Friday, November 24, 2006

To Grow Up and Into Faith

In God's Real World

Evelyn Waugh, also a convert to the Catholic Church, once said, “Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.”

I was reminded of this when I had the good luck – providence? – to come across volumes II-IV of the Liturgy of the Hours at a Catholic School yard sale. I bought them for next to nothing and the saintly soul who was staffing the cash box that morning soon after presented me with a used copy of Volume I (knowing, no doubt, that I would need it soon with Advent just around the corner).

In my brief five years as a Catholic convert, Evelyn Waugh’s words certainly ring true, and becoming acquainted with the Liturgy of the Hours only impresses me more and more with the fact.

The Christian faith in general and the Catholic Church in particular recognizes the fullness of the experience of being human. It is difficult, joyful, shocking, painful, complex, tragic and ultimately, according to our theological virtue of Hope – comedic. And it would be surprising, therefore, if God revealed some kind of one-size-fits-all master plan set of rules for an experience so vast, so complex and so difficult.

So I still find it astonishing that many extremely responsible persons in very responsible professions in my experience – physicians, military officers, intelligence personnel, and the like – believe with what strikes me as a bemusing naïvete in what amounts to a third-grade understanding of God’s dealings with the human race.

The vast expanse of the human drama, even if we stick solely with the biblical narrative, is solved by Four Spiritual Laws ?

I gave three years of study at a major university to acquire a Masters of Divinity degree, and twenty years of pastoring Protestant churches to realize the insubstantiality of one’s rather puny abilities to grasp the fullness of the deposit of the faith on one’s own. Or, as Arnold Lunn once dryly remarked, “I was tired of being my own pope.”

Yet Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular is faced with a mountingly vocal and hostile mass of believers whose goals, beliefs and holy writ are NOT so expansive and encompassing of the grand human opera in which we all are actors and participants. This belief system nearly equals the number of Christians in the world and, depending on who is setting the terms of its discourse and acceptable behavior, it allows its adherents to use deadly force against any whom they deems “infidel”.

Catholics are, in this arena of global proportions, most fortunate – or providentially blessed. We are given a mandate to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45a).

We are given the means of escaping the trappings of mere mimetic rivalry and violence. A desert father once told his disciple that in hating, one must drive the spear of hatred through one’s own heart before it pierces one’s enemy. But, he said, as one forgives, one brings one’s enemy and oneself before God, realizing one’s own need for forgiveness as well.

This is the spiritual sword of agape love; it blesses and heals oneself even as it fends off any evil or hatred of a real enemy.

There is none the like to be had, except provided by the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world. The Catholic faith is one of and for adults. It isn’t simple or easy. Neither does it have goals that cater to the whims of a faith whose goals line up with a 13 year-old boy’s imaginations of vanquishing enemies. But it is one to grow up with and grow into … all the way to the Beatific Vision.

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