Know, Trust and Don’t be Afraid

detail-from-the-creation-of-adam-michelangeloFrom what I gather, I’m doing this retreat so wrong that it hardly qualifies as a retreat. I think I’m supposed to go sit in a room and keep silence, waiting for God to speak to me. But, to be honest, if I went off in a room and kept silence for days at a time, I would probably sleep for a couple of days and then start trying to dig a tunnel through the floor.

It’s just not me.

My best idea of a retreat would be, if I had a horse, to saddle up and go for long meandering rides while I think and talk to God about what I’m thinking. I understand going off into the desert and wandering as a retreat. I can understand lying on your back and looking up at the stars. But locked inside four walls with a candle and a holy portrait? Not so much.

Since I don’t have a  horse, I play the piano. And I’m finding the piano fills me up with pleasure that seems holy and pure to me. I also care for the people I love. I read. I kibitz. I spend time with friends. But mostly, I talk to Jesus about what ails me.

A retreat for me is taking time to be with God and trusting that He wants to be with me as well. If He has something He wants me to do, He’ll tell me.

I use the phrase that I am going to “seek the Lord” when I talk about these withdrawals into the Holy Spirit that I do from time to time because that phrase seems to make sense to the people who hear it.

But I don’t “seek the Lord,” for the simple reason that He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s with me all the time. Sometimes I ignore Him for days on end and just go my way. When I do that, he’s like a parent, watching while Her child plays and rambles; not interfering, but there.

I don’t truly “seek the Lord” because all I have to do is what any one else has to do; acknowledge His presence and talk to Him about the things that are troubling me. There’s no formula for interacting with the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you every moment of every day. He loves you and His viewpoint is much broader than yours.

One thing I have read in the book I’m using for this retreat (Consoling the Heart of Jesus) that I don’t get at all is the rather tortured explanation as to why we need to console Jesus when He’s in heaven. I was confounded by how difficult the thinkers the author quoted make this simple thing.

Here’s my non-theological explanation for what I didn’t know was a question: Jesus is God. He made everything, everywhere, including — get ready for this — time. If Jesus made time, He is outside of time. He is not part of our linear time that flows inexorably from one moment to the next in a steady measurable procession that you can, well, set your watch by.

My son and I had a discussion with another homeschooling mom back in the day about the first chapters of Genesis. I kept saying that, while the description in Genesis is true, it is expressed in poetic terms. Specifically, the word “day” does not refer to a 24 hour, solar day. First, there was no sun when God began His creation. Second, God is outside of time. The term “day” is a non sequitur to Him that He uses for the benefit of our understanding.

She didn’t get it.

Finally, my 11-year-old son said, “I don’t think God sees time as a line the way we do. I think He sees it as a dot.”

That is probably pretty close to the truth in that God, being the creator of time, and being outside of time, sees all of creation, from beginning to end, constantly and as one whole. I don’t think that when He says He knows our days and the future of our world, he is saying that He is predicting what will happen the way a prophet or seer would. I think in God’s eye view the end and beginning and everything in between is an eternal now.

What does that mean to the idea of consoling Jesus for His sufferings while he is now in heaven and far from those sufferings? Just this: Everything is now to God. Jesus is at Calvary in the same way that, when the actual physical event occurred, He died for you and me two thousand years before we were born. It’s not a trick of theology. It’s a matter of perspective. God’s perspective.

I think my rather odd ball way of retreating is an echo of that understanding of God. I met God when I was driving my car on the way to make a speech. The Holy Spirit filled me up with God’s love in a moment and from that day to now, has never left me.

That experience and what I’ve learned from this continuous presence of the Holy Spirit, shapes the way I approach God and the way I do a retreat.

I drop out from public activities and go to a period of praying because I get battered up by life and I need the healing and solace that just being with the Lord gives me. I need to be loved and God never fails to love me when I just stop and let Him.

But I do not go into long periods of “discernment.” I have learned that if God wants me to do something, I won’t be able to get out of it. It’s that simple: If He wants me to do something, He’s gonna to tell me, and if I don’t get the message, He’ll keep on telling me until I do.

My job isn’t to “discern.” It’s to obey. And there are times when that obedience is not cheap.

I do ask, and have been asking a lot during this retreat, things like “Was I wrong when I said that?” “Did I behave like a jerk?” “Do you want me to change about that?” I’m so willful and given to doing things on my own initiative that I need — and pray — for God to guide me away from doing the wrong thing while thinking it’s the right thing.

But mostly, I find myself face to face with God and He changes me inside by loving me. I’ve said it many times: God does not change what we do. He loves us and that love changes what we want to do.

There’s more, and I’ll talk about it in the days ahead. But for now I want to emphasize one thing: Seeking God is like a child, crying out for its mother in the middle of the night. The minute you say you need Him, He is there. Because He was always there.

That was the experience I had at my conversion. He was there, right there, and He always had been there. I had willfully shut off my awareness of Him. But the moment I reached out, He was there.

All you have to do is trust and know that. Even in times of peril, grief, chaos or terror when the white noise in your head blots out everything, He is still there. You can’t hear Him, because you are drowning Him out with your keening. But He is there, and He won’t leave you.

You don’t have to earn His love and you can’t make Him stop loving you. Nothing you can do will stop Him from loving you and nothing you can do will make Him love you any more. You are His child.

Know that. Trust it.

And don’t be afraid.

 

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4 Ways the Synod on the Family was Like the United States Congress

How was the Synod on the Family like the United States Congress? Here are four ways.

1. We switched from hoping that they would accomplish something good to praying that they didn’t do any harm. By the time the Relatio came out, most faithful Catholics were just hoping and praying that the Synod managed to get through the next week and adjourn without trashing the sacraments and deep-sixing 2,000 years of Catholic teaching. We were no longer looking to the Synod for leadership, and we were certainly not expecting anything that would actually help Catholic families in they struggle to live our faith in a post-Christian world. We were just hoping that they didn’t start re-writing the Scriptures to suit the ACLU and the scriptwriters in Hollywood.

2. The Synod didn’t seem to be concerned with us, or with the Church. It gave the appearance of being all about the bishops’ private agendas and their fights with one another. At least a few of the bishops seem to be in rock-star envy of Pope Frances. The sound of one’s own voice is addicting, and several of our bishops appear to be in serious need of a sound-bite 12-step program. None of this would have mattered if they had not used their time on air to attack one another, (one of them even took off after the Pope) and to prattle on about their great desire to re-make the Church in their own image. It was a sad, sorry display of ego-driven sniping, carping tom-foolery by men who claim they speak for the humble Carpenter of Nazareth. 

3. The Synod exposed a number of the bishops as men who are too insulated, too flattered, too pampered and too proud of themselves to properly do their jobs. Does anybody tell these guys they’re full of it when they’re full of it? Does anyone in the circle of people around them remind them that they are but dust? I’ve seen, up close and personal, how easily constant flattery and being treated as if you were special can destroy a person’s equilibrium. I’ve seen it enough that I recognize its effects on a person when that person is in front of me, or, as in this case, on a news video. A number of our bishops need a year or so of sacking groceries in a t shirt and blue jeans to get their minds right. 

4. The Synod talked about Religion with a capital R, but it didn’t seem to care about faith and following Christ all that much. Was I the only observer who noticed how often these men talked about themselves and one another and how seldom they referenced Our Lord? Jesus was mostly absent from their comments, as was faith. They did not give me the impression that they were trying to follow Christ and Him crucified. I mean that. They were singularly lacking in humility, gentleness, common kindness and common sense. 

All in all, I was relieved when these boys in red and black wrote up their final results and went home. I am not looking forward to the next go-round at all.

I don’t want pious play acting from my bishops. I certainly don’t expect perfection. In fact, I know that they are as incapable of perfection as any other person who walks this planet. I know and acknowledge what so many Catholics, priests and bishops collude in trying to ignore: These men are just people. I don’t want perfection. I would know it was a lie if they tried to pretend it. I certainly don’t want the stuffy royal distancing that would help them maintain a false facade of holy perfection.

The day is past when the Church can grow and witness to the Gospels on a  diet of religious cornflakes and Queen Elizabeth waves from distant clergy.

We don’t need CEOs in miters, playing to each other. We need men who are alive with the call to convert the world. The Church has lost its missionary fervor. It must regain it.

All I ask of my clergy is authenticity. I don’t mean a fantasy, never-sinned perfection. I don’t care if my priests and bishops fall down and skin their knees. I don’t hold that against them any more than they’ve held my sins against me. We are all down here in the pits together in this life and we need to forgive and love one another without grinding our failures in each other’s faces.

My concern about the bishops who made all the noise at the Synod isn’t that some of them are rather obvious snobs and that some of them are in love with being in front of a camera. Being a show boat is probably one of the job requirements for being a bishop. If you’re the sort of person who detests being the center of attention, you probably would never want to be a priest in the first place.

My concern — and it is a concern, not a condemnation — is that at least a few of them are getting dangerously close to abandoning the call of every Christian on this planet, which is to follow Christ the Lord. We are — all of us, from back-row pew sitter to prince of the Church, required to yield ourselves over to Him and His leadership.

I didn’t see that in this Synod. What I saw was a lot of in-fighting and politics, a tiny bit of faith-talk when it fit the scenario and an overwhelming me-me-me. In that it was remarkably like that other all-too-human deliberative body, the United States Congress.

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Synod on the Family: What Do They Mean by Gradualism?

 

We’re getting snippets of this, and snippets of that out of the Synod on the Family.

One word that has appeared and is floating around like one of those word bubbles above characters heads in a cartoon is gradualism. Even John Allen over at Crux, has made note of the sudden uptick in gradualism talk. “Gradualism … seemed on the verge of being stricken fem the official lexicon, is back with a vengeance,” he tell us. 

Unfortunately, ordinary pew-sitting Catholics like me have been pummeled and pounded with moral relativism these past few years. We’ve had the cant of what’s-happening-now talking-head theology thrown in our faces as we’ve been called everything from bigots to birdbrains for attempting to stay true to the Church’s teachings. In times like this, the sudden employment of the word “gradualism” by our bishops as they talk about those teachings fills us with anxiety.

Are our religious leaders going to pull the rug out from under us and announce that the teachings we’ve given real emotional blood to support are now as relative as the larger society has told us they are? The anxiety, which runs deep in a lot of hearts, is that our bishops are going to end up playing us for chumps for having believed them in the first place.

I’m no theologian, but I think — emphasis think — that gradualism, as it applies to Catholic teaching is that you don’t have to be all the way home to perfection or order to be on your way there. It sounds like shorthand way of saying that we are all on a journey in this life, and, in terms of our walk with Christ, we fall down a lot and have to get back up.

The easiest way I can explain what I’m trying to say is to describe my own self at the time of my conversion experience. I had committed the whole library of serious sins. I could go down the Ten Commandments and tick them off. Took the Lord’s name in vain? Check. Bore false witness? Check. Killed innocent people? Done and done.

I was rotten with sin, but the only sin I believed was a sin happened to be something that neither the press nor most of my friends know about. I confessed it to my priest and I’ve certainly taken it to God. I think I’ll let that ride and not confess it here.

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Suffice it to say, that I believed I had done something cruel to another person and I was grieved to my core over it. So grieved that, after 17 years of telling God to buzz off, I reached out to Him. “Forgive me,” was all I said, but it was enough.

I experienced a homecoming that puts the welcome given the prodigal son to shame. I was, as Protestants say, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.

Buutttttt … I stil didn’t know my other sins were sins.

I know that sounds daffy.

But I had lived by my own lights, been my own little g god for so long, drunk so many gallons of my own Kool-Aid that I honestly believed that, say, abortion, was a positive good that saved women’s lives. I believed that right down to the ground. No questions. No doubts.

I could go on for a long time, cataloguing what I didn’t know about my own sinful state. But the point I’m making needs no further explication, and here it is:

God accepted me just exactly as I was.

Let me say that again: God accepted me just exactly as I was. 

I didn’t have to go to the spiritual dry cleaners and get all spiffed up to be acceptable to Him and loved by Him.

I didn’t need to have my nose rubbed in my sins and be humiliated for them.

I didn’t even need to know what my sins were.

All I had to do was say “yes” and God loved me from death to life in an instant of overwhelming grace.

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The interesting part is that He didn’t start educating me right away. At first, it was like a honeymoon of sorts. I fell blindly and absolutely in love with Jesus and He loved me back. I felt so free, clean and loved.

And I was.

Gradually, this Being (Who I did not understand at the time was the Holy Spirit) Who had been walking with me since I said “Forgive me,” began to show me my sins. It was gently done. He would show me something I had done, and I would realize that it was wrong.

It was — get ready for this now — almost a year and a half before He raise the question of abortion, and then it was as gently done as all the rest. Just, this is wrong.

A lot came later, but once again, this suffices for the point I’m trying to make.

Gradualism is not just a theological construct. It is a lived reality. What I experienced when the Holy Spirit began the process of re-shaping me into what He wanted me to become, what He had always intended me to be, was God’s own gradualism.

He can knock you flat just as He did me. But when He picks you up, it’s like a mother holding her own precious child. He does not expect you to “get” it all at once, even more than I expected my newborn babies to hop down off the delivery table and start tap dancing.

I knew, and God knows, that we learn slowly or not at all.

And, perhaps more to the point, we learn when the time is right for us to do it.

This gradualism I describe does not say that God’s Word, His Gospels and His Righteousness are relative. They are not. In fact, they are so absolute that none of us can live up to them. That is the reason for the Cross. It is why God had to become human and suffer what we suffer and die as we die to open a way out of our lostness for us.

We can never live up to God’s absolute righteousness. Thanks be to God, we don’t have to.

We are, all of us pilgrim people on the road through this life and into the next one.

Gradualism is simply the acknowledgement of two things:

1. None of us is righteous is His sight, and,

2. He accepts us just as we are.

What we must do — what we must do — is trust Him and give Him our lives and our wills. We must let Him shape us into what we were meant to be, one gradual step at a time. If we presume on His mercy to declare that we do not need to change, that our sins are not sins, then we refuse Him and we will die the ultimate death.

God accepted me just as I was, and then He began to slowly change what I wanted to be. He showed me my sins and I reacted by believing Him and letting Him change me, from the inside out.

That is the key to salvation.

It is also why gradualism is not relativism. Gradualism does not say that sins are not sins. It simply says that we are, all of us, at whatever stage in our Walk with Christ, in need of improvement.

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Do not take the concept of gradualism and mis-use it as a get out of jail free card that allows you to willfully continue in your sins and thumb your nose at the Gospels. That is a fearful and, if it’s not given up, fatal sin. “God is not mocked,” St Paul told us, and those who claim God’s forgiveness as a fiat to sin are mocking God.

Gradualism is not relativism, although I suspect it will be bandied about as if it was. Gradualism is simply a word expressing what the old hymn, Just As I Am, expresses. It does not teach that sin is not sin. What it teaches is that the hopelessness of our sins need not be our story.

We can be washed clean of our sins by the Blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side. We can become true pilgrims who are walking faithfully with Him on the Narrow Way that will lead us to Glory.

Gradualism tells us that we don’t have to get perfect to go to God. That, no matter what we’ve done, we can change and become new creatures in Him.

Because the same Jesus Who told us He was the Way, also promised that He would make all things new.

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Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith takes his own view of gradualism here

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