Belief in God is not Possible until we are Ready to Believe

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

I have come to the conclusion that those who don’t believe in God don’t want to believe in God. There is nothing that a believer in God can say or do to change their mind for it must be accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the depths of those who doubt or deny His existence.

A couple of quick stories to illustrate my point.

When I was in college as a philosophy and English major, I did not believe in God or at least I denied that I did. I was a fallen away protestant and vehement in my belief. On a bus trip to NYC from Boston I was seated next to a priest. I had on several occasions tried to get the reading light to come on so that I could read and not be bothered by conversing with him. It seemed to be useless and so the priest began a conversation with me concerning faith and God. He was amiable and I thought I was holding my own in arguments for or against the belief in God. At one point I said to the priest, “If God really exists, why not just create a miracle and cause this light to come on so that I can read?” No sooner had I spoken these words than the light flashed on. The priest said that he doubted that I would take this as a sign that God existed and he was right. I immediately began to rationalize the event by telling him that it must certainly be a short circuit in the light or a loose wire. We continued to speak and the kind old priest had a wry smile on his face as he continued to tell me that I just couldn’t accept the fact that God had answered my request. I then, in an act of defiance, said to the priest that if that were the case, he had my permission to now turn the light off. And quick as that, the light went off. But I went back to my theories of loose wires and such. We left each other’s company amiably but with him jovially saying that God was trying to get me to know that He truly exists and that He wants me to come back to Him. It was of no use. I wasn’t ready.

My second story actually happened about a year or so earlier while I was in my college dorm room sleeping. In the dream, the room was as visible and real to me as it was when I was awake; I could see everything and indeed, I’m sure I could have picked up a book and read from it. The oddest thing however was that my dog of 17 years was sitting at the foot of my bed. He moved his mouth and my cognition of what he was attempting to do was to say goodbye. As I wondered at this in my dream, I awoke from it by a loud knock on the dorm room door. It was a phone call for me. Still wiping the sleep from my eyes, I went to the phone booth in the hall and picked up the phone only to hear my mother tell me that my dog from childhood had just been put to sleep. She just wanted me to know because I was very fond of him as we practically grew up together. Now the first thought that quickly ran through my mind was that God granted this gift to me because I could not be home to say my goodbyes. But as usual, I could not allow myself to hold to such nonsense. I went back to thinking that it was just an extraordinary coincidence.

Those are my personal stories and they revolve around minor or what we might call “silly” miracles or “signs”. But they illustrate our reluctance to change our minds when our hearts are far from accepting what our senses and our intellect are telling us.

My thought is that one need not try to evangelize or convert an atheist or an agnostic. All you can do is resist them in many of their preconceived notions. You can point out the utilitarian outlook of atheism as an affront to human dignity but they will not believe you or if they do they will not care and they may even endorse the idea.

God does speak to us but often we don’t allow our hearts to hear and God will not violate His gift to us of free will.

 

When Does Life Begin?

Detail - Glory of the New Born Christ in prese...

Some, thinking that I might be addressing the abortion issue, may answer this question with, ‘at birth’ or ‘at conception.’ But such an answer would only speak to the physical reality of our human person and its enfleshed temporal existence. But there is an answer that goes to the heart of all true spirituality. It is an answer that has been revealed by God through Holy Scripture. The surprising answer is that God has known our individual ‘being’ from the beginning – before time itself began. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4, “… he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.” So in essence our existence, our very personalities were known and loved by God from the beginning: from the depths of eternity. He has brought us forth at our appointed time according to His will but nevertheless known and held in the bosom of God before time began. Did not Christ Himself reveal that our eternal home, the kingdom, has been prepared from the beginning? In Matthew’s gospel Christ prays for unity, revealing the following in chapter 25, verse 34: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Having this knowledge is indispensable to a proper understanding of humanity, self-knowledge, and the knowledge of God. We can never truly plumb the depths of this mystery but even so, can acquire much fruit in our meditation upon it.

God has loved each of us individually and by name, loving us like children who might reflect His glory and carry out His holy will from eternity. Can we fathom the love that God has for each of us? Do we grasp the love that moved God to take on our human flesh? Do we really understand the participation of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us after Baptism and urges us to all holiness and love? In any spiritual journey, the logical starting point is the love of God while the consummation of this love is the end.

To grasp the fact that we are each, individually His: created from nothing, and destined to live in His glory forever, is fundamental to our belief and the basis of all Christian hope and love. Having been given the grace to live, as God would have us live, is a dignity that we cannot seem to grasp. To live in a way that would bring God glory seems to be a task that is superhuman at best. But God is not dissuaded by our proclivity to chase rainbows and turn from Him at every seeming whim. Instead, He quietly and steadily pursues each of us until the end, not unlike Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. No soul would exist that did not have the potential to become a blessed in heaven and God will spare nothing in His pursuit of each and every soul. Should we fail, we have no one to blame but our obstinate refusal to accept His grace and a conscious avoidance of His presence in our midst: for God has left His fingerprints on everything in the cosmos. But His indwelling in our very soul is a formidable mark of grace. We are never without Him nor are we ever separated from His love.

What can we possibly do to ensure that God might reach us and that we might not fail to live up to His plan for our lives? The constant teaching of the Church is prayer and detachment.

Through prayer, especially silent prayer, we discover God hiding in the recesses of our souls, beckoning to us while keeping constant vigil. Having found Him so near, allows the soul an opportunity to willfully increase the room we have allotted Him in our hearts. It also allows Him to fill us with all necessary grace for the rooting out of unhealthy attachments: primarily our attachment to self. Finally the soul is once again reminded of the life that God has desired for us: a life of eternal love – love of Him and love for all creation – including each and every soul that was so lovingly created and known before the foundation of the world.

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer presupposes faith and knowledge of God and the soul’s desire to seek change. It therefore contains within itself some degree also of self-knowledge, which makes us long for the perfection possessed only by God. Prayer acknowledges the fact that we are far from perfect and a realization that without supernatural help we are unprofitable servants in regards to the attainment of our intended end – that for which we were created. Since all our actions and strivings toward the Good are worthless without God’s help, humility must likewise be the foundation upon which prayer rests – a readiness, even an eagerness, to be radically changed.

Prayer is also an expression of our hope, which leads us to believe that change is possible; not merely by our own effort but by our cooperation with the Grace that only God can provide. Prayer is a natural conversation with our supernatural end, which is God Himself – it is that which places God at the center of our lives.

Like a moth that circles a candle we are attracted by the Light of Truth and transfixed by the Warmth of Love. The bright, warm air that we live and breathe is prayer – our connection to the Holy Immortal Flame, to which we are not yet capable of being fully united. Without this air we could not fly near the Flame nor examine its beauty from many different angles. We would merely have to content ourselves by gazing at the tiny flicker from afar. We could not move closer to our goal and would thereby exist without feeling the warmth or witnessing the brilliance of the light. The warmth of God’s Love and the Light of God’s Truth fills us with energy for living a Spiritual Life – this we gain through prayer.

Prayer is the lifting of the soul to God. It is the exercise of our mind and heart in Divine Converse. God Himself initiates this conversation with the consent of our freewill. In humility we bring ourselves before the Almighty King, our Loving Father. We praise Him Who is our All in all and beg Him for His Mercy. We thank Him for His generosity towards us, and plead with Him for all that we need – everything according to His Holy Will.

Just as a green log thrown into a fire begins to warm and exude unclean smoke and blackness so too is the soul that moves closer to God in prayer. It is purged of its foulness and tried in the crucible of Divine Love. Eventually, just as the log, the soul catches flame and takes on the qualities of fire itself – emitting its own light and warmth. Without prayer the soul, like a log on a stack of wood, could never exercise its potential to become likened to God, the Living Flame of Love. We must will that the Hand of God place us in His Holy Fire and we do this through prayer.

Faith believes, hope and love pray, but these could not exist without faith; hence it is, that faith also prays.” (St. Augustine, Enchirid. VII) Prayer, then, exercises the three theological virtues and relies on acts of humility, obedience, fortitude, and constancy such that our soul becomes united with God in a most perfect manner. It is prayer that detaches us from creatures and places us in the presence of God that we might become transformed to His Image and Likeness. (See The Spiritual Life, A. Tanquerey, 517 – 519 B.)

It is through the continual practice of prayer that we grow in holiness; take the mundane occurrences in life and transform them into worthy acts of praise. Our very actions in life become part of our prayer. All holy and good actions proceed from the practice of prayer and progress in the spiritual life is impossible without it.

What a gift is prayer that acts as an oxygen tank for those who wish to venture into the rarified airs of Heaven.

Adherence to a Standard

The basis for all spirituality is adherence to a standard. In the case of Catholic Spirituality the standard is, of course, the definitive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; including Her moral standard, as well as Her practices.

To borrow one of the late Fulton Sheen’s illustrations, let’s imagine ourselves sitting at a piano.

English: Pianist Mark Eisenman

When we strike any key on the instrument no one can say that we have hit a wrong note. However, in the context of playing a particular piece of music, many wrong notes are possible. The music to be played is a standard that must be followed precisely if we are to receive the applause that follows a successful rendition at a concert.

Our spiritual lives are very much like this. Our saints are like the virtuosos who garner much admiration after a difficult musical performance. We do not see or hear the mistakes previously made during practice nor are we made aware of the depth of the trials that these persons overcame in order to achieve their success. But rest assured that a struggle was a necessary prelude to all that they achieved.

The piano player made mistakes in practicing and worked them out. If they were beyond his ability to recognize and correct, he sought out a maestro or teacher who could give them musical exercises to overcome their shortfalls. But never did they decide to rewrite the score themselves in order that they might more easily play the piece or because they disagreed with some section of the musical piece. They adhered completely to the standard.

Likewise, a Catholic soul who desires to lead a spiritual life, who wishes to attempt Christ’s lofty goal to “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), must practice holiness like a virtuoso practices his instrument. When he stumbles and falls, he returns to his Maestro (the Church) for correction. It is through this never ending and meticulous process of failure, confession, absolution, and spiritual direction that the soul is purified and our Catholic Spirituality made sound. We don’t rely solely on our own abilities nor do we re-write the teachings of the Church to aid us in our journey. For then we have only substituted our private standard for that of the Church and our spirituality becomes as flawed as the musician who ‘does his own thing’ without regard to the music that he has been asked to play. Just as such a musician will not long be a member of an orchestra, so too those who create their own standards cannot long remain members of the Divine Orchestra the Holy Catholic Church unless one fully accepts the Divine Music and at least attempts to play the performance according to Her Standard.

The first step to a healthy spirituality then is the desire to play in the Heavenly Orchestra and to humbly submit to play only those notes that are written. The next step is to practice according to the rules those things that are difficult and to seek help in correcting those things with which we constantly have problems. Once the soul has begun to faithfully apply himself to this humble obedience (this training of the will) and has sought help through prayer, countless days of practice (making virtues habitual,  and through the utilization of appointed teachers within the Church, much progress in the Spiritual Life is assured.

In music one studies the theory of music, seeks help and listens to others who play well, while in Spirituality the soul studies the teachings, the moral laws and precepts, prays, practices the virtues, and acquaints themselves with the great saints in order that he might acquire their abilities which are not yet possessed in full. Imperfections and failures are certain along the way but with these basics one can proceed safely without danger to ones immortal soul. “For what will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Remember that sloth or laxity is a capital sin that we must always be on guard to fight. Zeal for the Faith and zeal for Christ comes no other way: it requires spiritual exercise and slow, hard work.