Monday, June 18, 2007

Some Doubted, Part 4

We have suggested that it is reasonable to channel our feelings and energies according to a rational plan, at least in the short term. Our knowledge of a longer-term good, for example, can help us to forego having another piece of pizza even when our feelings are very strongly for it, and to get on the treadmill even when our passions are strongly opposed.

This begins to help answer the question about whether one should ever 'doubt' one's religious vocation. In fact, there are many days, perhaps most days in some periods in one's religious life, that passions are very strongly rebelling against the disciplines of the life and the people with whom the monk has to live. However, it is possible, with the help of grace, to spiritualize this very struggle and through it to tame the passions and redirect them toward the goal of love of God and love of neighbor. Indeed, if love itself is ultimately expressed by acts of the will, the more we have to train the will to love, the stronger our love will be. Let me explain this last point before finally covering some of the rational underpinnings of discernment.

To build up a muscle group, we purposely force those muscles to move against stronger and stronger resistance. Less technically, if we want strong pectorals, we won't get them by doing easy exercises. Rather, every time we feel that the weights on the barbell are moved easily, that is precisely the time to add more weight. Progressively, our muscles respond and become stronger.

Similarly, if we always get to choose the persons with whom we spend our time, we are likely to choose the persons who don't stretch us too much. That is not necessarily bad in itself. We also tend to choose professions that we enjoy, that reward in some way. Again, this is quite natural and certainly, if we are responding to the gifts of talents and friendship that God has given, tehn we are discerning well.

In every relationship and in any profession, there comes a point at which we no longer experience ease in relating. Here is where we must begin to discern rationally and not merely with our feelings. For example, someone might go into music (as I did) because one loves music. At some point, however, perhaps even frequently, rehearsal, practice, promotion, even performing become routine and annoying, and may even feel 'inauthentic' (even the most gifted performers 'fake it' from time to time--you can't be your best every night!). Should one give up music? Well, here it depends. I should ask myself: would I really be better off in a different profession? Or would I drift along in that until it bores me, too? What do I lose by giving up the time I have already invested? Who is counting on me? Do I have fellow musicians who are depending on me to keep going? Do I have a family that is counting on me to provide for them? And so on.

The more we respond to these difficult situations with a joyul 'yes' and continue on down the road, the stronger our wills become. Eventually, we are placid and quiet in any situation, no matter how difficult. Similarly, the more we train ourselves to be kind and patient with those persons we don't find very entrancing at the moment, the deeper is our awareness of their humanity and the wider our love becomes. We train ourselves to love all kinds of people, not just our friends.

Certain decisions, as I suggested earlier, are non-negotiable. Public perpetual vows must be honored. Promises must be kept. If we fail to carry out what we have solemn agreed to do, we seriously disrupt the fabric of society. We all suffer from these sorts of infidelities today, perhaps to an extent of which we are unaware (think how difficult it is to trust people today). In this light, I really don't doubt for a moment that I am a monk and that I should remain one. Given that, my mental energy should go toward living well the life of a monk and not toward daydreaming about some other unavailable life.

This sounds very frightening to many people today. So finally, we conclude with the revealed truths of our faith. We should meditate frequently on them so as to stay strong and stable in our purposes, and we should frequently ask the Holy Spirit's help in letting these truths penetrate our lives.

This is not an exhaustive list, but simply a list of the points I personally return to:

1) God is the Creator and is All-powerful. There is no situation in life that God cannot change, if He knows that it is best to do so. What He chooses not to change can also benefit me, even if my feelings about it are strongly opposed.

2) God is love. There is no situation in life in which God abandons me. Even if my feelings say that God is not present and therefore doesn't care, He is and He does. The people God sends to me and the activities that God chooses for me are gifts meant to allow me to grow into a fully alive, fully mature human being.

3) God communicates grace to us. There are situations every day that are beyond my ability to cope and beyond my intelligence to appreciate. However, in the sacraments, we are assured of powers beyond our natural powers when we need them, if we trust. Let God be involved in every aspect of life, and you will never lack for a way to deal with your problems.

4) God speaks through the Church. This is a toughy, but it is essential to grasp and live if we want to grow past the lukewarmness that so befuddles even the best Christians in this age. Church teachings are revealed truths and are a loving gift from a loving God to help us mature and live a life of love. Where we dissent with Church teachings, there is no shame in telling God this, but then we should also ask for the grace to understand the teaching properly and in a way that allows us to consent. We can, of course, simply force our intellects to consent, and sometimes this is actually necessary; but more often I have found that patience, reading, prayer and listening help us to understand how the Church came to her present understanding of God's law.

5) God speaks through Jesus Christ. This probably should have come before #4, but in a way, they are aspects of the same reality. The Church is the Body of Christ and God speaks through her. In this, I mean to say that the Word of God in Scripture is a saving Word. We should gladly and grateful avail ourselves of the teaching given in the Bible, with special attention given to the life of Christ. We will find that whatever situation we encounter, Jesus Christ, as both God and man, has encountered something like it, knows our struggle and shows us the way forward. Supremely He does this by assenting to carry the Cross and die as one of us. We should frequently meditate on the willingness of Christ to put aside his own fear, disappointment, lack of acceptance, and yes, even doubt, to do as His Father asked. And we should never forget that God rewarded this faith with Resurrection and Glorification. This is our hope as well: divinization through the crucible of daily following of the Crucified Christ.

So there is my long answer to the question of doubt. Any dubia out there?
God's blessings and joy to you all!


beth said...

A few days ago I had a long talk with a seminarian from Columbia. He is a native man of Indian descent who if quiet and faithful to the Catholic Church. I asked him what his response was to the Pope's statement that South America had been longing for the Christian message. He said that there was a wide difference between the world of words and learning that the Pope lived in and the reality of how life was, now, for the people of South America. Like the difference between life in a library and life in the streets.

I have long suspected that artists, especially in times when the institutional Church has fallen into darkness, have been the true guardians and carriers of the insight that Christianity brought to the world.

Perhaps God is much vaster than we could ever imagined. Perhaps, in Her infinite Wisdom, She has endowed within us powers that have yet to tap into.

Halden said...

Thank you for this excellent series, Prior Peter.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Fr.

Just wanted you to know that your writings here and elsewhere are Well Appreciated.


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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