Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Living, not ossified, faith

It is far too easy to over generalize about the experience of others. It is reductive and so is not helpful, as it tends to rob people of their humanity, at least in our eyes, to reduce them to a type, which is a caricature. On the basis of such an assessment, we could all arrive at the conclusion that, somehow, we are so very different from everyone else, that our experience is of a different order. After having arrived at this conclusion we are prone to privilege our experience over that of others and use it as an excuse to stay apart, to withhold ourselves because "They just don't get me."

The reason we can perform this feat is because we have immediate and continuous access to our own experience, to our own inner life, an access we do not have when it comes to others, even those close to us. We fool ourselves if we think that there is such a life that is a uniform Catholic life, even among those who share the same state of life (i.e., married, single, clerical, religious). There is no following Christ that is not a journey to destiny, a pilgrimage, and there is no road to destiny without its treacherous patches, even for those who have believed all their lives. In fact, those who have always believed have weathered many storms. To take such a view is in stark contrast to our call to be companions on the way.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times people have asked to meet with me about their desire to be involved, only to tell me "No" at every opportunity afterwards. I am usually pretty available to people, but when it comes to this matter these days, I just give them ways to be involved on the phone, or in an e-mail and who they can contact to do this. I use the Nike slogan- Just do it and spare us all the hand-wringing and the pseudo-discernment, as you "discern" your way into eternity. I do not think it necessary to wrestle all night with an angel in order to decide to teach a third grade religious education class, or make sandwiches for the parish outreach program.

If I have one lament about my own experience of church, which I am careful these days not to universalize (I was not always so judicious and I still lapse, as parts of this post probably demonstrate), it is that we talk real good about community, but we are often bad at living it, choosing instead to be alone together. This why I am grateful for the Movement, which has enabled me to light a candle instead of contenting myself with the all too easy alternative of cursing the darkness. So, for me, the Movement is a positive hypothesis. Loneliness and longing for community, for communio, is also what initially prompted me to seek the companionship of certain saints. My companionship with them is a true companionship, not an imaginary one. I would invite anyone to verify this themselves through their own experience. All of this is why I was deeply moved by Fr. Louis-Marie Chauvet, when he wrote that "on the basis of the incarnation of God in Jesus... [our] encounter with God goes through [our] encounter with others" (The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, pg. 38). As I preached last Sunday: "This 'encounter with others' is to be taken in its twofold sense: our encounter of others and an experience that we share with them."

In other words, for everyone who believes and seeks to follow Christ, there is an inherent tension, a tension that is necessary in order to grow, to become who God created, redeemed, and now sanctifies you to be. This cannot happen in a vacuum, it requires other people and authentic community.

As far as what we believe, there is much we are free to dismiss, to bracket, to not believe. For example, we are not obligated to believe even in those Marian apparitions that the church has investigated and to which she has given her imprimatur and nihil obstat. In fact, I think a healthy skepticism is necessary when it comes to claims of private revelation. On other hand, we must not become skeptics and dismiss the very possibility of such things. Hence, this is one example of a dialectical tension inherent to faith. Cardinal Martini, in his wonderful book, compiled and translated by his devoted student, Marsha Daigle-Williamson, The Gospel According to St. Paul: Meditations on His Life and Letters, says that faith itself is living the dialectic tension between the seen and the unseen. Certainly, what the church proposes dogmatically is perfectly consonant with human reason. It is possible to reject it, but it can't be rejected on the basis of there being no possibility of it's being true, even according to reason.

At the end of the day, the criterion of truth is your heart, what genuinely corresponds to your deepest desire. This is why there is no substitute for honesty because without integrity there can be no faith, which is a way of knowing. In other words, as Anselm of Canterbury wrote: "we do not seek to understand in order to believe, but we believe in order to understand." Authentic faith is never a reduction, it is always an expansion of ourselves, of our view of the world, and of others. Seeing with the eyes of faith is precisely what enables us to see people as they are and to engage reality according to the totality of its factors, which is to see things neither through gray-tinted nor rose-colored glasses, but clearly.

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