No Room for Error

Last week as I was watching the news on TV, one particular commercial caught my attention. It was for a pizza restaurant that was touting their new “delivery insurance” policy. They claimed that they would correct any mistake they made. If their delivery was delayed, or if they gave the wrong dipping sauce or if the topping was mistaken, they would make it up to the customer. I was smiling because I was once again reminded that in our market culture where the customer is king there is no room for human error.

Even after being here in this country for three and a half decades, I cannot get used to personal injury lawyers and their lawsuits. Their philosophy seems to be this. No one is allowed to make a mistake. If a mistake is made, someone has to pay for it. Behind such a theory lies an unproven assumption that we humans should be infallible. If a mistake is made, then there was negligence. There is a price to be paid for negligence.

Almost twenty years ago I arrived in Chicago from Rome and my first assignment was to be the associate pastor at St Anne’s in Barrington. Hardly four months later, I tripped and fell at the altar during Mass on a Saturday. I will never forget that day. I came down four steps from the altar on to the floor. In the process I tore my quadriceps tendon and I had to undergo surgery and months of rehabilitation.

As I was recovering, I was still celebrating Sunday Masses. After one such Mass I was limping across the campus to go to the rectory. A Cadillac stopped to allow me to pass. The driver in the car, obviously a parishioner, pulled down his window and said, “Father Britto, I am an attorney. Let me know if you want to sue the Church.” I was totally taken aback. I couldn’t even imagine suing the Church in a million years. I don’t think that gentleman was joking.

I knew that I had to take responsibility for my fall. The Mass I celebrated was a “teaching Mass” for children preparing for First Holy Communion and their parents. In order to make the children understand the Mass fully, I was explaining the various vestments the priest puts on. When I put on the last vestment, the chasuble, I didn’t check to see if everything was fitting right. The chasuble must have been crooked. When I came down the steps, my own vestments tripped me up and I fell. I had no one to blame but myself.

This apparent refusal to accept our human fallibility leads to much misery. The dramatic rise of griping and complaining in our society probably can be traced back to this false belief. We do not tolerate mistakes on the part of anyone. Some of my doctor friends have told me how expensive it is to obtain malpractice insurance, especially here in Illinois. We forget that doctors are human just like all of us. There is always the possibility of human error even when medical professionals are careful and well-intentioned.

Social media have added fuel to the fire. Yelp and other sites give encourage people to vent their anger and to let the whole world know how angry they are. From the government to the public school system, from the Church to businesses, everyone has become the target of this “culture of outrage.” During our gatherings, many of my fellow priests lament how not a week goes by when someone is angry at the pastor or the parish for something that happened.

Thank God that the Lord does not hold us to the high standards that humans demand from each other. He lets us make our mistakes. There is always possibility of forgiveness – total, unquestioning, categorical forgiveness. God’s mercy knows no bounds. He knows how broken we are and so He makes allowance for our human frailty. Jesus’ encounters with sinners in the gospels convince us that His love for us is unique, unlike any human love. He loves us not because we are perfect. He loves us in spite of our imperfections, in spite of our sins.

We can understand how much this God loves us because He keeps forgiving us. It is in our sin and in our being forgiven that we become profoundly aware of His unconditional love. The English mystic, Julian of Norwich, (a woman who wrote under the pseudonym of a man) was not ashamed to write:

We need to fall, and we need to realize this. If we never fell, we should never know how weak and wretched we are in ourselves; nor should we ever appreciate the astonishing love of our Maker... We sin grievously, yet despite all this it makes no difference at all to his love, and we are no less precious in his sight. By the simple fact that we fall, we shall gain a deep knowledge of what God's love means... It is a good thing to know this.

While we may struggle to win the love of our brothers and sisters, God’s love is a given. He opens His arms to welcome us home as long as we repent and make a deliberate effort to sin no more. How comforting it is to rest in that truth!

God bless!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

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Phone: (847) 825-7605

Mass Schedule

Monday - Friday

8:30 am - Upper Church


4:30 pm (vigil) - Upper Church


7:30 am - Upper Church

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9:30 am - Gym

10:30 am - Upper Church

12:00 pm - Gym