagues us even though we put forth our best effort to behave, even though we keep pushing that rag of moral compulsion over the surface of our lives where our faults and failures seem constantly to mar the veneer of what righteousness we think we might have, or what righteousness we strive for.

And, worse, in the spiritual sense, given the seemingly ever-evolving nature and kinds of sins humans seem to come up with, truth be told there are probably thousands not merely hundreds of rules that rightly apply. Like Aunt Carrie, just as soon as we’ve rid some surface of one little pile of sin-dust, we look over and see another area where temptation has wafted in some open window of opportunity. And at the bottom of every metaphorical pile, this truth becomes evident all over again: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).


Indeed, is there ever an end to it?

The answer is no.

(And this is what lines the coffers of the clever.)


But for believers, here’s the good news:

“For (God) made (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).

Sin, like dust, might abound, but grace abounds much more (Romans 5:20).

Despite our best efforts to clean up the detritus of our faults and failures, like hard-working Aunt Carrie, and not just for seventy years but even seventy times seven, we find perfection futile. But because of Jesus’ efforts, His one-time, once for all, flawless sacrifice to pay the cost of our sin we can finally put down our fistfuls of rules and regulations and codes and laws and compulsion and heartbreak and enter into the rest of eternal redemption. “For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

Spiritually speaking, we need not go from dust to dust, so to speak, but from dust to redemption.

In Christ Jesus, as it turns out, there is an end to it.

And that’s the best news.


[1] http://www.catholicdoors.com/faq/qu06.htm

[2] Two Catholic rule books contain a combined 1,800 pages explaining the rules. Reference, here: http://deaconcast.com/2013/03/01/40-myths-about-the-catholic-church-too-many-rules/

[3] http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2heavn.htm

[4] http://www.catholic.org/clife/prayers/indulgc.php

This entry was posted in Bible/literary themes, elements, Commentaries, Devotionals, Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, most recent posts, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, Purgatory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 5 (From Dust to Redemption)

  1. Carl Gordon says:

    Every time I have the pleasure of reading one of these I “hear” the distinct sound of a key clinking open yet another locked up part of my understanding of Who Jesus really Is and I am able to breathe a little freer! How can anyone know His love while being led to believe His love is only attainable by working for it? Tragic! “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16,17 Thanks once again for what you write in His Name.


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