Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Journey of Faith

God designed us so we are naturally inclined to search for Him. God constantly draws us to Himself and we search for Him, whether we are aware of it or not. 

Sometimes we reject God, and there are many reasons why this may happen. We may be ignorant or indifferent. We may be unhappy with the way the world is and want God to change it or blame God. Or we may have been scandalized by those who profess a belief in God and then proceed to do immoral or even evil things. We may be attached to our sin and not want to mess with anything that might lead us away from a life of sin we are enjoying. There are many things that lead us away from God. 

But there are also many things that lead us to God. One thing is the world itself. God created the world – the butterflies, the grass, the mountains, even the cockroaches - all of it can point us to Him. The order, the beauty, the movement, the possibility, it all leads us to Him. The human person also points us to God with his natural inclination toward truth and his desire for true happiness that can only be found in God. The human person also has a natural moral sense that is the voice of God within his soul. It is the soul also that points a person to God because it is a sliver of eternity inside of us that is always straining towards God. Our reason leads us to God and to faith. God gave us our natural reason in order that we may learn more about him; that is the purpose of our reason. So, if we are using reason properly, it will always lead us to Truth.

So, how are we asked to respond to God? 

With faith. 

Faith is a verb and a noun. It is a verb because when we have faith, we let God into our souls – we allow Him to run the show. It is a noun because in order to have faith we must have faith in formulas or creeds that describe what we believe. These formulas or creeds never fully express the truths they communicate: 

The believer’s act [of faith] does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities [which they express]. – Thomas Aquinas

Faith is different from reason but it never contradicts it. Faith is different because it requires obedience, even if we do not understand in order to have faith we must accept. Obedience is not a popular concept in our culture. But how can we refuse obedience to our Creator? We must obey what God reveals to us through Scripture, and for Catholics through Sacred Tradition (which is also God's Word, it is Tradition with a capital "T," whose source is God).

Faith requires we believe in things unseen, not immediately provable. But our faith is not contrary to our freedom or to reason. God never coerces us to have faith. And if we believe something that natural reason proves wrong, then our faith (the verb) is misplaced and our faith (the noun) is misinformed.

God, in His great kindness determined that our faith would not be entirely blind but would be backed by natural reason and backed by signs of revelation – miracles, saints, holiness, stability throughout time, prophecies, etc – look for these things and you will not be far from the object of your faith. 

 May God bless you on your journey of faith!
(Ideas are inspired by and a loose summary of parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it's so beautiful!)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Love is the effective willing of the good of the other:

May you love effectively this Valentine's Day and all days!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Follow Your Heart

God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray.
                                               ~ St. Louis de Montfort

I recently cleaned out an old email account and as I read through several old emails from my college days my jaw dropped. I was shocked at the person I was. I seesawed between an awe of the saucy, cutting way I articulated myself and a horror of my arrogance that was through the roof.

I also wondered if recent years have led to a serious drop in my IQ as I read articulate emails discussing the intricacies of Kant’s categorical imperative and shot questions back and forth with my professors in a cavalier way that indicated to me that I was really just kind of showing off. 

“Who was this girl?” I wondered.

Even as this thought crossed my mind I smiled, I knew the answer. I have not become any less intelligent. I am just simpler; like a more purified glass of water rather than a complicated cocktail. I am no longer a creation of my own making.

Recently, I got into a discussion with someone who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus. He gave me several arguments for his beliefs and I set off to try and prove him wrong. As I dived into a part of theology I had never really explored before, I felt a certain fear behind my frenetic pod-cast listening and internet browsing.

What was I afraid of?

I sat down in the chapel to discern what was going on in my heart. As I drank in the peace I began to realize that in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Theresa, how could you have joined a religious order, let alone a religion without being able to defend the divinity of Jesus?” I really was flabbergasted at myself for lacking such fundamental knowledge concerning the Christian faith.

When I stepped away from organized religion I was fourteen and at the time I told my mom, “I know plenty of bad Christians. I am going to be a good person. I don’t think I need a religion to do that.”

Spending more than ten years away from the Christian faith I depended entirely on my reason to lead me down the road of life, to help me to act ethically. I thought I was smart so I could make it on my own. I felt I did not need traditions or doctrines to hold me down. I did not need anything to figure things out; I could do it all by myself. Reason was my god. It was the answer to everything.

College life taught me to depend even more on my mind. I learned to disdain anything not well-reasoned. Most liberal arts schools emphasize growth in “critical thinking” but from my experience this often translates to learning not just methods of logical reasoning but the art of harsh criticism, of tearing something apart until nothing remains except self satisfied smiles.

I hope you do not mistake what I am saying for some kind of fundamentalist emphasis on faith, with no respect for the faculties of our mind. On the contrary, I give partial credit to my intellect for leading me back to God. One thing I realized as my conversion grew closer was that since I believed in miracles, unexplained phenomenon in life that science cannot explain, I could not really remain an atheist or even an agnostic. I reasoned that since I believed the laws of nature were able to be bent it meant that Someone had to be doing the bending and I reasoned that it had to be a Someone rather than a something because an inanimate force ruling the universe is too impersonal to work miracles of healing, etc.

But there came a point in my conversion when God asked me to follow Him, not with my mind but with my heart. I made steps toward things that I did not understand. I made changes in my life because of an inner prompting. But when others asked me why, I stuttered and sounded like a fool trying to explain.

I was able to make this step toward my heart and away from my mind because God gave me the grace to have an iota of understanding of the distance between me and God. As humans, we like to build our own personal towers of Babel, shortening the distance between us and God, pretending we have everything figured out. But often, we are only willing to believe that God knows what we can understand and nothing more.

As I began this journey of the heart I felt terrified. I was used to a life where I could articulate why I was doing everything I was doing in a way that would make the person I was talking to wonder if they should be doing the same thing. I could convince others of ideas that were drenched in the perfume of falsehood simply with impressive acrobatic skills of reasoning. I was a con artist of truth because I had conned myself into thinking that truth was whatever I could figure out with the limits of my own intellect.

When I finally gave into following the inner instincts of the heart, it was like being led blindfolded across huge chasms between mountains of understanding. It was at the same moment terrifying as it was liberating. I could see myself making leaps and bounds in the spiritual life, not due to anything I was doing myself but what I was letting God do within my heart. I gave up the power of being able to articulate everything I understood so that God could lead me to levels of wisdom that only the heart could understand.

Recently, when I began my research on the divinity of Christ, I let my mind take control, the mind that has been purified to some extent of secular values and its ultra critical mode of being, but not completely. My mind can still behave like an enemy spy, always ready to pounce, to sew seeds of doubt.  My mind was still not trustworthy, yet I had gone back to depending entirely on it. As I let this anxious mind take over, I shut the curtain on my heart. I did not want wisdom that I could not articulate; I wanted to win an argument.

As I wandered through this heartless desert, I felt tiny and alone, as if I had woken up from a dream and found myself at the edge of a cliff looking down. Somehow I knew that I had been down there in the valley, deep in the mysteries of God but my mind could not connect to them. I was like a millionaire who had traded her bursting bank account for a child’s piggy bank.

When I sat in prayer in front of the tabernacle, I felt as if there was an ocean between me and Jesus. I sat as disjointed thoughts about Trinitarian theology rolled around in my head. I felt smart again, giving myself a pat on the back for delving into complicated ideas, but I was really completely lost and God was again just a distant something.

Now I realize that through this experience God is calling me to build more lines of communication between my mind and heart. He is not asking me to depend solely on my heart forever. On the contrary, I am a Catholic and if you know anything about this faith, it is the religion of faith meeting reason. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, the Church Fathers, St. Augustine, the list goes on and on of the truly great minds in the Church. The Church does not disdain philosophy or any other system of thought that pursues truth. Rather, it recognizes that God uses many things to lead a person closer to Him. Our minds are made for just that reason, to pursue the Truth, which is God, whether we know it or not.

These experiences may resonate with you, or may not, we are all different, but I want to leave you with the prayer I am saying to God as a result of this experience:

God, lead my mind to drink at the waters of my heart where you dwell. And help my heart to take the lead as I engage my God-given ability of reason to pursue you ever further, to the ends of the earth.

May God bless all of the beautiful hearts of those I love and those I do not know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Letter from John

Dear Theresa,

At the end of my Gospel I say, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world could contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:24).  

You have asked me to describe Jesus so that you may feel closer to Him. Maybe you wish you could have seen the way that He interacted with the people He healed. Or maybe you wish that you could have asked Him questions, or received explanations that would soothe your mind. Or perhaps you wish that you could lie against His heart and feel it beating as I did at the Last Supper.

All of these are beautiful and natural desires but the thing that I want to communicate to you more than what Jesus was like is that you already know the Jesus I knew, in some ways better than I did when I followed Him. I know this is hard to comprehend and perhaps you will never really believe me, but it is true. There is a large expanse of years between the time Jesus walked the Earth and your life now, but that leaves you with many examples of what Christ was like, lived through the lives of holy people who followed in His footsteps.

If you combine all of the things that you love about all of the Saints, that tells you about Jesus. If you imagine all of the amazing saints to come, that tells you about Jesus. He has the strength and the unflinching honesty of Padre Pio. He is the tender sweetness of St. Therese. He is the knowledge and intellect of St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the humility of St. Jeanne Jugan. He has the deep and wide love for all humanity that Bl. James Alberione had.  He has the love of justice of Dorothy Day and the love of the poor of Mother Teresa. Jesus is a brilliant diamond with many facets, and you learn more about Him through other people He puts in your path every day. 

You love beautiful things. If everything that you saw was perfect and pleasing to the eye - that would be a little what like watching Jesus was like. He was like a moving piece of art. All that He did spoke of Beauty. All that He was is Beauty. All that He loved, it made it all look beautiful in our eyes too. And you already know what this is like, how the world has opened up like a budding flower after your conversion - that is how the world was when we were with Jesus.

You want to know what He was like, in His mannerisms and way of being. I can tell you that the thirst you have for holiness and perfection, it was found in the most ideal way in Jesus. He never responded to anyone or any situation in any way except love. He loved when He healed, He loved when He chastised. He even loved when He overturned tables. We always could trust that every single action and blink of His eye was pure love.

You have Jesus now in the Eucharist, my dear daughter. I know it is hard to remember this. It is easy to forget, to take for granted, to become lukewarm but Jesus is with you now in His body, blood, soul and divinity and He humbles Himself to become your spiritual food. God becomes your spiritual food. What an amazing miracle. Maximilian Kolbe said, “If the angels could be jealous of men they would be jealous of the gift that we have in Holy Communion,” and he was right. 

So do not envy me, my daughter. Do not envy the time that I spent listening to Jesus’ heart. You listen to His heart every time you sit in prayer in front of the tabernacle. Do not envy me because I was the “beloved apostle” – YOU are His beloved apostle. Rejoice my child because Jesus is with you now, and we will all one day be together without tears or suffering in Heaven.

With eternal love,

The beloved apostle, John