In our January issue, we talked about setting a goal for 2017: I want to grow in holiness this year. We expanded on this goal by highlighting three short prayers we can say all year long: “Melt me and mold me, Lord,” “Fill me, Lord,” and “Use me, Lord.”
We all know how hard it is to remember our goals, let alone to be consistent in trying to achieve them. So in order to help us stay focused—or refocus—on the goal of holiness, we want to devote the next three issues to these three prayers.
This month, we’ll look at what it means to ask God to melt and mold us to be more like Christ. For the July/August summer issue, we’ll look at what it means to ask the Lord to fill us with his Holy Spirit. And in September, we’ll look at how we can ask God to use us for his glory. So let’s begin.
Breaking Down and Building Up. In the 1986 movie Hoosiers, Coach Norman Dale is hired to lead a high school basketball team to the Indiana state championship. When his unorthodox methods cause some people in the town to challenge him, he explains his plan: “I’m going to break them down and build them back up.” He wanted to teach the students how to get rid of all their bad basketball habits so that they could develop more helpful habits—habits that would lead to victory.
Initially, the players fought the coach. All of them—coach and players—wanted to win the game, but they had different ideas of how they could win. Coach Dale wanted them to work together as a team. The players simply wanted to run down the court and shoot the ball. Dale wanted to rely on a specific well-thought-out plan. The players wanted to rely on raw talent.
Once the players bought into their coach’s plan, they went on to win the state championship. Equally important, they realized that the more they worked together as a team, the more each individual player improved. It was, literally, a win-win strategy!
Coach Dale’s approach is a good way to look at how the Holy Spirit wants to help us grow in holiness. The Spirit wants to “break down” the ways in us that are opposed to God and “build up” ways that form us into God’s image. Or to use St. Paul’s words, the Spirit wants to free us from “the works of the flesh” so that we can bear the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19, 22).
The Potter’s Hand. Long before Hoosiers was released, another story told us the same thing. In one of his most memorable parables, the prophet Jeremiah spoke about a potter molding clay to describe the way God works in our lives to form us and shape us (18:1-6).
Speaking about the potter, Jeremiah wrote, “Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased” (18:4). Then, speaking in the name of the Lord, Jeremiah asked the people, “Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?” (18:6).
We know that God doesn’t make things imperfect, so how can any of his “vessels” come to be marred? Because of sin. We may be in the Potter’s hands, but we can still choose to sin—and it’s our sins that cause the blemishes. The good news that Jeremiah’s parable tells us is that these blemishes don’t have to be permanent. As we yield to God and let him mold us, he removes the blemishes and makes us more and more like his Son.
We are all “marred vessels.” But no matter how blemished we may be, God still wants to rework us and make us into pure vessels. Even if it takes a lifetime, isn’t it reassuring to know that he never gives up on us?
Do You Love Me? It can be easy for marred vessels like us to become frustrated with ourselves. We can focus on all our blemishes and think, “I’m such a bad spouse” or “I’m so selfish” or “I’m always getting angry over minor things.” We can also focus on the darker moments in our lives and conclude, “I have fouled up everything I have ever done. I’ll never change!”
Whenever these thought arise, try to remember how St. Peter must have felt after he had denied knowing Jesus. Imagine how guilty and ashamed he must have felt when he heard the cock crow and when Jesus turned and looked at him (Luke 22:60-61). He must have said to himself, “I’m such a failure. How could I be so cowardly? Is there any hope for me?”
But that’s not the end of the story, and that’s not how Jesus thought about Peter. In fact, after he rose, it seems that Jesus never confronted Peter directly about his failure. Rather than looking back at Peter’s denials, he looked forward. “Do you love me?” he asked (John 21:15). Of course he knew that Peter loved him. What he wanted was for Peter to take up his commission again: “Feed my sheep. . . . Follow me” (21:17, 19).
Peter’s confidence must have soared when he heard Jesus say these words! There was no condemnation, no rebuke or judgment. There was only love, mercy, and encouragement. There was only the Potter reshaping a vessel. Instantly Peter was rejuvenated. He was ready to get back to work.
As he did with Peter, so Jesus wants to tell each of us, “You are precious to me. I love you. I see so much beauty and value in you. I will never give up on you. Let me keep shaping you so that you can go and feed my sheep.”
Infinite Mercy. It’s beautiful news, isn’t it? Jesus is telling us that it’s okay to be marred as long as we try our best to keep ourselves in the Potter’s hands. Being a marred vessel shouldn’t cause us to be anxious or fearful or frustrated. On the contrary, it should fill us with hope. Why? Because we know that we are in Jesus’ hands, and he will never stop trying to form us and fashion us.
Do you remember the first major interview that Pope Francis gave? The first question he was asked was “Who is Pope Francis?” Reflecting for a moment, the new pope replied, “I am a sinner.” This is a basic reality for the Holy Father. He knows he is a marred vessel. But he knows that this isn’t the whole story. He finished his answer by saying, “But I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This infinite mercy and patience is available to everyone. Like Pope Francis, we are all sinners. And Jesus wants nothing more than to set us free from our sins and fill us with hope. He wants nothing more than to tell us, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20). Or as Pope Francis has said, “God is greater than our sin” (General Audience, March 30, 2016).
Take the Risk. Our God is a patient and careful Potter. He sees our blemishes. He knows our weak spots and our sins—far better than we do. And still he loves us! He loves us so much, in fact, that he wants to draw us into his life. He wants to unite us with himself so deeply that every sin is wiped away, and every gift that he has given to us is developed to its fullest potential.
God wants us to cooperate with him in his plan to melt us and mold us. This is why he asks us to be alert to his work in our hearts. So every time you sense that you should avoid saying or doing something harmful, realize that this is probably the Holy Spirit speaking to you. Recognize this as his way of melting you. Every time you feel a prompting to show someone compassion or to be generous to someone, recognize that this, too, is probably the Holy Spirit—this time, molding you.
There is always an element of trial and error involved in letting the Spirit melt us and mold us. There is always an element of risk as you step out in faith to follow these promptings. Sometimes you’ll get it right, and sometimes you’ll get it wrong. But if you’re trying your best, and if you’re staying open to the Lord, you can be sure that God is pleased with you. You can be at peace, knowing that you are safe in the Potter’s hands.