A few thoughts as we celebrate the season commemorating Jesus’s triumph over death, and His becoming what we are to become if we follow him.
A friend of mine asked me once, “If you could be any animal, what animal would you choose to be?” I didn’t think about my answer very long.
In the past, before I was a Catholic, I would probably have just lept to the first thing that popped into my head. An eagle, or a tiger, or some other fearsome predator, you know, one that is lethal and smart, such as these.
It never occurred to me that I would be a donkey, for example, or a gerbil. Me killer, me strong! Velociraptor, man, not a duck-billed platypus. The dinosaur is extinct, you say? Bah!
My, how things have changed since I became a Catholic. Here is what popped into my head instead,
“I was an animal for far too long. Now I desire to be a human being. This is difficult, but I am trying.”
Of course, biologically, I have been a homo sapien for as long as I’ve been around. Created in God’s image, just like you. But only recently have I begun to feel like I am making progress in moving beyond the image and actually getting to the substance of being human. A human being, not just a human who happens to be. I still have a long way to go.
Since I’ve become a Catholic, I have unwittingly been taking St. Philip Neri’s advice though. He said,
It is very useful for those who minister the Word of God, or give themselves up to prayer, to read the works of authors whose names begin with S., such as Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, etc.
And though I’m not a minister (though I am a father) or someone given up wholly to a life of prayer (sounds appealing, but I have father/husband responsibilities), hanging around mentally with the Saints, and their writings, has had a positive impact on me.
Many of them were lost souls prior to being called by God’s grace. Some of them even make me blush with their sinful exploits and damnable ways, before they became Catholics. This passage from the beginning of St. John’s gospel was as true for them, as it is for me,
In Him was life: and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it…He was in the world: and the world was made by Him: and the world knew Him not.
It seems like the world still hasn’t gotten the memo, and maybe it never fully will. But as a husband, father, and a guy who wants to become more of a man than I am now, more fully human, the Catholic Church has been the biggest help in this department for me so far.
One salient point about the saints and I will end this post. The saints, just like Job never left the Catholic Church, no matter what was going on in their own lives, or in the institutional life of the Church. They remained with the Bride of Christ, through the good times, and through the bad. The Church was (and still is) their home, their fortress, their stronghold. The Church was (and still remains) their refuge. The Saints were what we called in the Marine Corps, “lifers.”
I want to be a “lifer” too. I want to be fully human, as well. How do I know I still have a long way to go in reaching this goal?
Because I don’t love others enough.
Because I don’t put others before myself readily.
Because I don’t relish the role of servant.
Because I am too quick to anger.
Because I am too quick to judge others.
I could keep adding to that list for days. As Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange writes in The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life,
As St. John of the Cross says, this catalogue of faults is inexhaustible; and he confines his attention almost exclusively to those defects which relate to the purely interior life. How much longer would the catalogue be if we considered also the faults which offend against fraternal charity, against justice in our relations with our superiors, our equals or our inferiors, and those which relate to the duties of our state and to the influence which we may exert upon others.
Together with spiritual pride there remains often in the soul intellectual pride, jealousy, or some hidden ambition. The seven capital sins are thus transposed into the life of the spirit, to its great detriment.
The ancient Greeks put it thus: “Know Thyself.” Sun Tzu writes, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”
To which I would add, in the spiritual life, the two, the self and the enemy, are often one and the same.