I'll never forget the day I walked into Saint Maria Goretti almost 7 years ago: a yellow house on 1 acre that was newly opened in Florida by the Community Cenacolo for girls who wanted to rediscover the joy of living.
On one hand I was so delighted to be there, but on the other hand my blood ran completely cold. I had committed to living for 3 months with a group of recovering addicts: 7 other girls from Austria, Italy, Mexico and the U.S. And in my mind there was a world of difference between me and them.
They had entered the community because they had done everything "wrong" in their lives. They had rebelled against every authority, broken every rule, lived on the streets. And I, on the other hand, had done everything "right" in mine. I had gone to daily mass for years, been involved in every ministry, remained chaste for my future spouse.
Yet I was anxious, bitter, angry, had lost the joy of living. Not because I had done everything wrong, but because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get or do it "right" enough.
But the strange thing was that despite my doing it all right and they're doing it all wrong, these girls had something I did not have: freedom, happiness, a sparkle in their eyes, light in their life. Something that I wanted. And something that made me remain in that house during the moments when I thought I was crazy for ever having arrived.
I had many happy and many hard days living in that community, but over time the distance between me and those girls grew smaller and smaller.
I'll never forget a very specific day when a beloved friend of mine came to the community to give us a talk. She said something that struck me to the core which I will never forget. Looking straight at me at me, she said:
"Our compulsive need to be perfect is a sign of our profound insecurity."
That was a moment of such grace for me. Almost within the blink of an eye I saw countless moments, countless ways within my life in which I demanded perfection: from myself, others, and the world around me. And ways I was miserable, ways I felt abandoned by God, ways I despaired when life, others or I inevitably fell short.
The gift these girls had which I so desperately needed was that through having been addicts, and falling flat on their faces, they knew the great imperfection, the great poverty of life. The imperfection and poverty within themselves and within others. And they accepted it.
They knew that life had failed them. But the immeasurable grace this gave them was emptiness for God to fill: the widest and deepest need for a Savior in their lives. And therefore the greatest opportunity to know the joy of God's mercy, the joy of being loved simply because we exist, which is ultimately the greatest freedom.
This is the freedom of knowing who we truly are- our true identity as prodigal children. As Reverend Jacques Philippe calls it, a kind of double freedom:
“When we see ourselves with God’s eyes, we experience tremendous freedom. It could be called a double freedom: to be sinners, and to become saints” (Interior Freedom).
Just recently I went to visit this same girls house where I lived almost 7 years ago, now holding nearly 25 girls with bright smiles on their faces. These girls are my biggest inspiration- such dear sisters, who remind me of who I truly am- and today I see no difference, absolutely no separation between myself and them.
We are all children of God. Prodigal sons and daughters finding our way into the merciful arms of our Father. This is the only place I want to be.