Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

20 July 2013

Convincing Love

Pardon the span since my last post. I was gainfully occupied with treasured friends and my Father's world.
Mount Shasta (CA). Trust me when I say: This is not a postcard.
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In the daily Prayer of the Faithful book that our parish uses, I found this petition on Friday:
For those who have trouble comprehending the teachings of the Church, that they are surrounded by the love of believers and influenced by God's grace, let us pray.
That's not one for the folks at Unvirtuous Abbey, but I could rephrase it according to the UA standard:
For those who, when it comes to Church teaching, don't get it or won't get it, let us pray.
Our PoF book was kind enough to suggest a good intention to adopt, namely that people receive who and what they need to grow in faith. The desire for a positive outcome is the mark of a good petition!

We speak of "faith" in terms of content (what adherents believe) and relationship (the adherent's lived experience as a believer--among believers and non-believers, viewing earthly realities, pleasant and unpleasant, in light of the Reality known as God). These dual aspects illuminate each other; together they illuminate the adherent along life's journey.

According to the period in history, personal temperament, etc., people seem to gravitate toward one aspect or the other--the content of faith or the relationship of faith. The exclusion of either causes conflict and not clarity.  I'm no Church historian, but for sake of example we might wonder whether the years around councils are more concerned with content than relationship. Insofar as the Second Vatican Council is termed a "Pastoral Council," one might conclude that it concerned relationship (the Church's with modernity) more than content. But we don't ever really have one without the other, as the wealth of conciliar documents attests.

Regarding faith troubles, we can derive much consolation from this dictum of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt" (here is the context). We're not "in trouble" with God simply because we're having a hard time with a particular article of faith, with a paradox of faith, or (most often) with the mystery ("problem") of evil. God punishes no one for being a thinker; we tend to do a bang-up job of it ourselves!

For those who are disposed to it, God's grace assists the assent of the intellect and the consent of the will. Faith takes work; it truly does not "come naturally." Therefore nothing can substitute for divine intervention, the second component of the above petition. Without grace, the believer's adventure would be impossible, and indeed unnecessary.

Yet we cannot ignore the first supportive element: "the love of believers." Consider the famous dictum from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: "So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (13:13). Love (caritas, agape) will be the last theological virtue standing at the end, but not a moment before. Until then, believers can offer hope to their fellow strugglers precisely by the steadfast witness of their love.

(I say, "fellow strugglers," for who among us has coasted through this life's journey without finding or making reasons to question the reality and/or relevance of God?)

Let's not make it any harder for people to believe by our uncharity! Instead, let our love be as "surround sound" that dispels the noise of world, flesh, and devil.

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I should add that the petitions in this Prayer of the Faithful service often relate to the day's Scripture readings. What for this case?  Exodus 11:10--12:14 has enough material for one post.

To put it mildly, Pharaoh's obduracy was uncharitable. It was one of myriad difficulties behind alien Israel's doubt of YHWH's wisdom, power, and love. Did Pharaoh "cause" that doubt? Did Israel's lack of food, water, security, or anything else, cause it? Even if Israel's difficulties added up to 10,001, they did not cause her to doubt.  The People of God failed to acknowledge God's consistent actions on their behalf, no matter how often and how marvelously He acted.

The biggest factor behind Israel's unbelief was their worship of comfort. Not "interest in," not "preference for," but worship of. Yes, Israel had a great deal of hardship; perhaps their entire inspired corpus is, in a word, a history of hardships--some dealt from within, some from without. Believing, struggling readers will recognize their own story in its pages. But they will also recognize the invitation to love-infused faith, which alone helps people to make sense of suffering.

Not to disparage the narrative integrity of the First Covenant, we who have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) will supply Something missing from its sacred pages. This declaration from the Catechism will help:
If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil. (CCC 309, bold emphases mine).
Note well: Though Christ's entire mystery constitutes "the answer," it doesn't provide automatic, comprehensive conviction. His grace, my consent, your witness remain: these three!

The LORD was asking Israel to do a strange thing: discharge a detailed preparation of a lamb as if any minute now they had to get moving! At the outset, the prospect of leaving Egypt had some promise, but it wasn't very long before the mobile misfits longed for their fleshpots and melted their gold into a calf. The whole affair was a crisis of faith.

Judging by Moses' reactions, he often became as flustered as his fellow wayfarers. "Moses' wrath flared up, so that he threw the tablets down and broke them on the base of the mountain" (Ex 32:19). "Listen to me, you rebels!" (Num 20:10) And my favorite: "If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress" (Num 11:15).

During the second rant, Moses struck the rock twice when God's only directive was to "order the rock to yield its waters" (Num 20:8; 11). That act of disobedience constituted a lack of faith in the Lord's mercy. God would have sent the stream at Moses' mere word, which would have astounded Israel more readily than smacking the rock (which is how I imagine the two pulses--delivered with no ceremony whatever!).
Moses On Strike
Moses' doubt didn't help the Israelites along their wilderness wandering. Likewise the rants of Christ's priests have no salutary effect "for our good, and the good of all His holy Church." (Not that their ineffectiveness has ever stopped me...)

But God knows whom He chooses, and may He be praised for His forbearance with us! Help us, Lord,  to surround the doubtful with convincing love.

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